Sunless Skies

Do bands have to abide by the rules of labels they sign contracts with? I guess it’s true to some degree, and there is a lot of evidence showing the most unusual transformations occurring throughout the history of metal. Something like this happened to Pathosray, a promising Progressive Metal five-piece from Italy as soon as the premier Melodic Rock and Metal label Frontiers Records coaxed them away from Sensory Records, a well-known sanctuary for various progressive acts. The resulting sophomore album Sunless Skies may come as a rather risky venture for the guys, since they have clearly softened their sound compared to their self-titled debut which was a mighty aggregate of youthful untamed aggression along with exceptional melodiousness. In fact, that release didn’t sound like the popular concept of an Italian Metal band at all, instead calling up striking associations with two big Norwegian names, Communic and Circus Maximus. However, the new one certainly doesn’t signal the beginning of any downfall process. Not in the least, as Pathosray have surely changed, but maybe for their own benefit. They have brought down the aggression elements but have in turn made room for diversity and creativity, putting many other bands to mind, yet not sounding like any of them for a even a fraction of a second.

When I first saw the new album’s artwork I thought to myself, “Man, it’s gonna be just as ruthless and powerful as the debut”. To put it mildly, I was quite mistaken. On Sunless Skies, the guys still offer up the heavy riffs seasoned with tasty melodies and exceptional piano flourishes but do it with much less madness and vigor, bringing forth a greater feeling of elegance and restraint instead. I can’t say that the new songs hook me as much as the material from their debut, but that was two years ago and Progressive Metal, as a whole, has made a giant stride since then. However, I would still like to thank them for presenting a piece that stands a great chance to become my favorite tune of the year. This would be the eight-minute plus “Poltergeist”, a thrashy potent number with strong rhythms and a killer melodic theme, which also unexpectedly finds its continuation in the closing two-minute acoustic piece “For The Last Time”. If the entire album were as impressive as its finale, then it would undoubtedly have been a strong candidate for the best Progressive Metal release of this year.

Yet I don’t want to say the album is missing any other good songs. In fact, there are plenty of memorable tunes, huge riffs and highly inventive arrangements to be found. For example, “Aurora” definitely surprises with its fluid transitions from pure neo-romantic verses to more standard metal bridge and chorus parts, while “Quantic Enigma” freely juggles with flamenco guitars, Hammond organs and even Modern Metal features. Likewise, the solemn Evergrey-ish riffs and incredibly beautiful solo elements of “Sons Of The Sunless Sky” and opener “Crown Of Thorns” speak volumes about the band’s top status in today’s Progressive Metal world. But once again, all of them can’t hold a candle to the previously mentioned epic “Poltergeist”. The main problem is that some of these other tracks just fail to remain equally interesting throughout their duration. Sometimes there is a very promising start with a huge riff and fascinating melodic theme but things suddenly go downhill in the bridge or chorus parts, causing one’s attention to drift away.

All that being said, Sunless Skies is still much better than most of the albums brought out by others of the Italian Progressive Metal scene this year, and, along with the new releases from Astra and Mind Key, puts in a claim for the right to be safely called the best of the genre’s offerings from this part of the globe. If you still haven’t heard Pathosray but are eager to know what Progressive Metal in Italy has accomplished, do yourself a favour and check out Sunless Skies. Who knows, maybe it’s just what the doctor ordered.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Igor Stakh
September 8th, 2009


  1. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    I too liked the debut quite a bit, but this one never really grabbed me in the same way. A totally fair review.

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