In an era where prog rock supergroups seem to spring up every other day (usually featuring the talents of Mr Neal Morse) it is tempting to disregard them as pet projects of the musicians concerned. Surely these guys keep their best material for their main group or solo projects? Transatlantic, OSI and the recent Flying Colors project illustrate by their quality and their success that this is simply not the case. Add Affector to that list. This international cabal features the combined talents of vocalist Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard, Enchant), Symphony X bassist Michael LePond, Neal Morse‘s touring drummer Collin Leijenaar and German guitar virtuoso Daniel Fries.
“Harmagedon” begins in bombastic style with a two-part overture. The first is purely orchestral featuring the Polish “Sinfonietta Consonus”, the second is a symphonic progressive metal tour-de-force bringing to mind the wonderful composition of Spock’s Beard‘s “Snow Overture” or Neal Morse‘s multiple “Testimony” overtures. While there is some incredible musicianship on show this is a truly symphonic form of prog metal with ensemble playing and complex arrangement taking precedence over individual posturing. The “Sinfonietta Consonus” merge magnificently with the band throughout the album, adding colour to the more fragile passages and increasing the sense of apocalyptic apoplexy in the heavier moments. Yes, apocalyptic. You see this isn’t any old concept album.
As the title suggests this takes the end of the world as its thematic basis and goes one step further – many of the lyrics are passages from the Book of Revelations. Ambitious? Sure. Spinal Tap-esque? Not a bit of it, the music is every bit as dramatic and effective as you could want to accompany such weighty material. If this signals alarm bells to some of preachy bible-bashing lyrics then okay there is a certain element of that but not so much as to be distracting to this atheist.
The core of Affector doesn’t include a keyboard player. Those duties are performed by some of the best in the business: Dream Theater alumni Jordan Rudess and Derek Sherinian, and the Italian fusion player Alex Argento. Of course it wouldn’t be a prog supergroup without the omnipresent Neal Morse and he fails to disappoint in this case too. If you’re a fan of widdly synth solos then this album’s a real treat as these guys don’t hold anything back in their endeavour to recreate the End of Days in musical form. For all the preposterously overblown (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) flights of fancy there are real songs at the heart of “Harmagedon”: hooky and infectious choruses, almost choral vocal harmonies and dynamic shifts that flow and make narrative sense rather than being clutch-crunching, teeth-clenching shifts of gear.
This album was a (cough) revelation when I first heard it. As someone who misses the music of Enchant, hearing Ted Leonard‘s spectacular pipes against such weighty and heavy music was a real joy. His style lends a gravitas and emotional centre to the album that a more cliché operatic style would have ruined. If you’re a Dream Theater fan then this is an essential purchase as it will click with you immediately. Affector are no DT clone though. Quite simply “Harmagedon” is one of the progressive highlights of the year.