Adagio - Life

Adagio Life cover
Zeta Nemesis Records
Adagio return some eight years after the rather disappointing “Archangels in Black”, which strayed away from their signature neoclassical influenced symphonic prog metal of the first album, with an album that’s probably even more departing from that sound to evolve into something quite new.
“Life” feels a lot like the next logical step from “Archangels” but also carries over a lot of the djent fascinations of main guitarist Stephan Forte as they were evidenced in his solo “Enigma Opera Black” album, which is not exactly what most people might have expected – as mentions and promises of a spiritual successor to “Underworld” were made and this album is not exactly it…
With Forte, Hermanny and Codfert (ex-Myrath) carrying on from the “older” lineups, a new drummer, a violinist (who’s not really too audible) and a new singer in Kelly Sundown Carpenter (ex-Darkology, ex-Beyond Twilight, ex-Outworld) are introduced in the lineup for “Life”… and the sound is now a lot darker and heavier, not that Adagio was ever a “happy” sounding band, but you get the picture, with often occurring eastern flourishes, something that Codfert might have had a hand in…
The album opens with the impressive nine minute title track that’s heavy progy and somewhat repetitive of the chorus. Given its mid-tempo, it feels like it’s dragging on a bit, but thankfully the change of relative moods is smooth and carries the song forward constantly, without it stagnating. The rather impressive solo feels a bit artificially inserted, just to be there before a final rep of the chorus… in reality, there’s no real crescendo to the song, which the chorus should have been, but despite the pleasant vocal lines, one cannot help but feel is a bit flat…
“The Ladder” is a lot more melodic, basing itself mostly on the vocal-lines than anything else, it’s tense, melodic, not as heavy and its soloing feels less forced, although the whole structure is almost carbon copied to the point it becomes “predictable”. Still a high point.
“Subrahmanya” isn’t bad at all, but often feels more like a Messugah number (lots of djent) with eastern influences. The djent stuff is not the deal breaker, although it feels “stranger” to the whole “hindu” vibe, but as the god it stems from was multifaceted (6 faced) we’ll take it; it’s the brilliant chorus that really manages to “sell” the song. Oh and this song is the first and hopefully not last time that one can hear to Mayline’s violin, which really adds a different dimension to the song.
As soon as “The Grand Spirit Voyage” comes around, there is however a problem that transpires… the band seems to insist on a very similar style for the fourth consequent time and despite a balance between the instrumentation that here is more to the fore and Sundown’s wailing’s, which doesn’t sound as inspired without a well-defined or impressive chorus things stagnate, resulting in the second song that “fades out” rather than reach a conclusion.
“Darkness Machine” in theory should have been cool, with its more energetic vocals, but the whole djent riff, extreme vocals, then soft interlude trick, is so repetitive it feels like second rate when compared to say “Subrahmanya”. It’s a pity that a rather nice solo is pretty much wasted on this.
While I half expected “I’ll Posses You” to begin with some bizarre incantation or spoken word, it opens with some violin lamentation and the closest Sundown could sound to Khan, which is not really close but… you get the picture; he soon switches to sounding like his usual self, in a song that has some neat keyboard melodies in what feels like an unfinished Kamelot tune, with some djenty guitars that really don’t seem to have much impact, but overall what I was left with was a sense of a nice section that Sundown sings, just pointlessly being covered over by the music, without beginning or end… if it’s meant to be a transitory song, it works very well, otherwise…
“Secluded Within Myself” is really interesting as it allows Sundown to act it out vocally, but musically feels a lit forced and some sort guitar part feels too inspired by some folk rhythms, in a think bouillabaisse of influences that kind of works, but also feels like it could have come off a lot better; it basically crams too much stuff in five and a half minutes, without having a strong focus, so again it sounds kinda messy.
To anyone who managed to listen to the album so far without “Tripping Away”, congratulations. The soft, barely sung intro of this song feels “different” and it’s proceeds like that, but here it feels like Sundown’s strength is also his weakness. He can’t really seem to emote in more than a couple of ways, which makes him quite monotonous, in a way similar to Evergrey’s Tom Englund, but with more range; the violin here offers an easy way to subvert and release the tension that was slowly building and Forte offers possibly his best solo on the album, but I guess the title is evident of the atmosphere.
Lastly, “Torn” thankfully soon gets past its soft piano melodies, to evolve in a symphonic-djent-power-prog tempest that doesn’t quite ever climax, despite how much Sundown ascends in the verses… again it feels like a flimsy Evergrey/Adagio/Kamelot/Myrath hybrid that doesn’t quite hit it, despite its cool ideas.
The mix also sounds a bit too clinical for my liking, with the orchestrations never quite able to fill the entire space they could, resulting in a much too clinical and cold sound. If I had to compare this to previous Sundown works, it feels a bit like Zierler/Beyond Twilight – but quite different and not as brilliant and obviously quite far from Outworld, one of Sundown’s more brilliant vocal displays, or Darkology, one of Sundown’s best all-around performances, where his versatility really shone. In terms of Adagio, I surely like this a lot more than “Archangels”, but I did consider that album as one of the lowest points of the band and of course nowhere near a brilliant as “Underworld, not in a million years. Genuinely I feel confused on whether I like this album or not, but I feel like it could grow on me in time… C’est la vie – such is “Life”…