Progressive Rock by
Progressive Ears (USA)
Christopher Harvey (Germany)
The concept album is most definitely not dead, as this fourth album by the band Metaphor resonantly proves.
Metaphor started out as a Genesis cover-band on the American west coast and consequently its is rooted firmly in the 'classic ' sound of the 70s greats. That being said, The Sparrow is far from being an attempt at cloning Genesis - in fact, if any of the 70s prog greats are to be called upon for comparison, I would say that Gentle Giant and Yes are better reference points. In terms of modern bands, imagine a less heavy and more quirky Puppet Show.
The story of the album is based on the best-selling novel of the same name by American author Mary Doria Russel. I had not read the book upon first exposure to the CD and my first impression (as an avowed atheist) when glancing over the nicely illustrated 3 page lyric sheet was one of frustration: 'Not ANOTHER Christian Prog album?! '. However, closer inspection revealed that questions of faith and religion are dealt with on an intellectual level here, which I found quite refreshing and far more interesting than another exercise in praise music.
The tale here is quite an involved one and as far as I can tell the band has done an excellent job in distilling its essence in the 14 songs on the album. It is told through the words of the Jesuit explorer Emilio who - with a crew of other Jesuits - is sent on an interstellar mission launched by the Vatican to make first contact with an alien race detected by the SETI project. Upon arrival, the crew find a people of primitive furry creatures and proceed to teach them how to grow food more efficiently and improve their lives. A second race of highly developed aliens living on the same planet sees this as an act of aggression and basically wipes out the innocent furry creatures, then rapes and mutilates Emilio. Emilio is able to return to earth, but his faith has been shattered - the album ends with him begging in rage and despair to God for an answer to what he and his crew might have done to bring such suffering upon the furry creatures and themselves. Thus, it is up to the listener to draw his own conclusions and - if anything - it seems that religious beliefs are questioned rather than endorsed.
The music does a brilliant job of underscoring and emphasizing the story as it goes along - all 70 plus minutes of it! This album clearly was a true labour of love. Marc Spooner on keys offers up a tremendous range of keyboard sounds to be savoured - from the low register rumble of an old Hammond and waves of Mellotron to the whispering glitter of atmospheric synths he does an uncanny job of choosing the perfect sounds for each arrangement. Drums, guitar and bass (Greg Miller, Malcolm Smith and Jim Anderson) are expertly played and no single instrument ever overindulges - everything is focused on achieving the best possible arrangement rather than showing off for the sake of it. The vocals are delivered with great emotion by John Marby - he sounds a bit strained in places and his mid-register voice isn 't very powerful, but it blends in well in service of the songs. He also does a good job on the vocal harmonies. The production is on the top-heavy side - a bit heavier in the base range might have delivered more punch, but the most important thing is that the mix is clear, well-balanced and a delight for the ears.
As mentioned above, the quirkiness of Gentle Giant and the majesty of Yes echo strong in Metaphor 's music. I haven 't heard this much counterpoint on an album in ages! Anyone who enjoys counterpoint melodies will LOVE this album - instrumental sections with abrupt rhythmic breaks and intricate interweaving guitar and keyboard lines can be found throughout. One section in the 11 minute epic “Challalla khaeri” reminds of Kansas ' “Miracles out of Nowhere” with new instruments joining in to form a fantastic counterpoint pattern - a definite highpoint.
The band also appears to have a healthy sense of humour - early on in the same song there 's a brief, very pop-like vocal harmony section that sounds like something the finalists at American Idol might belt out all together, holding hands: “I just want to shine this little light of mine...”. Brilliant!
There are few real standout melodies or songs on the album, but the mixture of so many different sounds and textures, the abundant ideas sprinkled liberally throughout and the great passion with which everyone involved is obviously contributing make this a great and highly enjoyable piece of work. One of the rare albums that persistently grows on the listener. Most importantly the album sustains momentum for its entire 70 minute playing time (a mighty achievement in itself) and homogenously flows from start to finish.
Anyone with a passion for 70s prog in the symphonic vein will appreciate this great effort. I sincerely hope that the strength of this release will see the band mentioned alongside current prog titans like Spock 's Beard and the Flower Kings in future - at very least in terms of musical quality.
Highly recommended to all fans of 70s Prog!
Gibralter Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock (USA)
I waited with bated breath for the release of Entertaining Thanatos. I had even heard one cut I sorta liked on the BayProg sampler CD that came with the Spring, 2002 issue of Exposé magazine ("When it All Comes Together"). However, I just never took much of a shine to this album. I guess I really liked the concept of Starfooted and was hoping for a bit more of a concept than "Seven Cheery Songs About Death" (the subtitle of Entertaining Thanatos). The songs aren't bad, you understand, they just didn't do that much for me. When a band puts all their heart and soul into an album, I just hate writing a bad review of it, especially when it's not terrible. It just didn't really speak to me in the way that Starfooted did. So, I kept putting off updating the Metaphor entry. Until, I now realize, I had something good to say.
OK, with the release of The Sparrow, I do have something good to say. Wow! This album is everything anyone could want out of a prog album. In fact, it's so "formula" that I suspect some people will give them a bad review because of it. Another concept album, a rock opera (of a sort ...), a science-fiction theme, and plenty of predictable prog orchestration (Hackettish guitars, Mellotrons, etc.) might almost make this album a parody of what prog's all about. Except that it's real good. I for one don't have enough good things to say about it.
First of all, the concept album ... I love a concept album if it's about a concept that I can care about (sorry ... "death" isn't really on my list). Rock operas are great too, though this one would fall a bit flat if it was to be rated as purely a rock opera ... too much of the story is told by text in the CD liner notes during instrumental cuts. But, as a prog album, this works just fine. And the much-maligned "science fiction story" is another thing that people take pot-shots at. With lots of boring "Bug-Eyed monsters ate my Buick" Sci-Fi as examples, I can't say I blame them. But real science fiction tells amazing stories about who we are as humans, simply using the sci-fi aspects as a way to put things into a perspective that can't be accomplished by more mainstream methods. The Sparrow is such a story, and the band has chosen a great one here, and has almost done it justice ... I say "almost" because I'm sure the book is even deeper. They have convinced me I need to obtain a copy and read it, though. Still, within the limits of a CD's worth of music, Metaphor has done about as well as it's possible to do.
Musically, there are still echoes of Genesis circa The Lamb and maybe even some Gentle Giant here and there. But mostly, they've created their own signature sound, and have used it to great advantage for The Sparrow. Beautiful, alien chords and harmonies vie for time with raspy dissonances that then resolve into more pleasant musicality. They even resisted the temptation to overdo the Mellotron for the alien singers ... the first vocal Mellotron doesn't show up until 3/4 the way through the album. Very tasteful. And John Mabry's vocals cut through it all with his own distinctive style that really doesn't sound like anyone else. The orchestration and interplay of instruments is phenomenal, and never gets boring. The only thing that grates a bit is the vocal harmony when they sing "Another Ball in Free Fall" ... it's just a bit too country-sounding for me. But that's about the worst thing I can say about the album, and that's over with in a few stanzas.
In summary, Metaphor's Grades are: Starfooted: A+, Entertaining Thanatos: B-, The Sparrow: A+. Not a bad report card. Go to their web site and order your copy of The Sparrow now! One of the best things I've heard this year. Essential.
Jerry Lucky - Author of The Progressive Rock Files (USA)
I’m not sure how much it holds true anymore, but there used to be a kind of unspoken rule that a band’s third release was going to be the one to make or break them. I say not true anymore because many progressive rock bands work without the supposed “safety-net” of a major label these days and therefore tend to release music when they’re ready, able or can afford it. This takes a tremendous load off the creative process. And that’s evidently clear with the third release by the San Francisco area quintet Metaphor entitled The Sparrow. What is also clear from the opening notes is that the band has really developed their own sound. But that’s also where it gets tricky.
The promo that came with the CD identifies The Sparrow as a Sci-fi Rock Opera, a concept album about space travel, religion, and a profound change in the protagonist’s perspective. I’ll leave you to work out the details when you pick up the disc, because if you liked the sound of Metaphor before, you’ll love what they do here. When I mentioned the tricky nature of the band’s sound, it’s simply because of the difficulty in describing what these guys do. When I first put it on, I immediately identified the band, mostly due to the vocal style, but more by the way the vocals interplay with the staccato nature of the guitar, bass and drums while the organ/synth keyboard blend injects its own unique counterpoint. Once you hear it, you recognize the band’s individual style. It’s a sound that has faint roots structurally in Wind and Wuthering era Genesis, and the Power and the Glory era Gentle Giant, both now clearly molded into Metaphor’s own style.
The Sparrow features 14 tracks with the longest being 11:46, a few in the six-eight minute range with a few others that connect the story elements together are as short as 1:50. Compositionally the music of Metaphor loves to mix up its rhythms, allowing for keyboards and guitars to each go their own way for parts of the songs. They’re also not afraid to inject a certain minor chording, almost dissonant tones at points, all the while bringing it back to swelling major chord melodies. Just like the lyrics, the music is created to help convey the moods and events of the story. Where the story is tense, so is the music, where the story is moving, so is the music, and so on. Like any good story, here the music has its ups and downs. It has soft introspective moments and huge choral anthems, each doing its part to move the story along.
I have the two previous Metaphor discs and I have to admit to being a real fan of their music. This is a band that’s not afraid to tackle the big subjects lyrically and musically they’ve really developed into their own particular style which is on fine display with The Sparrow. In fact this third release captures their sound sound-style perfectly. Fans of their previous releases will love what the band has produced here but this would also be a perfect starting point for newcomers. The Sparrow is an accomplished release and hopefully will help expose Metaphor to the larger audience they deserve.
* See the Metaphor entry in Jerry Lucky's book, The Progressive Rock Handbook
The Sparrow the third release from Metaphor, is based on the book of the same name by author Mary Doria Russel. It’s a story of a Jesuit funded mission to an alien inhabited planet, which has some unexpected results.. The music on this album have a darker tone lyrically while the arrangements veer slightly away from their previous two Genesis flavored albums.
In fact this album is more on par with modern progressive rock bands as opposed to be treading ground of the old guard. Some bands I think of when I hear ‘The Sparrow’ are Gentle Giant and Yes which will give a wider appeal. Also newer bands like The Underground Railroad, Discipline, Little Atlas and so many more.
One of the strong points of Metaphor has always been the way John Mabry’s vocals work so well within the music. He’s so emotive and brings you to the music in a storyteller way. Songs like "Stella Maris", "Death in Eden" and "Stranded" show his emotive vocals the best. For a concept album, it flows smoothly and you get a sense of the various emotions felt.
‘The Sparrow’ is one of the more intelligent concept albums in recent times. It sticks to the story and doesn’t add the typical cheese-factor most bands like to use. This is a serious sci-fi concept album that doesn’t seem to have a happy ending. Once again Metaphor scores another amazing album and each one gets better.
High recommendation for you symphonic prog lovers and one of my favorite releases of 2007! Get this NOW!
Acid Dragon Magazine (France)
This is Metaphor’s third CD but the first one I’ve heard from this San Francisco based progressive rock band. It is an ambitious project (a sci-fi rock opera no less) and is based on a book written by Mary Doria Russell telling the story of a Jesuit priest who is the sole survivor of an ill-fated expedition to another planet.
It works very well with a strong main musical theme running through it and a varied instrumentation (It’s a pity only names and not instruments are given for the guest players as there is so much going on).
The concept is successful in that you are left with a real sense of having gone on a journey, of reading Russell’s book in fact!
The lyrical exposition by John Mabry is entirely apposite and the standard prog rock line-up of keys/ guitar/ rhythm section deliver an intricate, at times polyrhythmic brand of prog (right in vintage Genesis, Gentle Giant and –briefly-Van Der Graaf Generator territory) with a convincing musical warmth and empathy.
As the press flier rightly says Metaphor provide a ‘satisfying depth of harmonic ideas’ and, may I add, also a bit of soul in this moving tale of what humankind might expect to find on its future extraterrestrial adventures.
‘The Sparrow’ comes highly recommended as an outstanding example of a proud tradition of melodic progressive rock concept albums.
Acclaimed U.S. prog act Metaphor’s third album is finally out after two-plus years of refinement and the finished results are well worth the wait.
I was lucky enough to receive a group of rough demos from keyboardist Marc Spooner at Nearfest 2006 as kind of an inside look at their challenging work in progress. Unlike Camel’s Snow Goose, the band chose to carefully adapt the subject matter of noted writer Mary Doria Russell’s sci-fi epic, with her permission, that is a well-crafted balance of lyrical and instrumental dexterity.
Vocalist John Mabry has come into his own across the disc giving some of his best delivery on pieces such as the contrapuntal “Deus Vult,” “Stella Maris,” and the anthem “God Will Break Your Heart.” The key themes of religious conversion, space migration and cosmic awareness are well-covered in the former two pieces, while the latter track serves as Mabry’s most convincing ballad.
Foxtrot-era Genesis influences are more diluted on this recording with several early Gentle Giant-like passages appearing in a few tracks. The band can credibly rock it up like their SF bay area contemporaries Puppet Show (despite the odd meter and mellotron), or push a weird Yes-like modal passage on “We Are Many and They Are Few.”
Overall the group has easily transcended their earlier efforts and put their best foot forward into shaping their own identity within the small but loyal progressive scene.
Total Rating: 4 1/2
To note that Metaphor is inspired by early Genesis likely will prompt some of you to jump to the next review. But this entertaining San Francisco outfit has a lot more going for it than prerequisite prog-rock complexity characterized by vintage keys and florid guitar lines.
The Sparrow is a concept album based on the book of the same name by sci-fi author Mary Doria Russell about a Jesuit-funded mission to an alien-inhabited planet. Loopy, to be sure, but it 's strictly an epic framework for Metaphor 's resolutely retro sound.
Much of this pays like some lost gem from the early 1970s, like the Florida band Babylon, or maybe an American version of Fruupp. Although from a later period, some might also hear echos of Echolyn.
The result, however, is hardly predictable, as the music continually takes twists and turns to keep things interest.
At its most adventurous, Metaphor shows the unique creativity of Gentle Giant, exploring extraordinarily inventive territory, going beyond the expected mellotrons. This is a well-crafted prog of the highest order.
Progressive Ears (USA) / Rockline (Slovenia)
Three years after Entertaining Thanatos, this year American symphonic rockers returned on the scene with a new album called The Sparrow, which portrays a science fiction story written by Mary Doria Russell about a Jesuit expedition to a distant planet. With this effort Metaphor return to treating religious themes (this time more indirectly, through the story). But not only are they returning to their sarcastic and humorous religious observations, they also go back to the style of their first album, now a cult favourite.
The story starts at the end (“Inquisition”), when a group of inquisitors explore the circumstances surrounding the Jesuit expedition to the planet Rakhat. Father Emilio Sandoz recollects what happened (“Song From A Nearby Star”), he recalls landing on the planet and the feeling of arriving to Paradise (“Stella Maris”) because a beautiful song resounds throughout the planet. After that, a member of the expedition dies (“Death in Eden”), while the others discover people on the planet – the Runa. They discover that these aren't the singers producing the beautiful melodies (“Challalla Khaeri”), but nevertheless the Runae prove to be kind and hospitable, if not the most intelligent of creatures. The Jesuits show them how to grow plants (“Garden Building”) and Father Sandoz falls in love with Sophia, another member of the expedition (“Sick for What The Heart Wants”). During that time, another astronaut falls ill, so some of them must return to the shuttle for medicine (Sophia is one of them). Sophia returns and explains that they had an accident and failed to bring the medicine, while the space craft was destroyed (“Stranded”).
Later, the astronauts meet the real singers, which prove to be the dominant civilization on the planet. They are intelligent, civilized (unlike the Runae) and much taller than humans. The Jesuits take a tour of one of their cities and when they return to the Runae village, the Runae are off at the harvest (“Flower Harvest”). When the Jesuits taught them how to plant gardens, the Runae population exploded and so the singers decided to wipe them out. There were more of the Runae, but they were no match for the superior weapons of the singers (“We Are Many And They Are Few”). All the astronauts, except Emilio, die and he is a slave of the king of the singers (“Mother Night”). Father Sandoz is desperate and decides to kill the first thing he sees. That first thing is Askama, who was a member of the rescue party from Earth and she was like a daughter to him (“God Will Break Your Heart”). Father Sandoz completely loses faith in God and can't believe that a righteous God would let such atrocities happen.
John Mabry portrays the internal conflicts of Father Sandoz beautifully, from questioning in his faith when he falls in love, to his complete disillusionment with God when he sees some of the horrors that happened, some of which are his doing as well (the killing of Askama). While the lyrics may be based on a story by Mary Doria Russell, John Mabry adds his typical metaphorical and humorous twists. This time, just like on Starfooted, he excels at writing lyrics that are as one with the music. Not for a moment did I think that something was forced or out of place.
Musically, The Sparrow picks up where they left off with Starfooted. There is much more emphasis on aesthetic compositions, both when it comes to instruments and vocals, than on the more experimental (but just as good, merely in a different way) Entertaining Thanatos. There are lots of great choir arrangements, which again remind of the debut. The avant-garde elements are still present, however there are not as many of them and even the few that remain are integrated into this new magnificent sound.
The amount of enthusiasm, energy and virtuosity put into the pieces is again staggering. At the forefront of all of this is the unofficial boss of the group, Malcolm Smith, whose fluent style always brings up comparisons to Steve Hackett. Marc Spooner uses vintage keyboards like Hammond organ, piano and mellotron even more. His style is not too aggressive; his main focus seems to be in the subtlety and refinement of the arrangements, which, together with the guitarist, form the main sound backdrop for the band. The biggest asset of singer John Mabry is his excellent lyrical technique, but he is a fine vocalist as well. The rhythm section is again at a high level and Greg Miller, the new face behind the drum kit, gels with the band effortlessly.
With The Sparrow, Metaphor return to the style that they incorporated on Starfooted. Entertaining Thanatos was a bit different from their usual style (in a positive sense), but now the Americans returned to the sound that made them famous (relatively speaking). As is usual, the music is complemented with top-notch lyrics, based on a highly involving science-fiction novel. Maybe some fans might wonder why they need so long to record an album, but I for one prefer a band to take their time and compose really memorable pieces rather than rush things and come up with only a decent effort. The Sparrow doesn't reach the heights of Starfooted, still it is not too far behind. The future of Metaphor seems secure and we can look forward to some more great music.
Sea of Tranquility (USA)
The Sparrow is the third release from San Francisco's prog-rock upstarts Metaphor. Based on the book of the same name by author Mary Doria Russel, The Sparrow is a concept piece telling the story of a Jesuit funded mission to an alien inhabited planet, leading to all sorts of exciting events. The band's previous two albums were heavily Genesis flavored, and while there are moments here that remind of that classic prog act, especially in the keyboard sounds of Marc Spooner, for the most part this is a much more modern sounding prog recording, bringing to mind Spock's Beard, The Flower Kings, and Arena. Still, there's enough of a vintage Genesis, Gentle Giant, and Yes undercurrent going on here to please any lover of 70's symphonic prog.
The vocals of John Mabry as always are very strong, as he is showing once again how to be an effective storyteller as well as vocalist. His emotional, melodic vocals permeate tracks like "Stella Maris", "Death in Eden" (featuring some wonderful, lush keyboard playing from Spooner & tasty guitar lines from Malcolm Smith), and the soulful "Stranded". There's some fanstastic interplay between the guitar and keys on the epic "Challallah Khaeri" (which has an almost Genesis meets Squeeze feel to it) and the short, Gentle Giant inspired instrumental "Garden Building", and the Mellotron strings come out full force on "Flower Harvest". If you like Hackett styled guitar lines, layers of vintage keys, and booming bass (courtesy of Jim Anderson), the instrumental "We Are Many And They Are Few" should be right up your alley, and ominous Mellotron returns on the moody "God Will Break Your Heart".
Metaphor have continued their strong run here with this latest The Sparrow. It's not easy to put together three challenging & demanding prog rock opuses right out of the gate, but this outfit from San Fran have done just that. Symphonic lovers take note and seek this one out.
It’s always a pleasure to receive and listen to each new release by USA based band Metaphor. And it is so because of different aspects to the philosophy they have chosen as musical and lyrical approaches…
The music of this band has always been closely connected to that of early Genesis (just note the use of the Mellotron and of the Hackettish guitar lines) while at the same time imposing a freshness and innovative approach to those reminiscences that somehow (and especially in this particular album) brings them closer to more contemporary bands such as Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and sometimes Cryptic Vision. This meaning that, since Entertaining Thanatos, the band has strived to evolve its sound concept into an even improved interpretation of the classic tendencies under a modern viewpoint.
Being the third concept album out of 3 releases (challenging, right?!), for The Sparrow the band has chosen as inspirational muse the novel with the same name, by Mary Doria Russell) which portrays the story of a Jesuit Priest that is placed in an alien inhabited planet. As in all previous albums, the band keeps its focus on Religious matters, always in a challenging attitude which many times borders subtle blasphemy, but every time the band accomplishes the handling of quite intelligent questions and even better the art of delivering some possible answers. So in The Sparrow they found a novel that perfectly fits the concept of the type of matters that they have dwelt since the first album.
Vocally this album is, yet again, very strong. The technique of imposing emotional, melodic and eloquent sung parts with a slight descriptive and interpretive tone is excellently achieved once more. This works as a most integrant part of the overall result, being virtually impossible to dissociate it from the music.
The music, on the other hand, is complex and crafted, imposing change after change both in direction and mood. The before mentioned Genesian and more contemporary symphonic palette of tricks is added with some Gentle Giantish counterparts and multi-layer parts which are perfectly mastered by the band. The result is a high quality, hard-sink-in album that needs many listens to fully enjoy (like so many of the vintage masterpieces).
All os the above easily makes The Sparrow a must-get for a majority of the true symphonic progressive lovers out there, who really enjoy a good challenge that never ceases to deliver the goods!
Radio MLWZ (Poland)
Metaphor, an American outfit, known from their earlier, well-received albums Starfooted (1999) and Entertaining Thanatos (2004), have come back to the forefront with their new album. The Sparrow is an ambitious undertaking, shaped in a classical rock opera format. The libretto is an adaptation of the novel by the well-known American author Mary Doria Russell. It is a story about a Jesuit expedition to another planet in search of life discovered from radio waves of music, and the story is right on the border of mysticism/philosophy and science fiction. The protagonist is Father Emilio Sandoz, who is part of the crew sent to investigate the existence of unknown creatures on the distant planet of Rakhat. During this expedition he finds a civilization that is completely out of the human approach to life. The people who accompany him meet horrible fates and as the only survivor Father Sandoz comes back to Earth to tell his story.
To the Polish listener, literary details of the story might not be the most important thing. What interests us the most is the music through which Metaphor illustrates The Sparrow novel.
Jim Anderson (bass), John Mabry (vocals), Greg Miller (drums), Malcolm Smith (guitar) and Marc Spooner (keyboards) present us with a good portion of stylishly diverse music, which they have clearly give a great deal of thought and development. There are 14 musical themes on the album (with playing times ranging from 2 minutes to 12 minutes). Everything is centered around musically illustrating each of the novel’s themes. What I can say about the music is that it is composed of quite complicated structures and often not easy to immediately grasp – especially on the first or the second listening. Doubtless, the time is needed so that the music can sink in and start to make a whole; and doubtless, some listeners’ patience is needed too.
Metaphor started their musical adventure as a cover band of Genesis, which was clearly heard on the first group’s disc. Then, Metaphor followed their own way, but still, if I were to say something about the style of music on The Sparrow, Genesis would be the best comparison. Let’s add, though, that it is the Genesis from their early days, when they played such works of art as: Fountain Of Salmacis, Get’em Out By Friday, The Battle Of Epping Forest or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
Summing up, while The Sparrow may not initially be an easy album to grasp, it is fortunate that by devoting some time to listening to it, some beautiful elements present themselves: atmosphere, melodies, choir vocal parts, perfect instrumentals, and the pleasant vocals of Mabry. When taken together as a whole, the time spent listening to The Sparrow is wonderful. I think that maybe this album is not quite for our times…but thanks to its extraordinary nature and archaic elements, it positively stands out of the crowd of the other progressive rock albums which are released en masse (and which are, let’s face it, albums that virtually sound rather identical). “The Sparrow” is far more interesting than those.
Musik an Sich (Germany)
Norbert von Fransecky
The Prog masters from the San Francisco Bay Area are back with another concept album (they can’t seem to make a CD without a concept)! Their latest, The Sparrow, is based on the book of the same name by Mary Doria Russell, and Metaphor has done their best to create a kind of Art/Philosophy/Science Fiction concept album.
I can’t say that I understood the story completely. Metpahor’s cryptic lyrical details are not the only parallel to the classic progressive rock creation “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” I gather, though, that the story concerns an expedition under the guidance of the Jesuits to another planet where they make contact with an alien civilization – with disastrous results for the expedition and a crisis of religious faith by the sole survivor of the crew.
Metaphor’s music is essentially in the vein of early Genesis. In addition occasional influences come from Yes, and Jazz. Some Neo Prog backgrounds are to be found at times, particularly in the song "We Are Many And They Are Few" and in the beautiful "Stella Maris". Interestingly, a completely new door opens with the album’s "Afterture" - its trumpets and clarinets seem to want to celebrate a Carnival in the new Orleans style.
With its well though-out compositions, Metaphor has found it’s own style and while paying homage to the prog of old, they continue to evolve as Metaphor. In fact the quintet sounds strong, and more brash even than its sometimes sugar-sweet models of yore. Perhaps the musical freedom of movement is somewhat sacrificed occasionally in order to maintain consistency and connection among songs for the concept involved. Many listeners will enjoy the connections to some of the early Brit Prog.
For fastidious Prog Heads, this third album by Metaphor is certainly one which you must hear!
Progwereld (The Netherlands)
Music from another planet is a concept not infrequently heard in creative music, and nearly always it is figuratively meant, although there are exceptions, as you’ll see…
Metaphor is a group which releases CDs rather infrequency - a new one every three or four years. In some cases, going that long between releases may cause some to forget a band. For Metaphor that is not a problem. They compose and record music as their hobby and it is not their livelihood. The result is that they bring their audience albums that are worth waiting for, in their own good time.
For me, a new Metaphor album certainly attracts my attention, and that’s what has happened with their new CD, The Sparrow. In the review of their previous (2nd release) effort, Entertaining Thanatos, the history of these Americans was already exhaustively covered. In fact in the three years since that release, very little has changed in the lineup, and it’s good news that they have successfully incorporated a fixed drummer, Greg Miller, as a regular member.
Their new ‘concept’ CD utilizes the book “The Sparrow” by author Mary Doria Russell as its central theme. This science fiction story relates the mission of eight Jesuits to another planet named Rakhat. The planet comes to the attention of Earth through the massive radio-telescope in Puerto Rico in the year 2019, and what is heard is music. A mission to this planet takes place, and the story explores what it means to actually be ‘human’ ourselves. Finally as the lone survivor, Emilio Sandoz, returns to earth in the year 2059, he must explain what it was that went horribly wrong.
The music on "The Sparrow" shines through as a work of art. There are, as expected, still sounds of the seventies prog rock, certainly with reference to the 'old' Genesis, and at the same time a touch of Yes from that great creative period. And while it references those and other great prog bands, this album departs from its predecessors. This is the best Metaphor album of that band’s three releases. A more recent reference or perhaps influence is the American band Ad Infinitum. The voice of singer/lyricist John Mabry, in fact, bears some resemblance to that of Mike Seguso from that band. Closer to home, here in Europe, I’d say that the Metaphor travels on the same street as the German band High Wheel.
On "The Sparrow" there are soaring vocal-oriented numbers regularly alternated with beautiful instrumental sections, from which a balanced whole arises. This CD can legitimately be referred to as a science fiction rock opera.
Primarily responsible for the overall sound of the group are guitarist Malcolm Smith, keyboardist Marc Spooner, and singer John Mabry. These three spell out the compositions’ melodies and create the overall accessibility of the music. For example on the song Deus Vult, which tells the part of the story where it is decided to make the trip to the planet Rakhat, you’ll hear excellent melodic work on the Hammond. This is also the only number in which bass and drum seem to feel freely prominent. I think that in many ways, they play a more subordinate, accompanying role in the rest of the songs.
As in Deus, we hear great melodies in the songs Stella Maris and Mother Night. Then there is some very Hackett-esque guitar work, along with many tempo changes throughout the song Death In Eden. The fragile seeming vocals of John Mabry are beautiful and come and truly represent the name of this song. It is clearly one of the best numbers on the album.
At almost twelve minutes long, Challalla Khaeri is the longest song. Musically this song covers very wide prog rock territory, reminiscent of the German band High Wheel, mainly because of the guitar playing. Sick for What the Heart Wants is beautiful and airy. And there is great Mellotron present in God Will Break Your Heart. That number begins initially with interesting choral figures, after which it gets halfway through and creates a whole new and wonderful atmosphere. The number ends with the mysterious space signal drone, with which the album also began. To bring the entire CD around to its beginning (as the story actually does) many of the various themes from all of the songs recur in the classical instrumental closer, Afterture – some very beautiful melodies indeed.
"The Sparrow" is an album of absolutely consistent quality, it captivates the listener from beginning to end, and it remains very well structured and nowhere does it falter. The previous albums by Metaphor, while very strong, on occasion had their weaker points. In that sense we see and hear the strong forward musical development of Metaphor. The band members’ love for creating and playing progressive music almost drips off of this CD. An old saying is apropos: 'Expertise is mastership'.
…Now it just remains for us to wait until the year 2019 to see if, truly, we hear music from another planet.
Space Rock UK (UK)
Stuart A. Hamilton
Album number three from well-regarded (by me!) progsters Metaphor, following on from their excellent "Entertaining Thanatos" album.
Now don't go in here thinking in terms of melodic or mellow prog. Metaphor deal in what I like to think of as 'hard-prog'. They don't mess about. Well they do, actually, it's all complex structures and intricate rhythms in Metaphor world. And lovers of the genre will be delighted to learn that this is also a full blown concept album, based on the novel "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell.
Briefly, it seems to concern the story of a Jesuit priest who takes part in the first manned mission to another inhabited planet, what he encounters and the aftermath and repercussions. The story arc is well presented by the band and it would be futile to select individual moments, as the songs really fo form a fully formed cycle.
It's a challenging album, but one with memorable music and a story that draws you in. It's well worth taking the time to explore as you won't be able to digest it all in one listening, so set aside a few hours for "The Sparrow".