1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
“Aeon Zen started in 2006 when Rich Hinks, with his local Cambridge musician friends, played and composed music influenced by prog rock and metal. With the friends split to various universities around the UK at age 18 it was great that one of them, Lloyd Musto was at the same university in London UK as Rich” (Aeon Zen My Space.com, 2009).
“With a signing to Time Divide Records Ltd. to release the album A Mind's Portrait, Rich notated, recorded, produced and played multiple instruments (guitars, bass & keyboards), with Lloyd on drums for this album. With the Record Company's support Rich was able to approach well respected guest vocalists to appear (Nils K. Rue of Pagan's Mind, Andi Kravljaca of Silent Call (ex-Seventh Wonder), Andreas Novak of Mind's Eye and Elyes Bouchoucha of Myrath), which blends perfectly with the quality of the production and musicianship on this album to make a must have in anyone's music collection. Mattias Norén, famous for his spectacular artwork, produced the album cover” (Aeon Zen My Space.com, 2009).
“Rich has a contract for a 2nd Album (2010) and is also busy putting together a live band with session musicians with tour support from the Record Company” (Aeon Zen My Space.com, 2009).
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
This is the band’s debut album and their website discusses how they are working on the follow up.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
1. Existence - Drums and blasting guitars open this Dream Theater sounding entry, until the vocals take over and you think you are listening to Kansas. Very good opening! “All you are and all you hide is what you are inside!” This refrain is the part that sounds so – Kansas - ish. But the music is definitely early Dream Theater.
2. Time Divine - Guitars and drums thunder in as we are greeted by more Dream Theater effects. Drums and guitar dominate and the keys are hard to hear in the background, making this heavier than early DT. Vocals jumping in and out from all sides as it sounds like there are multiple vocalists on this one. Great guitar and drum effects. The guitar solos are cool. Remembering back to DT’s first album the vocals were not this good.
3. Blinded Rain - Very soft keyboard beginning supported by drums. Very DT here. Sounds like the first DT album. Great vocals again supported by piano. One of the best songs on the album. Keys and guitar are wonderful. Almost instrumental through most of the song. Great performance.
4. Hope’s Echo – Pt. I – The Wake - Beautiful piano opens this one up and again you are reminded of Images and Words. The piano slowly builds and then the vocals come in perfectly. Lone vocals with piano accompaniment, just fantastic. Just the music DT used to make that brought so many of us fans to the band.
5. Hope’s Echo – Pt. II – The Aftermath - “Return to me.” Then the guitars, drums and keys rocket off as we begin to hear the sound build. The lyrics are similar to DT in the way they use colloquialisms like, “Follow me to my darkest dreams”. “Misery loves my company”. “This is the aftermath, the echo of a hope that’s lost.” Yeah, dark, sad lyrics as the vocalist describes the betrayal of a loved one.
6. A Mind’s Portrait - The title track opens with a lone guitar which echoes so wonderfully. “Moments, seconds, hours waste away.” Keys, drums and guitar help the progression build. Nice effect, then back to piano, vocals, guitar, and drums. The dreamy kind of sound I remember so well from DT’s Images and Words. Then the best keys and dreamy vocal effects that have been missing from DT’s latest albums.
7. The Circle’s End
Then a solo guitar riff supported by drums which actually reminds me of the beginning of Day Three: Pain off Arjen Lucassen’s Human Equation album.
8. Heaven’s Falling - Piano and synths open this one up with those waking up from a dream kind of sounds. Synths, guitars and drums blending well to build a rhythm with the bass. “Shadows crawl over the lawn, light fading from the sky’s last moments of life.” Yeah, Lifting Shadows Off A Dream. Rocketing guitars and cool synths and keys for an instrumental in the middle. Launching guitar and synths follow as the power builds.
9. Into the Infinite - Drums rallying the sound with guitar supporting to build a nice rhythm. Almost a trial like atmosphere, with vocals accusing everywhere, simulating one of my favorite songs off DT’s Falling Into Infinity, the Trial of Tears. Great effects of synths and keys.
10. Goddess - Beautiful piano opens this one. An almost classical instrumental with strings that build with power, accompanied by piano. Almost feels like they threw this one in there to let everyone know how powerful their musicianship is and because it was too wonderful to keep off the album.
11. The Demise of the Fifth Sun - Solo piano opens the finale. Then the guitar and drums blast in. Thunderous guitar and drums reminding you they can rock. This is the epic. Great launching vocals that really bring back memories of early James La Brie. Only this time we get multiple vocalists and it adds volumes to the sound. Then the growling vocals, bringing us up to date with DT’s current vocal additions. Good epic and closer.
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
No, in fact they sound so much like early Dream Theater, you begin to think they are taking over the ground Dream Theater deserted. DT does not sound this good any more. This is a more stripped down, less overdubbed version of Dream Theater. This is how good DT used to sound. I think these guys stepped in at the perfect moment to take over where frustrated DT fans, like me, have been looking for a return to the style that made them famous. Wonderful musicianship, but the lyrics are not as deep as DT’s early works.
5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Rating: 6/10 – Very good Dream Theater cover band. That is the power and weakness of this album. They fill in the ground Dream Theater used to walk, but without as powerful lyrics, since much of it has been done and said before. So it’s not as original. That is the weakness.
The strength is that they have captured the power of the first three major Dream Theater albums and proved to DT’s fans, if in fact, that is their target audience that they can rock like their heroes. Their vocals are much stronger than DT’s debut album already giving them an edge. They have duplicated DT’s former sound and have even added the growling vocals on the epic closer to get them up to date with the current DT sound.
They need to create their own identity for the next album. DT is still a creative and performing band. Despite Aeon Zen’s good sound they are almost duplicating a successful band.
This is good to listen to if you miss the old Dream Theater. But a fan can always listen to the old Dream Theater albums, so unless they innovate, they may be lost in the shadows.
Reviewed by Prof on August 12th, 2009