Those who've known me for a long time may wonder what on earth I'm doing reviewing a prog metal album. There was a time when I didn't like anything even vaguely metal. But as my tastes have shifted over the last decade or so, I have slowly gained an appreciation for some of the more melody-driven prog metalers - and I definitely don't mind a bit of 'chunka, chunka' guitar mixed in with my prog these days. This certainly doesn't mean that I love everything that the genre has to offer, but as the song says, "I know what I like".
Vitruvius are a Mexican progressive metal band (with lyrics in English), comprised of guitarist/keyboardist/composer Oskar Villarreal, drummer Ronnie Rodriguez, bassist Armando Thamez and female vocalist/lyricist Dulce Robles. The band's unusual name pays tribute to a historical figure, Marcus Vitruvius Pollioa, a first century Roman writer, architect and engineer...Who said rock and roll couldn't be educational?
Though Vitruvius (the band) will likely be unknown to most American prog fans, as they were to me prior to being assigned this review, their self-titled debut CD has actually been in gestation since early 2008. While the band members may hail from Mexico, the production and release of this CD has been a truly international and Internet-driven affair. Band leader Villarreal recorded, produced, engineered and mixed the album from a state-of-the-art studio in Toronto, Canada, while his band mates sent their contributions digitally from another studio in Mexico City. Though the album was finished in 2009, it would be another year before it was officially released through Dust On the Tracks, a German label.
To my ears, Vitruvius wears the "prog-metal" tag fairly well, as their music is definitely progressive and definitely has strong metal tendencies - but I don't think that description tells the whole story, either. Metal fans will no doubt rejoice in the intense drive of the rhythm section and dexterous guitar workouts. But there is much, much more to this music than sheer volume and muscle. The musicians are all obviously very well-honed, creative players. Several times throughout this disc I was blown away by the precision and depth of the arrangements, which give all of the instruments (and vocals) ample time to shine. As for the compositions - they do rock, first and foremost, but often contain some downright surprising moments; like a burst of bright, jazzy piano (“Somewhere”), a haunting piano/vocal intro that wouldn't seem too out of place on a new age album (“Memories”), as well as some twisting, turning time-signatures throughout the album which may owe more to jazz-fusion than prog rock.
Also surprising is voice of Dulce Robles. Judging from her powerhouse performance here, I would guess that she is almost certainly classically trained. She's definitely not the type of metal "screamer" that some might expect, and to me, that's one of the things that makes Vitruvius distinct from others in the crowded prog metal field. In her lower register Robles' voice is smooth and melodious. In her higher,operatic register, she bats some power notes up into the stratosphere which you'd be more likely to hear from Sarah Brightman than a metal singer. One trend that I like in the current prog-rock scene is that there are now more female-fronted bands than there were in either the 70s heyday or the 80s revival. And as Vitruvius finds more listeners, I wouldn't be surprised to see Robles take her place alongside Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq), Marcela Bovio (Stream of Pasion), Kim Seviour (Touchstone) and/or Christina Booth (Magenta) as one of the top prog frontwomen.
I also must say I was deeply impressed by the actual “sound” of this album. The engineering, mixing, tones, balances and use of stereo separation are all top-notch, allowing even the smallest nuances of the music to ring out loud and clear. Many CDs today seem to be overly compressed and mastered at too high of a level, which causes an underlying distortion. This CD has no such problems.
All in all, this is a highly impressive debut from a band that deserves a wider listening among fans of prog and creative, melodic metal. While the album is strong as a whole, if I were asked to pick a few favorite tracks I would say that "Inner Space", "Memories", the instrumental showcase "Alchemist" and the two-part epic "Black Sphere" nicely sum up what this band is all about.
According to their Facebook page a second album is currently in the works, so it looks as if the musical journey of Vitruvius might be just getting started...
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on July 10th, 2011