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Hemina - Nebulae CD (album) cover

NEBULAE

Hemina

 

Progressive Metal

3.87 | 134 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
5 stars Hemina, Australia's answer to Dream Theater, have released their second album and it is a genuine delight. Hemina released an excellent album in 2012 "Synthetic" that really impressed me with its blend of metal and spacey musicianship. It is an album I would recommend to the prog metal fan who does not like to be constantly bombarded with speedy riffs, over produced complexity or death growls, and recommended for those who love haunting atmospheres, compelling lyrics, strong melodies and virtuoso arrangements.

This followup album "Nebulae" is again a blend of crunching metal riffs juxtaposed with melodic keyboards and soul wrenching vocals. The vocals, as previous, are in the accomplished hands of Douglas Skene and his loved one Jessica Martin. Douglas is a busy guitarist, with involvement in a variety of other Prog related projects, and with Hemina he is able to shine with some fret melting lead breaks and killer riffs. His vocals always remind me of the type heard on Pain of Salvation albums, indeed the band are similar to the sound of Kamelot or Symphony X in places, and Jessica's vocals may remind some of After Forever or Nightwish at times. It is a clear tone and easy on the ears, with easily recognizable lyrics. Jessica's vocals enhance the sound, with beautiful resonance and haunting clarity. I believe an angelic voice can soothe the soul, and in the same way as is heard on many Ayreon albums, the addition of a female vocalist is always a welcome sound after a lot of male vocals. It balances out all the heaviness of aggressive guitar riffs and pounding drums. Jessica plays bass also and this strikes out effectively with some outstanding keyboards by Phill Eltakchi. The whole sound is fleshed out by Mitch Coull, also adept on acoustic and electric guitars, and plays some blindingly brilliant lead solos.

The lyrics are important in understanding the conceptual ideas behind the album. Each song is given a one word title and follows an emotional journey of searching in the darkness of despair and coming out of the night with a sense of hope and one final promise. On the way the protagonist has to battle the trials we all face but in the struggles there is strength leading to building up of character, and through strength of character comes hope. Then there is the literal meaning that has a science fiction element, but one can interpret this as they choose such is the ambiguity of the concept, and this is one of the drawcards of Hemina. Douglas Skene describes the concept as being centered around "lucid dreaming and the exploration of possible worlds dominated solely by particular human emotions and experiences in isolation. It's about the search for transcendence through love and the desire to be loved."

The journey begins with 'Before', the lyrics hinting at the dreamscape concept; "I thought true love would make it easy if we played our parts, two souls hovering, floating, gliding for a counterpart". The music builds gradually and then breaks into a lone keyboard seguing seamlessly into 'Nightlives'. A multi tracked vocal is heard as a wild guitar phrase crunches along a forced percussion figure. The lyrics centre on the lucid dreaming; "In my waking world I can't walk through these walls, or feed my hands to each other, oh, eye to eye with my watch face, to me its flickering, lucidly I forge my nebulae." The latter lyric is sung with an aggressive growl, though the majority of vocals are clean and harmonised with multi tracked voices. Douglas Skene is in his element on this album, really powering out some excellent vocals. There are sudden bursts of sound in an ambient section that has a dramatic effect. A keyboard and lead guitar solo rounds off this indelible highlight, making this a great start to the album.

'Freedom' cranks along a genuine metal blast beat rhythm, with provocative lyrics; "set the masses free and destroy minority". Some forced growls sounding like Devin Townsend are heard in places to great effect. I particularly love the jagged guitar rhythms. This one really grows on you after a few listens and the lead break is absolutely killer, reverbs, delays and huge string bends, merging into a frenetic keyboard solo. Coull's lead guitar playing is a speed blur of frenetic picking and up sweeps. A final effect of a helicopter and air raid siren adds to the concept.

'Lust' surprises with a funkadelic groove reminiscent of late 70s Disco. Jessica has fun playfully plucking out a bassline that comes straight out of the Earth Wind and Fire Museum of funky bass hooks. The sound works as the song is about lust, and what can be more lustful than 70s porno funk grooves? A salacious hook locks in as chaotic percussion and bass warbles about. It's nice to hear Jessica passionately duet with Douglas. The lyrics are compelling focussing on unrequited love; "I picked you out from across the room in this white light, so bright." The soothing keyboards are counterbalanced by heavy passages of guitar, though the music is always allowed to breathe. The music is a testament to the innovative creative talents from the group that were only hinted at in the debut. The band go into full flight on this track and plunge deep into the steamy waters of quirky pop and dance at times, strange bedfellows I agree but Hemina make it work somehow.

'Soulmates' is a calming atmospheric track reverberating with acoustic vibrations. There is a romantic sense of mystery in the lyrics; "walking together, growing strong, amidst this void we found our call". The song floats on an air of keyboards and acoustics as vocals caress the spaces between, with some of Douglas Skene's best work and Jessica answers with emotive angst. The singing is exceptional on this album, and I particularly love how Jessica and Douglas are able to balance each other's styles on soulful, melancholy songs such as 'Soulmates'; it is truly beautiful. The twin lead break is also awesome with howling string bends and fast fingering echoing the turgid romance in the lyrics.

'Strength' follows, with staccato meat cleaver chops of metal chunks blasting over manic synths. This is a heavy song after the previous melancholia. In the lead break there is a fractured rhythm and some blazing riffs with duel guitar playing. The keys chime in with sweeping washes of string pads as the pacey rhythm gallops along in contrast. After more singing a stunning lead break takes the song out, with a flurry of speed trills and lightning fingering. The lyrics are mysterious and draw one in; "I head to unseen waters toward a light that is lovingly familiar, a figure glimmers in the distant sunset, the me I'd dreamed of with a little more strength."

'Loss' keeps a steady rhythm with metal distortion and a strong melody. The lyrics are intriguing; "I want to thank you for sparing me the years or empty hope, strung along for what seemed like a legacy". The melody is difficult to capture but there is so much happening at such a frenetic pace that it does not matter. The guitars are complemented by huge cloudbursts of synth.

'Hope' jumps along an odd meter with forceful passionate vocals that are the dominant force here, with some enticing lyrics, "my world a sphere of ice and me its cold insides, stars warm my heart the distant nebulae." An ambient opening warms up 'Promise'; a song with an optimistic note. The metal blasts are prevalent soon as Jessica and Douglas sing "promise me you'll try eternally, I need someone who will grow." The shattered rhythms are jarring to the ear and there is an ascending melody, and a soothing outro.

'Otherworldly' takes things out with Hammond sounds and a raucous chorus; "through the wormhole and rise to another frame, frame of reference free of a world of blame." The song takes some twists and turns with sudden departures in volume and pace, quiet reflective moments concluding the conflict in the concept; "reach down inside and realise what you've lost, it's simple to find if you've even got a heart." A choppy riff is heard over a fast keyboard phrase. Some very powerful vocals follow, and it breaks into a classical piano passage, then the grinding metal riffs return, fracturing time signatures, and a final spoken narrative section over ethereal keyboards. The sheer force of musical virtuosity is astonishing on this album.

A new project "Venus" is still in the pipeline and hopefully will see the light of day in the near future, but till then "Nebulae" will continue to excite listeners with accomplished musicianship and mesmirising themes. There are throughout adventurous basslines and sporadic blitzing drums. The dynamic lead guitar breaks and keyboard flourishes are incredible. Hemina inject odd time sigs and intricate layers of instruments to create some remarkable musical compositions. Overall "Nebulae" is yet another solid release from Hemina that delivers outstanding prog metal on a plate served up with a slice of funk, diced up with distorted guitar riffs and a nice garnish of spacey atmospheres wrapped around a concept of lucid dreaming and the exploration of emotions.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |

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