Majestic offerings from the Middle East…
Released by Universal Music MENA and reviewed by Andrew Manning
Now this will be an interesting one: a Lebanese Cinematic Prog Metal band! Genres can be useful to describe an offering but can also be a barrier meaning that many music aficionados may steer clear if they do not really understand what is below the surface. Well let’s hope everyone gives these guys a chance. Can you imagine how challenging it must be to deliver this style of music when you are based in Lebanon which is certainly not on the map for an abundance of rock bands. This is where Ostura, meaning ‘legend’ in Arabic, hail from having formed back in 2009.
The Room is their second release and must have been a real labour of love as it was recorded between 2013 and 2016. Elia Monsef of ‘Amadeus Awad’ fame joined keyboardist Danny Bou-Maroun in the creative process with both being responsible for compositions, arrangements, story, lyrics, and production. The 12 songs were written in chronological order and work as a score for an equally cinematic storyline about a social recluse girl who takes refuge in a room. Locked in with her thoughts, fears, and ambitions, the girl’s imagination turns the room into an endless universe where she is the creator. The story tackles the notions of fear, perfection, social anxiety, ambitions, rage, power, and the struggle between the creator and the creation.
From beginning to end this is a seamless complete piece of music but the beauty is that it can be broken down into smaller chunks without losing any impact. Fans of classical influenced progressive/symphonic metal will find plenty to enjoy here. The title track opens the album with a bombastic build up with some delicious guitar riffs before dual male/female vocals kick in which really complement each other. A kind of hypnotic wall of sound hits you during the mid-point of the track which really shows off the mixing and mastering skills of engineer Jens Bogren who has previously worked with Opeth, Devin Townsend, Between The Buried And Me, Symphony X and Haken.
‘Erosion’ has a type of dark feel to it in the lyrics and is very reminiscent in parts of Symphony X with orchestration. Riffing hard guitars with expressive vocals take us on a journey which is beautifully arranged leading into some flamenco inspired guitars before heading off in the direction of some Gregorian style harmony vocals before the band start to seal their reputation with a closing crescendo of distorted vocals. ‘Deathless’ is a massive production with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra at the centre of this epic track which also features some stunning guitar work from guest artist Marco Sfogli ((James Labrie, Icefish, Jordan Rudess among others). Flutes, synthesizers as well as a fair amount of electronica feature alongside some kick ass guitar riffing on ‘Duality’. The ever changing atmosphere on this track shows how the small elements that Ostura have added really enrich the output. To describe this as grandiose would be an understatement.
If you were expecting middle-eastern sounds to impose themselves across the album then you would be wrong. Very cleverly the band injects small subtle elements of their territorial influences to compliment the music throughout which works really well such as on ‘Darker Shades of Black’ and ‘The Surge’. The Epica sounding ‘Escape’ contains it all from church bells to violins to driving keyboard rhythms to catchy riffs but it is the stunning female vocals of Youmna Jreissati that really shines here. She is a real jewel in the crown particularly on this track and ‘Mourning Light’ where she provides the listener with some wonderful spine chilling moments.
Delicate ambient keyboards usher in the catchy ‘Let There Be’ which is one of the more commercial songs containing dual vocals and guitars plus some stirring orchestral arrangements. The album is blessed throughout with upbeat heavy sections blended with recurring mellowness such as on ‘Beyond (The New World)’. This track has a blistering guitar solo towards the end but it is the vocals of Jreissati accompanied by violins that masterfully moves the track to the next level. She is certainly on a par here with the soprano sounds of former Nightwish front lady Tarja Turunen. The structure and change of atmospheres on ‘Only One’ would sit perfectly in a rock opera and this is the kind of number which probably best encapsulates the cinematic tag.
This is a lengthy piece of work clocking in at just under 75 minutes and some may find it a touch too long to maintain their interest which would be a shame because Ostura have delivered an album which is nothing short of a triumphant tour de force of prog metal. Yes they do sound very similar at times to the likes of Epica, without the growling, and Nightwish but embrace what has been recorded and you will have no regrets.
- The Room
- Darker Shade of Black
- Let There Be
- Beyond (The New World)
- Mourning Light
- The Surge
- Only One
- Exit The Room