Montreal’s Heaven’s Cry is a progressive metal outfit which has actually been in existence since 1994, only releasing two records (one in 1996 and another in 2002) previous to Wheels of Impermanence. So for most fans this then begs the question: has the band kept its chops or have they sagged over time? Most bands that come back from a lengthy creative hibernation tend to put out releases that are hit or miss, and the potential for missteps are often observable. Looking at this album, the progressive spirit is definitely well in play a vast majority of the time, being one of the album’s strong points, but also working against them at times.
When it comes to the brand of progressive metal Heaven’s Cry play, one can definitely tell it comes from an older model of the progressive metal sound. Inspired by calculated, schizophrenic cacophony, epic melodic chords, heavy, palm muted riffing, whirlwind solos, layered, atmospheric passages and just about every progressive staple under the book, making the band appeal to a wide range of the non-extreme prog metal fanbase. But they also have the adventurous nature of 70s prog rock in play, so we also get a lot of non-conventional variety within the riffs too, sometimes breaking from pummelling, thrash or power metal-inspired bits into more up-beat, catchy rock licks, clean, atmospheric pieces or all three at once. For the most part the transitions are completely unpredictable as it switches style and execution on whim. These progressive riffs are then battled against complex keyboard passages, virtuoso singing and jazz-inspired drumming, in short, playing out the more light-hearted style of progressive metal that alludes to its progressive rock genetics, such as bands like Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation and later Queensryche.
Despite the older progressive style, Heaven’s Cry has taken note of some contemporary variances, in both the commercial and non-commercial aspect of rock and metal. This is seen mostly in the atmospheric passages and symphonic elements spread throughout the record, which manage to be tastefully modern, somewhat highlighting the retrospective elements of the riffing. This means that we see a heavy dose of key-work going into this record, and for the most part it’s responsible for the stronger points on the record. Sometimes it breaks into retro Hammond Organ fills, inspiring symphonic soaring, and atmospheric synth work, creating a palette of different musical tastes and styles. The vocal work from Pirere St John is definitely competent and effective as well, harkening to a lot of mid-register rock/metal vocalists, such as Steve Perry (Journey), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), but also throwing in Agalloch-like, Gregorian chant work into the repertoire. Weirdest of his styles however, is the vocal work found during the chorus of the song The Hollow(2:40), which uses an eastern-like vocal melody with a Kurt Cobain-styled grunge gruffness in the singing, attaining a sound that was utilized by popular nu-rock bands like Godsmack and Linkin Park (listen to the chorus of the Linkin Park song Forgotten, you’ll see what I mean).
The production and composition on this album is really tight, stitching together heavy and soft riffs, complex key-work and orchestrations, schizophrenic drumming and powerful vocal work into one coherent, moderate entity, with the guitars, keyboards and vocals having an equal, yet dominant presence. The moods and atmospheres here are deep and rich, bringing words such as triumph, exotic, foreboding, philosophical, looming and hope to mind, and the record is definitely interesting in that regard. The lyrical work focuses mainly around the point of existence, and the inner working of man’s mind, sometimes from a somewhat science fiction-like perspective. As I said this record is rich in the progressive spirit, and this is seen by the unpredictable directions the band takes the songs in, also throwing in things such as Saxophones, Latin-influence and psychedelic rock passages. While this is all well and good, it sometimes backfires on them. Having a lot of twists and turns can be effective, but just because it’s a random turn doesn’t make it good, and a lot of more promising ideas are cut short by something completely uncomplimentary. This is exemplified the most in the song The Healing, which at a point breaks into the aforementioned Gregorian chants, but instead of carrying on with that humble atmosphere into something more, it breaks into a somewhat obnoxious and Journey-esque rock bit and it totally resets the mood in a bad way. Bland turns like this occur a few other times on the record and they are annoying, as they are completely irrelevant to the rest of the songs up to that point.
In the end this is a solid progressive effort and there are definitely some really solid tracks on this record. The songs Wheels of Impermanence and The Healing really highlight everything it is that I like about progressive metal, being that they’re catchy, contain a lot of depth and play on a whole range of moods and emotions (not to mention being catchy and memorable). The rare Nu-rock like choruses and musical ADD are decently annoying and leave this record flawed -not to mention that there is a fair share of filler songs- but in the end the strong tracks here effectively carry the record. I think Heaven’s Cry probably suffered in the long run from taking such a huge time off from making records, but I think the newer flares on this record did help make this a better record than it could have been.