Enigma is the third full-length album by British progressive metal act Aeon Zen. Although it was originally slated for a 2012 release the band changed record label to Nightmare Records which resulted in the album being delayed until early 2013. Aeon Zen previously were more or less the solo vehicle of musician Rich Hinks, but on Enigma Aeon Zen is presented for the first time as much more of a full band outfit. Hinks has passed on the keyboard and drum duties to new members Shaz and Steve Burton respectively, while Matt Shepherd and Andi Kravljaca have joined in additional guitarist and vocalist roles. Although Hinks still performs vocals and guitars on the album it seems he’s taken on the bassist role for the most part, as seen in the official video for Divinity. Despite having two vocalists as members of the band though Aeon Zen still features a group of guest vocalists; Nate Loosemore (Lost in Thought), Atle Pettersen (ex-Aspera) and Jonny Tatum (Eumeria).
The music on Enigma for the most part is very melodic progressive metal mixed with much lighter but obviously still very melodic progressive rock. Therefore choosing a song like Divinity to promote the album is a strange choice, because as far as doing oddball things go, this is definitely one of them. You see although Divinity shares elements that you’d expect to hear from the album by the time the song hits as the third track, it’s also heavily influenced by technical death metal. I’m not just talking the use of growling vocals alongside the clean singing you’ll be hearing across most of the disc, but also the music. It certainly livens up the experience which up until this point actually felt rather laid back and melancholic. It’s certainly the way to change the pace in style.
This is where the flaw in the album becomes apparent; Aeon Zen are damn good at doing the style displayed during Divinity, and we don’t get to hear anything like that again during the whole album. A few growls are also used much later on Eternal Snow, but the sound isn’t captured in quite the same way as for the most part the song is in the light and melodic style heard across multiple songs. Fortunately for Aeon Zen they’re still decent on doing the other styles they portray during Enigma, but I would have liked to hear few more sections which contained a bit of Divinity’s grit. Its absence after the song ends is felt, and made the album a difficult one for me to get into. I’d actually go as far to say that Enigma ranks as one of the most difficult progressive albums I’ve ever encountered.
All this said, I’ve never been one to write an album off for not being what I expected it to be, and Aeon Zen have showed themselves more than competent during Enigma. I’ll reiterate though that it has been a difficult album for me to get into even as a progressive metal/rock fan as perseverance of multiple spins hasn’t made Enigma as rewarding as some other albums I’ve had to let grow on me, although I do ultimately feel a little more positive about it than I did after my original listen. This is a good album to be sure, but it never quite manages to be great. There are some great songs, Still Human being another one that like with Divinity didn’t take more than a single listen to really hit the spot, and I also quite like Artificial Soul. But much of the album lacked that special spark to make it really special, which is why I can’t give it any more than a ‘good’ tier rating, rather than a ‘great’ tier or better.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org/aeon-zen-enigma-t2740.html))