'Self Portrait' - Aeon Zen (7/10)
At some point in every artist’s career, they will generally stop t take a look at what they’ve already done, consolidating their position and reflecting upon the path they’ve taken. After releasing one of my favourite progressive metal albums of the year in Enigma, now seems like a perfect time for Aeon Zen to take a moment aside for reflection. From the band’s origins essentially as a personal project of multi-instrumentalist Rich Hinks to its full-fledged current form, Aeon Zen has come a long way. Featuring a new song and three re-worked versions of compositions from their 2009 debut A Mind’s Portrait, the recently released Self Portrait is a fitting demonstrator how far the band has progressed. Although the EP doesn’t excel without its context as a simple indicator of the band’s evolution, Self Portrait is a fine bite-sized chunk of modern progressive metal, and a welcome addendum for anyone who shared my love of their most recent full length.
Although I hesitate to use the term ‘djent’ when describing a band (or at least a band I like), Aeon Zen share some of their sound with the likes of contemporary progressive metal acts; their compatriots in TesseracT come first to mind. Although the instantly identifiable palm-muted tone associated with that dubious word was downplayed on the new album, Self Portrait has a distinctly djenty tone to it. Even though it’s the shortest piece on the EP, the original composition “Psych!” is my favourite song here. Built around an odd time signature, it’s the sort of brimming overture that would have set a perfect atmosphere for a full-length. It’s a very atmospheric take on progressive metal, similar to Devin Townsend or the latest record from TesseracT.
As for the covers here, the most notable difference is the improved musicianship and production. Although Aeon Zen started off on a great note for what was then largely a one-man act, these compositions really benefit from a full band performance. Of the three, “Portrait” is my favourite piece, balancing ambient clean vocals with death growls and rhythmic riffs that recall Cynic. “Rain” is a much softer track; guitars give way to piano here for the most part. While the track benefits greatly from a much improved production, I’m left wanting something more aggressive from the band; the smooth saxophone solo recalls Dream Theater’s “Another Day” and is an unexpected contribution, but doesn’t work as well with the rest of the band’s sound as it was probably intended to. “Demise” has been significantly shortened from its original twelve minute length.
While Aeon Zen has been a good band from the start, their recent material is a firm step up from their origins. While I’m sure it was Aeon Zen’s intention with Self Portrait to emphasize that fact, I would prefer to hear newly written material rather than revised versions of older songs. Enigma remains a favourite of mine, and has made me anxious to hear more from the band. Comparing these older compositions to the recent stuff however, it’s evident to me that Aeon Zen have improved in more than their mere execution. Self Portrait doesn’t hold my interest as much as an EP of fresh material would have, but it’s a worthy addition to the history of one of progressive metal’s most promising contemporary acts.