SPHERIC UNIVERSE EXPERIENCE — Back Home (review)

SPHERIC UNIVERSE EXPERIENCE — Back Home album cover Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
lukretion
French prog metallers Spheric Universe Experience (S.U.E.) have been around for a long while now. Guitarist Vince Benaim put together the band back in 1999 and their first official release dates back to 2003. After their 2005 well-received debut full-length Mental Torments, S.U.E. started gradually distancing themselves from the Dream Theater / Symphony X’s brand of prog metal that they had pursued at the beginning of their career, veering towards a more commercial form of groove / alternative metal. Their fifth LP Back Home is a literal return to the roots, as the band embrace again with full power their progressive metal influences.

While the new album falls squarely into the classic prog metal genre, S.U.E. have retained some subtle elements of their foray into alt / groove metal territory. The guitars are chunky and sometimes have a djenty feel to it that one immediately associates with the modern progressive metal sound of bands like Haken. Singer Franck Garcia has the classic high tenor voice that is characteristic of the genre, but there is a modern flavor to some of his melodic lines that brings to mind bands like VOLA or Voyager. Meanwhile, keyboard player Fred Colombo alternates classic orchestral flourishes with futuristic sounds that are well suited for the sci-fi concept that runs through the LP. This mixture between the old classic prog metal sound and a more modern and alternative take on the genre is the element that distinguishes this record from many similar others.

Fear not, however, Back Home delivers all the progressive goodness that you would expect to find on a classic Symphony X or Dream Theater’s album. There is plenty of muscular, complex riffs that however never lose sight of melody. While the music is strongly guitar-driven the keyboards play an important and prominent harmonic role too. The rhythmic section (comprised of new members Romain Goulon / drums and Julien Negro / bass) is boisterous, with plenty of drum fills and bass solos. The vocals are forceful but melodic. The melodies are not overly catchy, however, and it takes a while before they sink in. This and the complex song structures imply that Back Home is not easy-listening material and it requires a considerable investment in terms of time and attention on the part of the listener before it can be fully appreciated.

A further challenge comes from the fact that S.U.E. have followed a sort of pedal-to-metal approach when they wrote the nearly 70 minutes of music for this album. There is hardly any moment of respite as one goes through the record’s 13 tracks: it’s a sonic assault through and through, with constant fast tempos, hard-hitting riffs, and relentless drumming. There are some drops in tempo and intensity here and there, but not enough to let the listener properly catch a breath. Inevitably, listening fatigue sets in pretty quickly and by the time I reached track 9 “The Absolution pt 1”, which is the first proper break in the album’s flow, I was a spent force.

However, this is mostly me not being overly enthusiastic about this particular brand of prog metal where “more is more” all the time. But I know there is a market for it – hell, there has been one for over 30 years! –, and S.U.E. undeniably give other bands that cater to it, even the most prominent ones named earlier, a run for their money.
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