One thing that can be said about progressive rock and metal musicians is that there's no short supply of ambition in their work. Whether talking about concept albums, hour-long songs, or star-studded lineups, there is no such thing as 'too big' for their thinking. In large part, it's this kind of boundless creative energy that makes progressive rock and metal such an interesting landscape. So many sounds, feelings, and approaches can fit under the banner and be accepted that there's always a bit of a mystery when you first hear a new band, no matter the pedigree of the musicians involved.
The fact that Affector has created a sixty-five minute concept album with a two-part overture and daunting list of guest musicians isn't something that should be taken as hubris, or even as a negative at all. The scope of their vision makes the ride you take as the album unfolds all that much more interesting, because there's never a sense of the expected. The songs twist and turn, pulling you in unforeseen directions. More than just a lyrical idea, the music feels like a story being told, even if you're unaware of the plot.
After the overture sets the stage, “Salvation” reveals what kind of band “Affector” is going to be. Blending the technical melody of John Petrucci and the progressive heaviness of Michael Romeo, guitarist Daniel Fries is able to bridge several styles of progressive metal, taking the band wherever they dare go. His playing is clean, dazzling in moments, yet simple enough when it needs to be so the riffs can provide the canvas for the rest of the band to paint upon. “Salvation” alone shifts sounds and moods multiple times, ebbing and flowing more than most bands can accomplish in nine minutes. The rest of the album follows suit, defying conventional structure at every turn, necessitating the listener's attention to discern where the music is going based on where it has been. It can often be an overstatement to call progressive music a more intelligent genre, but it does ask more of the audience.
“The Rapture” shows the power of dichotomy, interspersing melodic solos and the Sinfonietta Consonus orchestra with some of the heaviest metal riffs on the album. Weaving back and forth, they keep the music from stagnating, never letting an idea become boring before the next one is introduced. The segments of the fourteen minute track fit together like a puzzle; pieces the look completely different locking together to make a coherent whole. Likewise, the album is a larger example of this experience, as the more involved compositions sit alongside the overtures and simply-executed “Cry Song” without feeling out of place.
The most interesting aspect of “Harmagedon” is how much of the spotlight is cast outside the band. The most dazzling technical displays, as well as the most important work setting the mood, are given over to the guest musicians. The orchestra offers a deeper experience than artificial strings can, while current and former Dream Theater keyboardists Jordan Rudess and Derick Sherinian, as well as progressive legend Neal Morse, are as much a part of the fabric of the album as the core band. Their contributions are both tasteful and impressive as needed, adding the layers that make this kind of music engrossing. The presence of such revered players not only ensures the quality of the work on the album, but raises the stature of the band as a whole. They are a stamp of approval on the material “Harmagedon” has to offer, one that carries a lot of weight.
It's important not to go into “Harmagedon” expecting to hear the blend of pop and prog that Dream Theater and Neal Morse have perfected. Singer Ted Leonard (also singer for Spock's Beard) delivers a good performance and a few good melodies, but none that truly stick. It's a difficult skill to master in this genre, but that's not what “Harmagedon” is about, so they aren't missed. “Harmagedon” is about setting a mood and telling a story, and on that level, it absolutely delivers.