Degree Absolute - Degree Absolute
Sensory Records
Progressive Metal
10 songs (57'16")
Release year: 2006
Degree Absolute, Sensory Records
Reviewed by Alex

Being a workaholic, Aaron Bell of Degree Absolute and I probably share the same sin. If I have something important that needs to be done right, I always try and do everything myself, no matter how long it takes and how hard it is. Aaron Bell, subscribing to the same theory, has tried, but then gave up, the idea to write an album with the real band. Instead, he put all the pieces together himself, and then, when all compositions were ready, he brought in two hired guns in the studio, drummer Doug Beary and bassist extraordinaire of Berklee College of Music fame Dave Lindeman. Aaron’s other, bigger, problem, just like yours truly, seems to be his desire to take on too many angles of his project at once, and thus the eponymous debut on Sensory truly feels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Legendary Neil Kernon (Nevermore, Queensryche) has been asked to mix Degree Absolute debut and he probably faced the dilemma himself. Half the songs on this recording constitute progressive metal, while the other half comes from various other realms of progressive music. How do you mesh this together?

Two starters, Exist and Laughing Alone, must have been making Neil feeling right at home. Rapid fire riffing, double bass, melodic chorus and bits of thrash indeed invoke Nevermore (Exist); slower but heftier riffs you can nod your head to, sweep picking solo and another enjoyable melody in the chorus (Laughing Alone) made me think Evergrey. Even within Exist Degree Absolute can go on complex jazzy bass runs – almost a way to show off what Dave Lindeman can do – but everything is still done within the concept of the individual song’s fabric. Questions tend to wash out the message further amidst all of the prog twists and tempo shifts.

Degree Absolute is obviously not satisfied with being another Fates Warning or Redemption, and what is very commendable puts Aaron’s songwriting between the rock and a hard place. From Questions on, for another four tracks the metal notion is completely put aside and instead we have something sounding a lot softer, with protracted instrumental passages suitable for the local coffee shop if it is so daring to play some XM prog rock radio (Confession, Distance). HalfManHalfBiscuit takes it even further, this composition is a sci-fi instrumental where heavy chords meet some electronic bubbling with the overall sense of going nowhere. The sequencing wisdom to put four of these instrumental meandering tracks in a row lets the air completely out of the Degree Absolute balloon. I may sound like a shortminded buffoon, but it almost feels back to normal with Ask Nothing of Me getting back to metal, with its defined choruses and verses plus some extended guitar soloing.

Ergo Sum finishes the album as an 11 min magnum opus which gets going only by 4th minute after some acoustic Gypsy quitar stuff is paid homage to. After that the track sounds very much like a polyphonic Gary Moore, poignant solo, some very tasteful keyboards background and pleasant vocals. Actually, throughout the record Aaron very much stays within his abilities vocally, not straining himself and not sounding ridiculous trying to take an unreachable note. Good thing the bonus track is not listed, as it is back again to some long amorphous instrumental.

Degree Absolute technical abilities and musicianship is so good, it would absolutely not bother me if the album was full with more typical prog metal songs. To those who would have said “it was tried before” I would point how adept Degree Absolute are with their craft. Going along the route less traveled, the band (and, or course, mainly Aaron Bell) tries to straddle both side of the fence. With the new record reportedly in the making it is quite interesting which side of this hedge Degree Absolute is going to end up on.

Killing Songs :
Exist, Laughing Alone, Ask Nothing of Me
Alex quoted 65 / 100
Ken quoted 80 / 100
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