New Horizons Review of Opus 2

by Simon: April 11th 2004

My review of the first Hess album, 'Opus 1' gives an early history of the changing makeup of the band.  For this second release, perhaps unsurprisingly titled 'Opus2', a couple of further changes have been made: drummer Scott Hess returns to the fold, and the band now finds itself with a full time bass player in the person of Mark Carozza.

Throughout this album the smooth flowing style of the band's earlier offering continues to shine and, although the emphasis is on the often stunning lead guitar work, this album nevertheless remains a definite group effort, with Scott and Mark being given ample opportunities to display their craft.

The opening track 'Nexuses' kicks off with a hard-hitting, no-nonsense approach. I have to confess that I was initially concerned that this was going to be an over indulgent display of axemanship - that fear, thankfully, never materialised as what we actually have here is a confident, fast moving and well thought out approach to guitar playing.  The music is beautifully layered and bass and guitars are an essential part of the mix.

'Kingdoms' uses a nice arpeggio style, and seems to have classical leanings favoured by some of the tracks on the band's first album - and as such it offers a nice progression from their earlier work.

There is a harder rock sound to 'Into the Pinnacle' with some touches that come very close to progressive metal.  That said this is a constantly changing piece that is equally capable of showing a soft delicate side to the band's work.  Bass and drum work here are of the highest order and there is a tendency to put some seemingly quite difficult changes of pace into the piece that certainly keep the band on their toes.

'The Cynic, The Sad and the Fallen', despite a fairly heavy introduction, soon shows itself to be an altogether more subtle affair and represents, to my mind, what the band do best.  Multi layered sounds weave ever changing patterns around a central rhythm and before long we get a soothing acoustic guitar complimenting the electric lead to create a generally uplifting mood.

A title like 'What Could Have Been and What Was Not' has all the hallmarks of a track that is going to be perhaps a little self indulgent, and this proves to be the case.  However, thankfully restraint is ever the watch word here and what could so easily have become an over the top display of ego instead comes over as being a heartfelt display of emotion and it works supremely well.  Soft, warm, relaxed, but at the same time highly charged.  A firm favourite!

'Through the Trials' switches back to the fast arpeggio style of playing and what is really nice to hear this time around is the way the two lead guitars feed off one another's energies producing a very effective composition full of contrasts - and this feeling and mood carries over into the fast yet easy flowing 'Behold'; a great air guitar track if ever I heard one!

'Stained' is another harder rock edged track, but though I can find no fault with it, I have to confess that after the preceding pieces it left little real impression on me apart from the soft acoustic ending, which perhaps could have been made more of.  

The mood and pace come right back down again with the soft lilting sounds of 'Beyond the Brink', another slower paced number which washes easily over the listener.

Wrapping things up is 'Waves of Far Reaching'.  This is quite a changeable piece alternating faster and slower sections and, while not perhaps the strongest track on the album, it certainly serves to remind the listener of the wide range of talents that make up this rather remarkable outfit.

Essentially this album is a must have for all lovers of guitar oriented music.  'Opus 2' is a worthy successor to the band's debut release, and it seems they are already working on 'Opus 3'.  Based on current form I am eagerly looking forward to see how the band will move forward from the strong start they have already made. Check them out, or miss out!

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