My journey into progressive metal more or less began with Dream Theater. Exposure to complex music and seven string riffs brought me deeper into more extreme and modern forms of the genre. Psion, the new project led by Tom McLean (ex-Haken, ex-To-Mara) have crafted a debut EP that sits comfortably in both realms of progressive metal, merging operatic vocal stylings and grandiose arrangements with crushing rhythms. McLean is joined by Bryan Ramage (CILICE, Ramage Inc) on vocals, guitarist Nik Wolf, and the formidable Jasper Barendregt (Ulsect, Dodecahedron) on drums. The four track EP will be released through Illusionary Records on September 1, 2017.
Our first exposure to Psion comes in the three-minute opening instrumental “entrance[D]”. Cymbal swells and clean guitars bloom into string lines, guitar harmonies and victorious leads that suggest the aforementioned Dream Theater. “Void” complements the vibe of the previous track with an introduction that incorporates mantra-like vocalizations and scattered electronic elements before pounding riffage and further string embellishments take over. At moments like these, especially with Ramage’s gruff vibrato, a Symphony X comparison is apt. After a clean, ballad-esque prog section, we hear more modern influences, with a unique pairing of operatic vocalizations against a syncopated, half-time breakdown. The nine-minute track explores a number of influences in a consistently unfolding arrangement.
On “Recoil”, symphonic swells fade into one of my favorite moments of the EP: a haunting piano performance by guest Alisdair McAskill that becomes even more unnerving with Ramage’s almost whispered vocal delivery. Not unlike the previous track, “Recoil” builds into an anthemic chorus before Ramage belts out some screamed vocals that are matched by duelling bass drops and string stabs. Though an unsettling mix of elements, they are nonetheless unique. Again, like “Void”, the song then drains into a wash of clean guitars and bass. Some impressively fast, jazz-inflected leads fill the space here before the song climaxes with a 32nd note syncopated riff that evokes comparison to Obzen-era Meshuggah.
As you may have noticed from my description, “Void” and “Recoil” share somewhat similar arrangements: building, climaxing and fading multiple times before a heavy outro. Closer “Tyranny” flips this trend with a heavy opening that switches into a psychedelic rhythmic section. Again, a notable Symhony X influence returns later in the song, but down-tuned guitars and djenty grooves provide an enjoyably unconventional take on power/prog metal conventions. With some of the most interesting riffs and the most cohesive arrangement of the four songs, “Tyranny” ends Psion on a high note. Especially enjoyable is the punishing groove and orchestral malice that occupies most of the latter third of the nearly nine minute track.
Power metal, classic prog and modern progressive metal may seem disparate, but groups like A Sense of Gravity have combined them before. Psion seeks to do so here, and they deliver with obvious technical ability and an enjoyable mix of orchestral elements and heavy rhythms. The 80s vibrato of Ramage, though impressive, may be off-putting to those acclimatized to the more pop-influenced style of clean singing prevalent in modern progressive metal. Though all the songs possess enjoyable and even excellent moments, the songs themselves occasionally meander in their arrangements. Psion’s self-titled EP mixes lush orchestration, technicality, groove and classic prog in a unique, enjoyable way, but lacks focus at times.
Notable Tracks: “entrance[D]”; “Tyranny”
FFO: A Sense of Gravity, Haken, Symphony X