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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Album Review: Pagan's Mind - Heavenly Ecstasy

Pagan's Mind - Heavenly Ecstasy
2011 SPV Steamhammer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Depending on your point of view, Pagan's Mind 2011 isn't quite the same band that recorded Infinity Divine more than a decade ago. No disrespect intended by that statement, considering the tragic passing of founding guitarist Thorstein Aaby in 2007. We're talking more about the twisting identity of these well-respected Norwegian proggers.

For their fifth album Heavenly Ecstasy, Pagan's Mind keeps plugging into sockets luring them away from schematic prog metal as of their last album, God's Equation. Whereas many have favored easy comparisons to Dream Theater and Fate's Warning throughout the career of Pagan's Mind, it gets a bit easier this time around to say this group has gone even more linear with Heavenly Ecstasy. You might as well lump in vintage era Queensryche, Judas Priest, Savatage and mid-tempo Yngwie Malmsteen without the latter's blistering arpeggios.

While the proggiest of the prog metal fans will likely be tapping their lips in minor confusion after spinning the largely straightforward Heavenly Ecstasy, there's no denying this album rocks. Even with the 8:32 "Revelation to the End" and the album itself beating past 66 minutes (if you include the two bonus songs "Create Your Destiny" and "Power of Mindscape") there is a remarkable efficiency at work.

It's not out of the question to say Heavenly Ecstasy is the most accessible album Pagan's Mind has affixed its name to. Not exactly the most mainstream or sales-friendly band monikers ever conceived, Pagan's Mind is hardly the scalding inferno of antiGod ersatz one would expect coming into this group blind. If you've been following this band, sure, that's quite a dumb statement, but the swinging and swaying pop rocker "Live Your Life Like a Dream" is only a few notches heavier than Journey or REO Speedwagon. Seriously. Pagan's Mind plays this song and most of the album like they're eighties arena-bound. Ronny Tegner's key solo on "Live Your Life Like a Dream" sends a demonstrative statement that not every synth sequence is uber-geeky and sometimes serves the song more than anyone could've imagined. The outro to "Never Walk Alone," despite Stian Kristoffersen's rampant double hammer might as well round out a Toto gig, and that's not a crap-on to the band.

By all means, Heavenly Ecstasy is not a wimpy venture, even though many folks might cringe by the 2:03 ballad "When Angels Unite." Most of these tunes are brick heavy like "Follow Your Way," "Create Your Destiny," "Eyes of Fire," "Into the Aftermath" and the "The Master's Voice." The thing with this album is that Pagan's Mind can dirty things up, such as letting Nils K. Rue throw in some demonic vocals on "The Master's Voice" despite his longing croons and the overall cadence amidst the perpetual thump. It's part of their shtick, even if Epica has well-dallied with the same schism.

The main theme on this album, however, is pure musicality. Whether you want Pagan's Mind to stay evil when they randomly skulk into those moods, their primary mindset is to reel their listeners in with as many hooks as they can get away with. Period. There's a dime a dozen black metal artists in their native region, as there are folk and prog metallers. At least Pagan's Mind appears to be playing a game of mind rape with their fans to stay relevant and more power to them. Infinity Divine and Celestial Entrance are already cult classics, but a song like "Never Walk Alone" on Heavenly Ecstasy which daringly treads between chunk 'n crunk and elevated effervesence is what's going to make the career extended difference for this group.

Rating: ****

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