Some albums wear their hearts on their sleeve. Their influences and themes are displayed for all to see, proudly showing their heritage and their direction. Kepler Ten‘s Delta-V is such an album (and Kepler Ten appear to be such a band). From their name to the album’s art, Kepler Ten are achingly truthful about where they come from. The font chosen, the image, the hard science fiction album name all scream classical progressive metal/rock in the vein of Rush, Dream Theater, Ayreon and more. And you know what? That’s exactly what Delta-V is: the tropes of progressive rock played incredibly straight, with an almost childish glee in the craft. And it totally, 100% works, for a given definition of “works”. Are you looking for jaw-dropping technically or crushing heaviness? Look elsewhere. But do you have an open road that needs travelling, a chair that you simply must dance in or a starry sky into which to gaze? Then Delta-V is the album for you.
Opening tracks “Ultraviolet” and “Time and Tide” contain everything you need to know about the album. Their anthemic choruses, emotional verses, winding unisons and prominent bass all scream Awake-era Dream Theater. “Time and Tide”, the leading single for the album, is an exceptionally well executed track. Its refrains will leave you screaming its lyrics within a few listens, the words ear-worming their way into your mind. It also has some of the best instrumental work on the album (although the trophy for best bass belongs to its successor, “The Stone”), with backing synths that perfectly paint the picture the band are going for. Most of the tracks on the album are variations on this theme: solid guitars, full and essential drums, well produced bass and a pleasing interaction between those, straddling the lines of sheer fun and interesting composition.
But, of course, this kind of albums rises and falls on the merit of the vocals. James Durand (who also plays the keyboards and bass that were aforementioned) is an extremely talented vocalist. His deliveries, while certainly well done in range and precision, aren’t impressive for their technical flourish. Simply put, they contain cosmic energy, excitement and glory on an epic scale. Which is exactly what this, one of the genres that would later on birth power metal, requires. Whether on the massive lines of “Time and Tide”, the personal ballad “Swallowtail” (featuring amazing backing vocals as well) or on the grandiose and moving closer, “Red Skies Rise”, Durand delivers the exact barrage of emotions Delta-V needed to work. A lot of its honesty is owed to him and his delivery, never apologetic and just on the verge of the amount of cheese required from the genre.
That last fact, the delicate balance between cliche, campiness, honesty and professionalism, is exactly what makes Delta-V work. Just like Haken‘s Affinity from last year, its subject matter and style moves it very close to the edge as far as cloyingly sweet progressive rock goes. But Kepler Ten manage to do a double-take right at the edge and infuse their music with just enough dedication and work to pull it off. What could have been just another overly complicated and ultimately pointless exercise in progressive rock, becomes a bundle of joy, an album that perhaps speaks (at least for this writer) to a time in our musical journeys when what we needed from our music was the ability to put a smile on our face or make our hearts race. Delta-V does both.