SiXforNinE – Parallel Universe

Ignore the terrible band name! This album is actually really good! I swear! SiXforNinE are led by ex-Septic Flesh drummer Fotis Benardo and play a brand of progressive metal-influenced hard rock that is far more potent than you might expect.

SiXforNinE’s progressive leanings should be fairly apparnat from Parallel Universe‘s striking cover art, which brings to mind the last couple of Devin Townsend records – except its well executed and I actually want to listen to it. The Townsend-isms continue into the opening moments of “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining”, which begins with a burst of heavily-layered a capella vocals that sound like they might have been ripped right out of a musical. Though this opening wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Townsend’s Epicloud (2012), any inclinations toward warmer colour pallets and major keys are quickly swept away in favour of a stomping groove riff that recalls Spiritual Beggars at their most energetic, and which has far more tonal similarity with the Tool-worshiping alt-metal scene. Yet, rather than a rejection of progressive mannerisms, the focus on power and melody only serves to render the album’s progressive elements more vital.

Big riffs and big hooks take center stage on Parallel Universe. The band make it pretty clear what kind of sound they’re going for by bringing in mixer Paul Pavao (Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin) and masterer Tom Baker (Rob Zombie, Nine Inch Nails) and the album sounds suitably huge as a result. Primary production was handled by Benardo himslef who, along with his truly outstanding vocal performance, also has to be commended for his work behind the desk. Parallel Universe is possibly one of the best sounding albums I’ve ever heard, and its bombastic production perfectly captures and enhances SiXforNinE’s overblown sound.

The band are at their best when they’re at they’re at their hardest, with the frantic “Every Cloud…” and hard-hitting “More than Words Can Say” providing clear highlights. However, the album is always underscored by its progressive elements that makes it more than just another throw-away hard/alt-rock record. Each of the aforementioned tracks contains more mellow passages that provide contrast and enhance their more volatile surrounds. Likewise, when the more reflective, nine-minute quasi-title-track “Counting Stars (A Parallel Universe)” rolls around, it provides a welcome breather while also being made more effective. It’s nine-minutes fly by almost as quickly as the shorter (still often five-to-six-minute) compositions that came before it. Moreover, by attaching the album’s title to its most ambitious and least aggressive offering, SiXforNinE stake their claim to being more than another disposable butt rock band.

Most of the album’s progressive credentials rest heavily on its Tool-ish tonalities. Though less reveared than the band’s previous records, 10,000 Days (2006) caused a ripple effect throughout the progressive metal scene that is still played out. SiXforNinE perhaps play closer to the source than most, with the closing moments of “Life Devouring Demons” bearing particular resemblance to their counterparts in both “Jambi” and “Rosetta Stoned” – albeit with an ever-present hard rock twist. 10,000 Days’ tonality also left its mark on the hard rock scene. It’s influence is readily apparent across the last couple of Alter Bridge albums. Even so, the added energy and metallic edge that SiXforNinE bring to the table easily eclipses anything even the best heavy hard rock acts have done with the sound and their further commitment to more progressive song structures leaves them essentially peerless in their field.

Perhaps Parallel Universe‘s only weakness comes in the form of its closer “Meditation HyperJam”. The track once again invokes Devin Townsend’s recent work, through its title, though its lyrical treatment of such clichés comes across far less genuine and inspired. It’s also the one time on the album when it’s hard rock and progressive sensibilities don’t seem to truly mesh and it probably would have worked just fine ending on “Sea of Lies”.

The saying that you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover is simultaneously refuted and affirmed by Parallel Universes. On one hand, SiXforNinE are a band of far more depth and craft than their terrible monikerand macho alt-rock appearance might suggest; on the other, the bold, sharp rendering of progressive tropes on its cover gives you a pretty good indication of what’s contained within. What might come as more of a shock is just how good this album truly is, and just how exciting it is to have a band like SiXforNinE inject themselves into an often less-inspired hard rock/heavy metal scene. Now, if they could just do something about that name…

Parallel Universe is out now through Eclipse Records.

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