Band: Tanagra | Album: Meridiem | Genre: Progressive Metal, Power Metal | Year: 2019
From: Portland, (Oregon,) USA | Label: Independent
For Fans of: Symphony X, Dream Theater
I often cite the vague concept of “cheesiness” as a fault in a lot of modern progressive rock and metal. Much like actual cheese, I enjoy it in limited amounts, but if I down a wheel of brie or a block of Cheddar, I’ll probably feel at least a little sick. Certain subgenres abuse this more than others, and power metal is one of the most cheese-forward styles out there.
The Oregonian quintet Tanagra whole-heartedly embraces cheesiness on Tanagra, their second full-length release. The earnestness with which the music is played is a huge plus for the band: had they been more self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, or even a little shier about the grandiosity, I don’t think this album would have worked as well as it does. Even the album art features a loving embrace of power and progressive metal’s tropes: amid a sci-fi landscape, the band’s logo is in a faux-Devanagari script, while the album title looks Tolkienian. (Had I not enjoyed this album, I probably would have decried this as lazy hackery; my feelings about an album’s artwork and the music itself often feed off of each other.)
Meridiem opens with its title track, one of three epics which cross the ten-minute threshold. From the get-go this album lets its ambitions be known, with its gradually-building instrumentation and orchestral arrangements. “Meridiem” is melodic, dramatic, and powerful. (This is power metal, after all.) The vocals are sung with impressive tact, avoiding the frequent trap of an overwrought delivery. There’s a lovely acoustic interlude in the middle of this song, where guitar, piano, and strings have some soulful interplay. The song’s eventual climax feels downright-cinematic. It’s the result of an organic build of the main riff, and the strings and brass, while prominent, are far from overbearing.
“Sydria”, the second song, is the shortest on the album by a wide margin, but it’s great. It opens with technical soloing and is driven along with great Hammond organ, keeping the intensity up for the entirety of its four-minute runtime. “Etheric Eternity” follows, and it’s another strong piece. The chorus isn’t my favorite on the album, but that weakness is made-up-for elsewhere. It’s smartly-structured with jazzy flourishes.
As we reach Meridiem’s midpoint, however, the music begins to drag. “Silent Chamber” is certainly ambitious, but it feels scattershot. The opening ambience, thrash-like main riff, overblown chorus, and low-tempo dramatics in the middle don’t feel like they fit together particularly well. This non-cohesion is distracting and makes this already-long song feel even longer. “The Hidden Hand” similarly has some good ideas, but they also need to fight against bloat and a lack of focus. “Across the Ancient Desert” features the weakest main riff on the album and suffers from a muddy atmosphere; this is the point where cheese-exhaustion hit me hard. Despite these facts, the vocals are strong, and the outro is fantastic.
Thankfully, the album closes strong. Opening with a cappella vocals I’d expect from a band like Ensiferum, “Witness” features quite a few passages reminiscent of the more melodic end of Scandinavian folk metal. Tanagra run the stylistic gamut here. It’s something of a kitchen-sink song, but unlike the preceding pieces, it all fits together in a way that makes sense. The orchestra returns as well, once more integrated seamlessly, adding to the sheer scale of things.
Power metal often isn’t my thing. It usually feels glossy, gaudy, and full of bloat. Tanagra do suffer from a bit of that, but they make up for it with ambitious song structures and a knack for finding melodies which soar. There are technical solos aplenty, but never does it feel like wankery, which is quite an achievement for this genre. The album’s middle suffers from some middling compositions, but the surrounding material is strong enough to make this an engaging album overall.