Album Review: Waken Eyes – Exodus

Swedish music label Ulterium Records was kind enough to send me a promotion copy of heavy metal band Waken Eyes’ upcoming album “Exodus” last week. Having heard that both bassist Michael Lepond of Symphony X and drum god Marco Minnemann were two members of this amazing supergroup, I couldn’t listen to this album fast enough. It’s everything that you’d expect from such amazing musicians as these, and possibly even more.

Rounding out the lineup are singer Henrik Bath (Darkwater) and guitarist/keyboardist Tom Frelek, both of whom excel on this album. Not having heard of either of them prior to the formation of Waken Eyes, I am inclined to check out their individual work based on their performances on this album. Combining the differing styles of progressive rock, progressive metal, and heavy metal, much of “Exodus” is a journey through cinematic adventures, complicated rhythm sections, and numerous time signature changes. Over the span of nearly an hour and a half, the listener partakes in a marathon of skillful performances with every listen.

Before I proceed, I will spare you all another “Marco Minnemann is so fantastic” speech, since there are at least two other posts I can think of on this site that follow this format. I will say, though, that “Exodus” could possibly be one of his heaviest performances. Adapting his style to a more heavy metal approach, Minnemann was able to crank out all the drum sections on this album in four days! Only someone as brilliant as him could perfect 90 minutes of drum performances in that little of time. Just listen to “Aberration” and tell me this man isn’t one of the world’s most talented percussionists. Ok, now I’m done.

When listening to “Exodus,” I cannot help but give credit to the amazing arrangements of Tom Frelek. Being the band’s guitarist and keyboardist, much of the compositions are his, resulting in a more guitar-oriented sound. Take the song “Palisades;” with multiple guitar rhythms playing simultaneously during the amazing solo in the song’s bridge, I applaud the complexity and time it took to master such a difficult section. In addition to these guitar sections are masterfully performed keyboards and synthesizers, as evidenced in the opening track “Cognition.” This symphonic introduction sets the stage, incorporating tribal percussion techniques, Arabian-sounding synthesizers, and cinematic guitar chords, almost sounding like the introduction of a Dream Theater album.

“Exodus” contains many moments of heavy metal inspired songs, while also bringing things down with necessary softer arrangements. The first half of “Cornerstone Away” uses tremolo-pedaled, clean guitar in a supporting role to both Bath and a guest female vocalist. It all changes halfway through when the rest of the band joins in, but the listener is still left with a lasting impression of calmness and the duality of vocals. The following instrumental track “Still Life” also works in much the same way, combining clean and overdriven guitars with complementing bass lines. For a while, the track reminds me of something Polish band Riverside would write, that is, until the technical, speed picking of Frelek comes in. I particularly enjoyed this track because of its mellow, calm nature.

waken eyes
Photo by Blabbermouth
For being a vocalist I’d never heard before this album, I was truly amazed by Henrik Bath and his incredible range. Despite the album being so centered around multiple guitar rhythms, I could not help but focus in on Bath’s vocals on the majority of “Exodus.” With that classic metal flair, his voice dances between mid-register and higher yells beautifully. While songs like “Across The Horizon” show his lower vocals, others songs like “Aberration” allow the listener to be moved by his passionate higher voice. As I enjoyed his fervent voice, I was also interested in the album’s corporation of spoken dialogue. With many songs relating to the theme of love and pain, the use of this commentary from notably historic figures helps to drive the point home.

The two best tracks on “Exodus” are its closing ones, being “Across The Horizon” and the epic nineteen minute title track. “Across The Horizon” starts off slower like some of the preceding tracks, but quickly picks up pace with altering time signature riffs. Towards the end of the song, though, is when the song hits overdrive, with impressive sweep picking and tremolo picking in both rhythm and lead sections. The final track “Exodus” takes you on an exodus of its own through different movements and arrangements. The opening piano and synthesizers gears the listener for a trek as Bath sings lyrics of love, peace, and war. You will experience many different emotions through the nineteen minute track, too many to list on this post. All I can say is to find some decent headphones and rock on.

If I were to have one complaint towards this album (albeit a small one), it would be the lack of notable bass lines. The majority of Lepond’s work on the album simply follows the lead and rhythm guitar, something I noted back in my Symphonic X post previously. Yes, there are moments where he adds in a little fill between sections, but I was craving more of him throughout this album. Hopefully their next album they will be able to utilize Lepond to the extent his talent can offer.

I am thoroughly impressed with supergroup Waken Eyes’ first release “Exodus.” It’s got all of the necessary artistry that comes with progressive rock and metal, but can also invoke moments of headbanging found in heavy metal. I recommend this album to anyone who already listens to each member’s original bands, but for those who are also fans of bands like Dream Theater, Circus Maximus, Fates Warning, and Kamelot. Please support Waken Eyes by purchasing their album when it’s available on October 30th, and by following them on Facebook for band updates. I’m not sure if they will be supporting this album with any tour, but you can all guarantee I will let you know, and will be one of the first ticket holders for the closest concert to San Diego.

Check out the official music video for the song “Back To Life” below:

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