“Bloat.” It’s a nasty word, and it’s hard to come up with situations in which bloating occurs in an enjoyable way. I’ve experienced severe abdominal bloating, the kind where you’d gladly trade your kingdom for a pressure-relieving fart. My mighty tire and hammer have been in storage since we moved several weeks back, so I’ve been dealing with the gradual bloating of my waistline and the subsequent struggles to squeeze my fat ass into pants that used to fit. I can even attest to the unpleasantness of having to move a bloated human corpse after it has baked in a sealed apartment for over a week in the summer heat. Yep, bloating seems to universally suck, but I’ll try to keep an open mind as my ears travel a couple of hours down Interstate 5 to review the bloated hour-plus sophomore album Meridiem from Portland, Oregon’s Tanagra.
Playing a potent and varied form of symphonic prog/power metal, Tanagra have packed Meridiem to the gills with ideas, and it is without a doubt over-indulgent. But for the most part I mean this in the best way possible. Opening with the eleven and a half minute title track was a bold choice and clearly sets the tone for the listener. Filled with keys, strings, classical guitar, and solos, weaving through theme after theme, and even throwing a short black metal-esque instrumental passage in for good measure, the track demands that you immediately accept that more is more or leave the Hall. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the track—and the album in general—is that the vocals take the opposite approach. Singer Tom Socia uses middle and lower ranges (think Falconer‘s Mathias Blad and in some spots David Gold) in a very restrained performance, and it works wonderfully, allowing the excess of the music to succeed without throwing the typical squeezed balls power vocals into the mix.
Each of the album’s seven tracks has its own style, something that greatly helps with the long runtime. After the long title track, “Sydria” comes along as the shortest offering and the closest thing to straight forward power metal with its Falconer-with-a-Hammond-organ vibe. “Etheric Alchemy” is an excellent prog track with deceptively intricate riffs noodling behind the beautifully smooth singing before a bass solo from Erich Ulmer comes along to usher in some beautiful cleans from guitarists Josh Kay and Steven Soderberg. Penultimate track “Across the Ancient Desert” is a galloping adventure that conjures images of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian and features a cool guest spot from Visigoth‘s Jake Rogers. But Meridiem‘s crown jewel is without a doubt closer “Witness.” The opening to the 14-minute beast is an a capella harmonization of Socia’s voice, and it is truly chill-inducing and will return throughout the song as the chorus. The David Gold feeling is strong in the vocals on this one and adds a tremendous amount of emotional weight to the twists and turns of the song. The final few minutes include a cello motif and another spine-tingling vocal arrangement to create a beautiful finale for the track and album.
There are a few moments where the bloating does become a bit uncomfortable, though. “Silent Chamber” and “The Hidden Hand,” while good songs, do not contain enough great ideas to fully justify their lengths (eight and ten minutes respectively), and they suffer in comparison to the strength of the other five tracks. Their placement somewhat mitigates this weakness as they’re lumped together in the middle of the album and surrounded by the other, stronger material. The production sounds great apart from a few moments where some of the more subtle vocals are buried a bit behind the music. All of the players here are superb, but Socia’s voice is what will keep me coming back, as will the album’s mighty bookend tracks “Meridiem” and “Witness”—both SoTY contenders for me.
There’s a lot to digest here, and while some fat could have been trimmed, I’m leaving Meridiem full and satisfied. My belly might be bloated from the excess, but not uncomfortably so. I am thoroughly impressed by the songs these Oregonians have crafted, and had the minor dip in quality through the album’s middle not occurred, we’d be looking at my second consecutive 4.0 review. Tanagra is definitely on my radar now, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.