I must admit, I get a bit nervous reviewing a part 3 of anything without experiencing part 1 and 2 beforehand. It’s like watching the final chapter of a movie trilogy without knowledge of what happened before. But since storyline is nearly always a secondary feature in music, I’ll make an exception for Tomorrow’s Eve. The progressive German quintet has been around for a while, 20 years in fact, but the last decade has been spent not releasing anything. In fact, it has been a whopping 12 years since Mirror of Creation 2 – Genesis II (no, I do not know why they switched to Roman numerals for part III.) 12 years ago I still thought a crooked red mohawk and a spike collar were cool, so thank Jorn for mental development. Has Tomorrow’s Eve ushered into 2018 the way I have, or did they turn out more exciting than that?
When a band is backed by Nuclear Blast, you can expect a certain level of professionalism, and on that level Ikaros does not disappoint. The word of the day here is slick. The songwriting is full of hooks, many of which are satisfied by the highly prominent keyboard section. The amusingly named Oliver Schwickert tickles the keys, even partaking in many of the solos, stirring a sci-fi vibe underneath the proceedings. The other major player is Martin LeMar with his engaging baritone. His voice is gently aged, often reminiscent of a slightly gruffer latter-day Bruce Dickinson, though without any crazy falsettos. Rather, he achieves variety by occasionally going into deeper registers, projecting a stern presence that works well for the society-critical lyrics. The guitar balances chugging that adds some much-needed heaviness with melodic licks that duel well with the keyboards. Though the drums are unremarkable, the presence of the bass is a welcome one and it supplements some lovely low-end melodies.
What irks me, though, is how an ostensibly progressive metal album can feel this regressive. Much like Fates Warning, the structure of the songs are relatively straightforward, eschewing complexity for accessible innovation. But where Theories of Flight excelled at infusing emotional attachment and a clever interplay of recognizability and variation, Ikaros often feels stagnant, even dull. I never felt taken by surprise, shook or connected to the lyrics, which are overly broad and lack personality. Perhaps the overuse of keyboards takes part of the blame as well, lacking the edge and immediacy of a crisp guitar, smoothing over any offensive sounds like a layer of room temperature butter. But mostly, it’s down to the predictable songwriting, which takes only the most obvious route, the path of least resistance, and has foregone a crucial round of editing to cut the fat. 67 minutes of transparent arrangements has me dozing off without fail towards the end of the album, regardless of the skill of the musicians.
This puts me at an impasse. The album is well performed, and there are some genuinely strong moments. “Bread and Circuses,” for all its fauxlisophical admonishing, is an energetic track with a solid chorus, and the bombastic chorus to “Law and Order” keeps popping back into my head at unexpected moments. But it’s also underpaced and bloated, to the point where I find myself waiting for the next movement rather than looking forward to it. But there is also a palpable passion to the project; despite its accessibility, this was not made just to cash in. LeMar clearly believes every word of what he sings. But those same texts are overly pretentious and cliché, coasting on well-worn tropes of apathetic societies and hopes and dreams transcending their shortcomings. But, but, but…
It’s difficult to get an accurate measure of Project Ikaros‘ quality. At its most objective, it’s a solid album, with some very strong hooks and particularly good vocals with plenty of personality. It’s slick and modern, yes, but despite the backing of a big label it doesn’t feel like a commercial cash-grab, as it’s infused with plenty of passion from all participants. But it still has the air of the easy way out, lacking the engagement of many of their progressive peers and foregoing any twists and surprises in favor of a lukewarm, unimaginative approach that doesn’t align with the decade of honing time the band had. The individual members of Tomorrow’s Eve may have arrived in 2018, but their music has sadly lagged behind.