Compared to its size, Germany seems to have under achieved in terms of its contribution to rock music, with only the Scorpions becoming truly global stars. That heavy rock tradition has continued with bands such as Accept and Helloween but looking in the progressive space then the ground starts to look a little thin. RPWL and Avantasia come to mind amongst the present crop of bands but not much else. Well, here we have a brand new progressive band from Germany who certainly have all the credentials to make a big impact.
In their press release, Issun auto-define themselves as prog-metal which I could challenge because for me this music sounds a world away from bands like Dream Theater. I would tend to categorize them closer to progressive rock due to their strong melodic tendency and the restrained rather than virtuoso guitar and keyboard playing. The ten songs here, that span well over an hour, are well constructed, with changes in style between and within them, and plenty of twists and turns in the music that hold the interest. Not surprisingly for a debut album, the quality is a little uneven but there are also some fantastic moments. Take for example the middle section of Remember Me when keyboards and then guitar intone the beautiful melody taken from the initial vocal part.
The Achilles’ heel of many German bands is the heavy accent of the singer but Tobias’ English is near-perfect and his vocal range and tone is actually one of the strong points of the band. The soaring vocals in the chorus of the excellent title track recalls Styx at their best, while the chorus of Even sounds very much like Rush at their, well, not quite best in the late 80s. I sense that the band are much more influenced by American than British or other European bands, although the dramatic interaction of piano and voice on the atmospheric opening section of the 17 minute Tempest of Laughter is pure Peter Hammill. Despite these passages which reveal some of the band’s influences, there is no mimicry in their music; they’ve definitely forged their own unique and modern sound.
Some themes repeat across more than one song which reflects that this is a concept album. The story reveals the reasons that lead to the main character having nightmares in which he struggles through the green glowing forest of the title. The excellent album artwork was created by Timon Kokott and this packaging fits hand in glove with the theme and atmosphere of the album.
This is a really strong debut album and if Issun can build on this then we may soon be talking about them as the best German progressive rock band around.