To my tastes, this German act is probably one of the better Progressive Metal bands to have emerged in the past decade. Indeed, the band burst out of the gate with The Inner Circle, a debut album that made me immediately sit up and take notice. For a debut release, the sound was quite impressive and sometimes jaw-dropping, with the band displaying a high level of sophistication with its classy, diverse, and grand orchestrations and melodies, not to mention the outstanding musicianship. And with each subsequent release, Dante proved that its debut album was no fluke, and the band was no flash in the pan.
And now along comes the band's fourth release, When We Were Beautiful. And beautiful it is, indeed! Thankfully, Dante has lost none of its metal-tinged elegance, none of its solid backbone, none of its brilliance for delivering engaging melodies within the often-complex framework of its songs. And one thing's for certain—like the previous three releases, the band's music is never boring. Not in the least. Indeed, throughout the seven tracks on offer here, it's soon clear that Dante possesses a talent for keeping the listener on the edge of their seat.
The nearly eleven-minute opening track, "Rearrangement of the Gods," blasts from the speakers with everything a fan of Prog-Metal in the vein of Threshold, Adagio, and Empty Tremor can fully and joyously embrace...some thunderous and often-complicated rhythms, some beefy and crunchy guitar riffs, some orchestrated and luscious keyboards, and a melody line delivered by a powerful singer, who (to me) sounds similar in tone and style to Zach Stevens (Savatage/Circle II Circle/etc.).
"Ambitious" comes next, offering up another killer and dense guitar riff, and some grand keyboard washes and licks, somehow bringing to mind another German band, Poverty's No Crime. The verses, somewhat sparsely orchestrated, allow the vocals to really punch forward with some eerie keyboard sound effects in the background. For me, the highpoint of the song, however, comes after the second chorus, where a truly bizarre guitar riff bursts forth, backed by an odd and melodic counterpoint bass riff, then the keyboards pop in to add additional stabs of counterpoint rhythms, offering up an image of what might have happened had Gentle Giant gone heavy metal during its glory days. For the next few minutes, more intriguing instrumental fun ensues, including wicked guitar riffage, some galloping rhythms, some strange atmospheric keyboard sound effects, and even a jazzy piano solo. Terrific stuff overall, which shows the band's creativity and musicianship has risen to the level of groups such as Dream Theater and Vanden Plas at their peak. As the song title indicates, the orchestration of this track is quite "Ambitious" indeed. Bravo to Dante for this track alone! Impressive.
The title of the following track, "Beautiful Again," is misleading, as the orchestration is rather dark in tone, especially with the slamming guitars and punchy metal rhythms. The bands Circus Maximus and Spheric Universe Experience spring to mind here, and perhaps the band Redemption as well, when it comes to the overall sound of the track, the various complex arrangements, the tone of the instruments, and the vocal melodies. The powerful, frenetic pace is given a rather surprising break only when a "beautiful" grand piano comes in, left to its own melodic devices for only a brief period, before the rest of the instruments return full force, bringing the track to a monster close.
Another lengthy track, "Until the Last Light Breaks In," contains an engaging and mellow opening, with vocals accompanied by only an electric piano. All too soon, however, a driving riff pounds forth, with guitars and keyboards both given a chance to shine through shifts and twists in timing and melodies. Intricately orchestrated verses follow, including opposing vocal lines, all of it bringing to mind Shadow Gallery at its Prog-Metal finest. Then, more outrageously terrific instrumental passages eventually bring the song to a reprise of the mellow opening, closing the track with an elegant grace.
Although several other tracks of a Prog-Metal nature are also included, I feel I must mention one specific track since it falls into a different spectrum. "Sad Today" is where comparisons to Savatage are (in my eyes) inevitable. With its lovely melody, the comparatively short (under four minutes), straight-forward, and gentle tune contains vocals with only a grand piano accompaniment and some added "atmosphere," and could have easily appeared on an album such as Edge Of Thorns or Dead Winter Dead. Here, also, is where Dante's singer once again does his best "Zach Stevens impersonation," whether intentional or not. Regardless, the track is quite splendid and stands out due to its sparse instrumentation and its dissimilarity to the rest of the material on offer here.
So, for fans of highly creative and diverse Prog-Metal acts such as Threshold and Circus Maximus, Subsignal and Vanden Plas, Adagio and Dream Theater, Dante is perhaps another band you'll happily embrace. Sadly, on this album, the band probably did not surpass the material it delivered on its previous three releases. But then again, Dante had set the bar extraordinarily high for itself. Therefore, the joyous news is that none of the new material on When We Were Beautiful is in any way below par, but of equally high quality, and nothing less than I have come to expect from such a talented group of individuals. The band shows no signs of letting up, or of selling out its "progressive soul" to a more commercial audience. So I strongly suggest that Prog-Metal fans seeking a wild ride should grab a copy of this album (and Dante's previous albums) and revel in the majesty of it all.