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I'd not heard of Xystus prior to receiving 'Equilibrio' for review, but a quick glance at the press blurb informs me they're a Dutch band who formed back in 1999 and have released two previous albums - 2004's 'Receiving Tomorrow' and 2006's 'Surreal'. I am also intrigued to learn that 'Equilibrio' is the result of a 2 year collaboration with the oldest symphony orchestra in The Netherlands - Utrechtsch Studenten Concert. Further to that, and transcending its studio conception, the music was performed as an 'opera' to four sold out audiences (totalling 4,000 people) in July 2008. With this release said to feature "key scenes from the opera" (spread over two acts, although somewhat confusingly with non-consecutively numbered scenes), it also incorporates the vocal talents of Epica's soprano maestro Simone Simons and Orphanage/Delain's death growler George Osthoek (appositely in the role of Death). I am seriously intrigued to say the least! However, with such high expectations, I must unfortunately report that 'Equilibrio', as a whole, is a musically patchy effort in terms of production and songwriting. This is a shame as the album promises so much, but ultimately fails to deliver. Opening instrumental piece is an epic sounding orchestration that efficaciously combines heavy guitars and drums in its mid-section, before winding down to segue into Act 1 Sc.1 - 'My Song of Creation', as Simone Simons (playing the role of Lady Sophia) lends her distinctive singing over further orchestral music. Then, a couple of minutes in, 'Equilibrio' exposes its first weak point when guitars, drums and bass are introduced to the mix, and Xystus descend into what sounds like a pale imitation of Epica (Simons presence perhaps makes such a comparison more emphatic, albeit in an ironic sense considering her huge talent). That is to say, Epica minus the great production and songwriting one has come to expect from Mark Janssen & co. The orchestrations shine in their musical grandeur although are invariably too prominent in the mix and all too often 'take over' the songs, depriving the metal components of any real potency as guitar riffs and a weak drum sound are submerged beneath the orchestra's bombast. Apart from Simons and Osthoek, 'Equilibrio' partially redeems itself through the other vocal performances - Bas Dolmans (as Diegu); John Vooijs (as Primos); and Michelle Splietelhof (as Aveline) - and all sing their 'roles' convincingly, although for those in search of such musical 'drama' would be better off checking out, or sticking with, Arjen Lucassen's far superior polyvocal rock operas he's produced under the Ayreon name ('The Human Equation' is a good starting point). 'Equilibrio' is far from a bad album, and one must admire the ambition in such a musical venture but, at least for me, it fails to reach its own potential through some substandard songwriting and an inconsistent production/mix. Disappointing, flawed and ultimately unengaging, I'm sure many discerning music fans will share these opinions. Undoubtedly though, others will lap up Xystus' emulous attempts at dramatic orchestral metal, or 'opera' if you will, and maybe find greater merits in their project than I've been able too.
Sensory Records
Review by Mark Holmes
2nd March 2009
1) Equilibrio Overture
2) My Song of Creation
3) The Traveller
4) Last Breath
5) Divided We Stand
6) The Conflict
7) Destiny Unveiled
8) My Time of Need
9) Forever Bound
10) The Message
11) Balance Restored
12) God of Symmetry
"'The orchestrations shine in their musical grandeur although are invariably too prominent in the mix and all too often 'take over' the songs, depriving the metal components of any real potency..."