By Kris McCoy, Rock at Night Contributor
Buckle up, thrill seekers!
Awakening Call is the first release by progressive metal instrumentalists Tree of Life. The project began in 2015 as a collaboration between Venezuelan guitarist Carlos Hernandez and bassist Fernando Fossi. After years of jamming and experimentation, the time was right to record an album. To fill out the line-up, the duo brought in Eric Gillette for drums and keys. This seems like an unlikely placement for Gillette, who is best known as the young prodigy guitarist of the Neal Morse band, but here he shines in the new roles — and appears to have picked up a few tricks over the years from mentors Morse and Mike Portnoy.
The debut album serves up five courses of expertly blended instrumental prog-metal with hints of jazz and classical music. Fans of Dream Theater, Scale the Summit, Animals as Leaders, Liquid Tension Experiment, or Riddle House will be right at home here.
The opening track “The Greatest Gift from God” centers around a heavy, Petrucci-esque rhythm with intense solos weaving throughout. The Latin jazz breakdown around the midpoint of the song demonstrates the band’s diversity — and illustrates their understanding that you can’t expect a listener to sit through 12-minutes of shredding without taking a moment to breathe.
At nearly 60 minutes, the album offers no shortage of riffage, blistering solos, sweeping and tapping, but the aforementioned “breathing” moments often prove to be the most memorable, such as the soulful first half of “Words From Heaven” and the bass-showcasing middle section of the title track “Awakening Call”.
The technical talent of Hernandez, Fossi, and Gillette is obvious upon first listen, but Awakening Call may take more than one or two listens before it grabs you. The hooks are there but don’t exactly take grip on the first spin. That’s not meant as a harsh criticism. Everything on display is tight, top-notch musicianship with a beautiful mix. The arrangements are complex — it just takes some time before they are fully appreciated.
As the track listing might suggest, the album has a religious theme. The story of Awakening Call is of a man’s personal journey for redemption, a concept that Neal Morse fans will find all too familiar.
I’ve never been a fan of overtly religious or political themes in music, as it can alienate and divide the fan base. The best art is open to individual interpretation. However, in the case of an instrumental album such as this, the spiritual concept can be easily ignored. With no lyrics steering you down a narrow path, the songs can be about whatever you’d like. Or, as I prefer, about nothing at all — just a thrilling, roller-coaster ride of auditory bliss.
Tree of Life – Awakening Call
- The Greatest Gift from God (12:14)
- Words from Heaven (9:51)
- Garden of Salvation (11:27)
- No Longer Forbidden (8:57)
- Awakening Call (14:46)
Carlos Hernandez – Guitars
Fernando Fossi – Bass
Eric Gillette – Drums and keyboards
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