“Metamorphosis” is Axon-Neuron's (Akron, Ohio - USA) third studio album. According the band; A double disc exploring the ideas of change and transformation through a colorful blend of progressive rock, metal, jazz and classical music. The 5-piece band is on several tracks augmented by a 20-piece orchestra.
To be honest the music of Axon-Neuron is completely new to me. I have to thank a member of the American band Advent for discovering this amazing band for me. Alan Benjamin published a small list of his top five albums of the year 2016 on his Facebook time line. In that top-five list I discovered this amazing band ... thank you for this Alan!
Axon-Neuron was initially formed in 2011 by Jeremy Poparad as an excuse to play some music one last time with some friends who were moving away from Ohio. In the course of four months, an entire full length album was written, rehearsed, and recorded and a few live shows were put on in Akron. The result was so enjoyable, that Axon-Neuron 2.0 was assembled to continue performing, writing and recording after the original lineup departed. The first album “Brain Songs” was released in May 2011 and their second album “Dreamstate” following in June 2012. This third (double) album “Metamorphosis” was released in January 2016.
Amanda Rankin - voice; Ryan McDermott - 6-string electric guitar; Jeremy Poparad - 9-string electric guitar, acoustic guitar (Koan), 6-string electric guitar (Silence, Eulogy), mandolin (Silence), electric bass, glockenspiel; Steven Miller - keyboards; Dylan Gomez - percussion
Strings (minus bases) on Shattered, Koan, Silence and Kronos
All on Preludes I & II, Postludes I & II
Violin I - Molly Bontrager, Jane Reed
Violin II - Becca Hall, Sarah Husain
Viola - Jamie Thornberg, Jamie Vaughn
Cello - Dan Peters, Miles Richardson
Bass - Ryan Critchfield, Parry Lopez, Bryan Thomas
Flute - Ian Wenz
Oboe - Laura Lazarites
Clarinet - Brad Wagner
Bass Clarinet - Jayne Naragon
Trumpet I - Michael Willard
Trumpet II - Mark Russo
F Horn - Phil Tryon
Trombone - Aaron Thornberry
Percussion - Scott Thomas
Additional vocals on Koan - Corey Haren, Dylan Gomez, Ryan McDermott, Steven Miller, Jeremy Poparad
Both discs starts and ends with a Prelude and a Postlude. Three of those four tracks are instrumental and orchestra only pieces. In the Prelude pieces you can hear some of the musical themes that the band will develop further on the relevant discs. You could describe those classical pieces as contemporary pieces with some influences out of the Neo-Classical and Jazz World. There are some wonderful string and wind instruments melodies in “Prelude II”. Also “Postlude I” is a beautiful piece with amazing melodies. In “Postlude II” the full band and the orchestra are coming together. Axon-Neuron brings the jazz (Canterbury style) and classical world together in this worthy ending of a remarkable album.
In the first piece after “Prelude I” on disc 1 we hear the heavier side of the band and this is also the first piece with singer Amanda Rankin. The heavy up tempo guitar parts are placed next to dreamy and jazzy ones. That gives a nice contrast. The slow and beautiful melodic guitar solo in the middle part of the song is followed by an aggressive electric guitar part. And the clear voice of Amanda is following the opposite atmospheres of this track. In “Suspicions” the jazzy keyboards of Steven Miller are placed next to complex guitar and drum parts. The singing of Amanda brings in mind the names of two great female vocalists. I had to think of a mixture of Annette Peacock (Bruford) and Barbara Gaskins (Hatfield and the North, National Health). In “Shattered” the strings (minus basses) are back. I love the use of real strings in progressive rock music. And in some of the keyboard parts the spirit of Gentle Giant is wandering round. “Koan” opens with an acoustic guitar but you can also hear the 9-string electric guitar of Jeremy Poparad and the string section. This lovely piece is a mix of jazzy and classical atmospheres.
On disc 2 the already mentioned “Prelude II” is followed by the delicate song “Silence”. The voice of Amanda is shining more on those slow and delicate parts. The jazzy piano is accompanied by the string section. The vocal melodies in this track are very beautiful. The string section is also present on the strong track “Kronos”. Love the jazzy guitar and drum parts on this track. The up-tempo “Summit” is showing the more heavy side of the band. Aggressive electric guitar parts and amazing drum work by Dylan Gomez. In my opinion this track is one of the highlights of disc 2. The tracks on this disc are somewhat longer and you could say that the disc is more interesting for the lovers of progressive rock. Another highlight is the slow “Keepsakes”, a song in which the delicate voice of Amanda Rankin is shining. The tension of the music is slowly building up and the music becomes more complex at the same time. The up-tempo “Kafka” has crazy and complex rhythms. But it is also a diverse track because after the amazing drum work of great complexity the band is switching to a delicate vocal part with some Canterbury influences. But the ending of this track is just crazy. Canterbury scene meets King Crimson, amazing track! “Eulogy” is not so extreme but is building towards a kind of climax before is slows down again to melt seamlessly into the earlier mentioned “Postlude II”.
My first review of the year 2017 but we are not ready yet with the releases of 2016. I can ensure you that there are still some reviews in the pipeline of amazing albums of the year 2016. This double album of the Ohio based Axon-Neuron is one of those positive surprises of the past year. With “Metamorphosis” the band is making bridges between jazz, classical music and progressive rock. The classical orientated Prelude and Postlude pieces are beautiful and in “Postlude II” the 5-piece band and the 20-piece orchestra are coming together. The tracks on disc 2 are somewhat longer than those on disc 1 and in my opinion they are more interesting for the lovers of progressive rock. The music is so very original that it is almost impossible to give you some references. It is a wonderful melting pot of classical, jazz and progressive rock music. The jazzy side of the music has some Canterbury influences. And in the progressive rock spectrum I hear slightly some influences of Gentle Giant. This is real progressive music, so I would like to recommend this double album to the readers of progVisions.