CONSTANTINE – Divine Design

Divine DesignFormed in 2006, Finnish progressive metallers Constantine released various demos before attracting the attention of Palokka Records who signed the band for their 2011 debut ‘Divine Design’.  Aptly named it seems, for Constantine’s debut is superbly professional for a band signed to a small label.  No corners have been cut here; even before hearing a note of music, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the packaging itself, a beautifully designed, glossy three-panel digipak adorned with some pretty smart artwork.

Of course, as always, the music within is of greater importance, and in progressive metal terms, Constantine do not disappoint.  Creating a sound that brings together the power of early Queensryche, the bombast of ‘Images and Words’ era Dream Theater and the most harmonious elements of Iron Maiden, Constantine may not always sound wholly original, but they create superb musical atmospheres where every band member gives their all.

Clocking in at just over an hour, each of this album’s seven tracks are simply fantastic.  The title cut starts slowly with an atmospheric fade in followed by hugely dominating chords, before breaking into something more complex.  Various guitar arpeggios show Constantine’s love for Dream Theater and Iron Maiden – the latter made particularly obvious via some solid use of twin lead harmonies and vocalist Lassi’s Bruce Dickinson-esque style.   While drummer Marko plays aggressively and impressively, it is bassist Antti whom perhaps contributes the most interesting musical flourishes; although his playing often gets swamped by the more in-your-face elements, he plays fast and complex musical structures throughout the piece.  In many ways, this opening number is an eight minute showcase for all of Constantine’s talents.  There are not too many surprises from here on in, but Constantine offers some great music within their chosen musical niche.

Slightly more accessible, ‘The Shadow Within’ makes a slightly bigger feature of the keyboards, but even then, they appear more in a blanket fashion as opposed to those the widdly prog-rock kind.  Here, as before, the guitars lend a heavy metallic chug, interspersed by some great melodic flourishes.  Repeated listens are certainly advised, since behind the metal riffing there are some lovely touches to be discovered – again, often from the bass.  Throw in a a huge sweeping solo and another strong vocal and it becomes another enjoyable track  Even if you’re feeling like you’ve heard it all before, take a step back and and try to listen to the different elements individually: it’s hard not to argue that Constantine are musically sound.

‘Through The Veil of Death’ opens with snare drums clashing with a choppy guitar rhythm, before drummer Marko pounds at the double bass drum, creating one ‘Divine Design’s heaviest moments.  Those not into the more power metal side of things need not worry, however, since such aggression is brief.  This is followed by a few droning keys before the band opt for an uptempo groove in keeping with Symphony X’s more accessible works.  The keyboard makes a return during what passes as a chorus, featuring Lassi in fine voice once again.  While there are few hooks to stick in your head, it’s a track which stands up to repeated listening, uncovering hidden depths on those later listens:  the twin lead guitars are top, while the hugely complex bass runs hold everything together without ever coming to the fore.

Several eight minute numbers would already guarantee a fairly weighty listen, but to finish, Constantine go all out on a fifteen minute epic.  A huge intro once again displays even more Maiden love within Constantine’s ranks, as twin guitars deliver riffs in a very Adrian Smith inspired way.  Following this, things get heavier with another chugging delivery bolstered by some solid double bass drum work.  Just as you think it is about to going to get heavier still, there’s another melodic 80s edged guitar solo (of the old school metal kind), before everything falls away to reveal something more atmospheric.  Over clean guitar work, augmented by the sound of strings, Lassi begins to sing.  Here, his accented style isn’t quite as enjoyable as on some other parts of the disc, sadly, but it doesn’t detract too much from the great music.  Elsewhere during this lengthy workout, you’ll encounter Iron Maiden-esque galloping, brief jazzy-prog keyboard interludes, waltzing folksiness, occasional rock piano and even more sweeping and majestic soloing from both guitarists.  A shout out here must go to drummer Marko, who does a sterling job in holding everything together.  ‘The Darkest Grace’ might not convey the same levels of pomp as Symphony X’s ‘The Odyssey’ – it takes years to become that ridiculously epic after all – but for a huge closing statement on a debut release, it showcases some solid ideas.

Those unmoved by any of the bands mentioned here – or indeed any other music fitting neatly into progressive/power metal niches – will almost certainly be unmoved by Constantine’s debut.  In progressive metal terms, ‘Divine Design’ doesn’t veer too far from what’s on show during that title track, but if you’re really into prog metal, chances are, you’ll really love them.  ‘Divine Design’ is a damn fine disc indeed.

April 2012