Album Review: Sunburst – ‘Fragments of Creation’

…Alright, who has been reading my diary again? Seriously, pretty much since 2013, I’ve been wanting to have a Nevermore reunion or to hear Roy Khan doing more stuff and then Fragments of Creation comes along and manages to be the closest to both of them I could have got!

…OK, admittedly, Sunburst pre-date Khan’s departure from Kamelot and Nevermore’s split with Jeff Loomis and Van Williams in 2011, let alone my discovery of both bands in 2012, so this is likely coincidence that the record sounds like that. However, I still stand by stating this album sounds like the perfect fusion of both bands and I am only not demanding people to check this album out from the top of the nearest mountain because I feel that doing so would be wrong.

That and I’m too lazy to walk up the nearest mountain, but that’s not important!

Now, some people might be thinking that my enthusiasm is misguided or that my love of Nevermore and Kamelot has blinded me to flaws with this record. I’m not going to lie, this record pretty much is so far up my alley that it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to say that I’m biased towards it. So what I’m going to do is deliberately spin my usual reviewing on its head and approach the record not from the perspective I usually do, which is to see how a record sounds in comparison to the cliches of the genre of music it is part of and how well it carries itself on its own merits, and instead approach it as someone trying to tear it apart for its every flaw. If nothing else, it should prove that I’m not giving the record a free pass just because it’s a perfect fusion of two of my favourite bands.

So, with that said, let’s get cynical!

Sunburst artwork

Sunburst are a band which sound like the members have listened to far more later-era Nevermore than is probably good for them and found a person who missed the memo that Kamelot found their replacement for Khan over four years ago and he doesn’t need to keep sounding like he’s doing a constant audition to join the band. I’ll give them props for picking great artists to mold themselves after (hey, if you’re going to try to imitate an artist, you might as well pick ones that people actually like, respect and want to see return rather than some crap which nobody asked for, nobody wanted and most people want to see gone, like One Direction), but the unoriginality is enough for my eyes to practically do barrel rolls. There is no real attempt to shake up the Nevermore formula beyond “we’ve got a Khan imitator on vocals instead of a Warrel Dane imitator on vocals”, which would be a heck of a lot more impressive if it weren’t for the fact that it makes this record exclusively aimed towards either Nevermore fans or people who only wrote off Nevermore based on Warrel Dane’s vocals (kind of like the people who claim extreme metal is awful just because of the vocals), since it is hard to deny that Nevermore did at least have some great songwriting to back them up and replicating the band’s music with the accuracy that Sunburst do is admirable in that regard, if not necessarily anything else.

You might infer from what I’ve just said that Sunburst’s music is complicated, and it certainly wouldn’t be an inaccurate statement, as the band’s music is definitely not easy to put into a category. Elements of gothic metal, death metal, groove metal, thrash metal, power metal, djent and progressive metal all make appearances on the record, but never in a way which really pushes them too much into a single genre (only Vasilis Georgiou’s vocals could really pin them down to power metal due to the aforementioned Khan influence, but that falls apart when you actually listen to the band’s music, as it sounds nothing like any power metal band you can think of and he includes a few harsh vocals in some songs which make calling them a power metal band VERY difficult). If nothing else, this is not a Nevermore clone where the band doesn’t know the deeper complexities of the band’s music, as they have that down so well that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the album was a Nevermore reunion without Dane’s involvement. There are a few things which give the game away on a deeper listen, though: as skilled a guitarist as Gus Drax is, his soloing style is pretty clearly cut from a more conventional style of guitar soloing than Loomis’ guitar soloing is, the use of keyboards will tip off Nevermore fans that something doesn’t add up pretty quickly and the band is a bit more melodic than Nevermore are known for (partially due to Georgiou’s vocals being more power metal influenced than Dane’s are and due to the keyboards occasionally adding elements which are more melodic than Nevermore demonstrated). However, on a casual listen, you would be forgiven for asking when Khan joined Nevermore.

The performances in general are pretty great. None of the guys live up to their obvious idols, but their skills on their instruments are generally pretty great and I would certainly say that, if you do take one thing from this paragraph, it should NOT be that the musicians are bad. Compared to Nevermore, they’re lacking in skills, but that’s rather like saying you’re a bad writer compared to Shakespeare! As musicians in their own right, they are definitely talented: indeed, I must admit that Drax REALLY impressed me, as I have heard an album by one of his other bands (Suicidal Angels, although it’s worth noting that he wasn’t actually part of the band when I heard their album) and I found it so dull that I didn’t even bother finishing it. The guy deserves a huge amount of praise for this album, no matter how cynical I’m being, and I am really curious to hear him do more, because he definitely has the talent to justify paying attention to him!

The production suffers from a lot of the problems of modern metal production. The two which I keep bringing up are present here: the mastering is excessive, causing ear fatigue on longer listening sessions (although I can still say that I’ve heard worse mastering: it’s not to the level of a Rick Rubin production, at the very least!) and the bass is very undermixed, which makes it nigh on impossible to hear until you finally hear it and force yourself to mentally tune it back into the record. There’s also an element of the record which sounds JUST too clean, although I wouldn’t say it’s overly problematic, as there’s still some grit to the recording which prevents it from reaching the level that, say, Trivium are notorious for. It’s definitely not a bad production job overall, but I do have my criticisms and I feel that tidying them out would have resulted in a better album.

So, overall…well, that attempt at cynicism still resulted in a very positive review overall, so either I failed epically in being cynical or the record is so good that even my hardest attempts to tear it apart couldn’t produce enough to make the record seem bad (and I can’t say I didn’t try to do both, so draw your own conclusions from that). For all my ragging on it, none of the flaws are major, the surprisingly faithful recreation of Nevermore’s sound is well done (although I do think the band should aim to get a few more original elements into their sound for next time), the songwriting is top notch and the members are definitely talented on their instruments. I think the worst I can say about the record is that the production could have been better, but even then, the production isn’t bad! If you’re not into metal, then this is about as good a choice for getting into the genre as learning how to swim by throwing yourself over Niagara Falls, but, if you are into metal and are even slightly fond of Nevermore and/or Kamelot, then Fragments of Creation is a very, VERY easy album to recommend.

Fragments of Creation will be released on the 26th of February by Inner Wound Recordings. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.