Off to a good start...
Murat Batmaz | Istanbul, Turkey | 05/01/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"According to their website and label, Persona Non Grata are a Greek band playing Progressive Metal in the style of Vanden Plas, Circus Maximus, and Poverty's No Crime, which alludes to them being a very melodic band favouring more compact songs to the lengthier, complex numbers.
However, now that I've been playing this album for months, I feel the only apt comparison is Poverty's No Crime in that Persona Non Grata, too, pens songs that differ very slightly from each other, mostly staying in their comfort zone. There is a fair amount of crunch, which is introduced right off the bat with the opening song "Before the Reason." Dense synth textures are replaced by gargantuan bass lines and crunchy guitar riffs whilst melodic vocals lend themselves to both smooth, crystalline deliveries as well as throatier voicings, but there is not a single track here that has been composed with a different mindset.
Vocalist Bill Axiotis' singing is most comparable to the likes of Geoff Tate circa Promised Land, and Ray Alder, but during the more gruff passages he recalls Tom Englund from Evergrey. On "Dual Unity," among the standout cuts on the album, the slow, dramatic singing atop a moving piano line is dead-on Englund, but as the band picks up tempo and throws heavier riffs into the mix, with the bass guitar highlighting the whole arrangement, Axiotis is also reminiscent of Ray Alder. Without question, his most daring performance is on the title track, where he delves into almost deathy growls to contrast his more operatic singing. However, it does sound like he is stretching out of his range, which may turn some fans off. Otherwise, this is easily the most progressive tune on the album, with uber-heavy machine-gun riffery and weird synth extrapolations.
The lead guitar playing proves fresh and exciting on first listen, but as one delves deeper into the album, it is impossible to ignore that each and every tune possesses the same kind of soloing -- it almost feels like they broke a long ten-minute solo into pieces and injected the compositions with those segments. He certainly has great instrumental ability, as exposed on "Personal Gratitude," the other noteworthy tune which utilises some sitar playing and distant female vocals. However, in terms of keyboards, John Ioannidis' opening melody is total Pain of Salvation worship during their Remedy Lane sessions.
In between these tunes are the power ballads "Longing" and "Fives" as well as the somewhat effect-laden "Empty Shadows" whose guitar melody is the most memorable thing on the whole disc. Unfortunately they fully exploit this melody, first with oversaturated fretwork and then with vocal lines that are entirely based on it. Needless to say, it somewhat loses its initial impact.
By no means is this a disappointing album given Wastefall and Fragile Vastness', two other Greek prog bands, debut albums weren't groundbreaking either. With continued work, particularly in the songwriting department, and a producer who may refine the vocals a bit, they could leave a bigger imprint on the scene with the second album. Its shortcomings notwithstanding, it's a shame a 2009 prog release has gone so unnoticed so far."