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Artizan: Artizan (EP/private) 

  1. Fire
  2. Game within a game
  3. Rise

 What do you do when, after a decade of silence, two gifted ex-members of one of your favourite US-bands of old reappear with a new project? You’re bound to open a bottle of your poison of preference and go ‘Hell yeah!’ The news? Drummer Ty Tammeus and singer Tom Braden, who left their mark on the eponymous Leviathan-EP (1991) and its full-length follow-up Deepest secrets beneath (1994), are back in the ring. The new constellation is called Artizan and, besides Tammeus and Braden, consists of Shamus McConney on guitar, Hermanus J. Rombouts on lead guitar and Jon Jennings on bass. Wisely skipping the counterproductive MySpace stage of pitiful in-progress recordings in ghastly sound quality, the five-piece based out of Jacksonville, FL introduce themselves by way of a well-produced and factory-pressed 3-track EP. The cover simply carries the band’s name in a finely-designed logo, lyrics can be found inside.

Of course, a few moons have passed since their Leviathan days, so the question is: what’s Braden and Tammeus’ music like these days? Has it gotten post-grungy, pseudo-alternative, stoner, ambient, hipster lo-fi? Let me reassure you with a loud and resounding NO. Artizan sound like they don’t give a rat’s behind about any flavour of the week. Better even: the songs on offer (7:21, 6:31 and 4:25 minutes long respectively) continue where the classic Leviathan-EP and DSB album left off all those years ago. Tammeus and McConney have penned three strong tracks of moderately technical US-power metal, with the former responsible for lyrics of a mainly introspective nature. Opener ‘Fire’ opens fire without delay, combining the trademarks of early-nineties classic US-power metal with technical subtlety and well-crafted vocal melodies/harmonies. The dark but highly melodic bridge part, concluded with two lines repeated at the end of the song, is especially engaging. Every section has been carefully arranged into a coherent structure, taking the listener on an exciting journey. Lyrics are tinged with regret and melancholy, while still retaining a youthful optimism and newly found sense of inner direction.

 ‘Pushing forward through all the years

Manifesting hope in my fears

Clutching to the dreams I’ve betrayed

Utilizing what still remains’

 If that sounds familiar, you’re over 40 and acquiescent. That is a good thing.

‘Fire’, a killer song all the way and reminiscent of vintage Leviathan, Auditory Imagery and Divine Regale, is followed by the midtempo ‘Game within a game’. This one takes a bit of time to warm up to, as did a recalcitrant Leviathan-piece like ‘Confidence not arrogance’. A minor quibble would be that, about three quarters through, the repeated chorus takes the suspense out of the number. Thus prolonging the song where there’s really no need to.

It becomes clear soon enough that this band is not about the three-time-changes-one-guitar-solo-and-drum-fill-per-minute type of ‘progressive’ metal that is anything but progressive and even less about metal. Thankfully, no plastic synth-and-keys additives deform the tasty riff-built excellence either. On display are qualities of a far more significant nature.

Listen to Tammeus’ playing. Intricate yet controlled, shining with that hard-to-achieve blend of sophistication and playfulness that already made Leviathan’s early work instantly recognizable. As any wise man will tell you: less is more. Tammeus’ style – for that is what it is: a genuine style - nowadays reminds me even more of Mark ‘Thunderchild’ Zonder’s restrained precision patterns on Fates Warning’s Parallels. If that isn’t the highest of compliments, I don’t know what is.

‘And Braden?’ you ask. Well, that versatile and ever melodic voice is tailormade for Artizan’s compositions. None of that guttural nonsense, but none of the Tate-ish beyond-the-clouds soaring either. Just a passionate and precise delivery of notes that stay within the margins of reason, how refreshing. Yeah, these guys were born to forge this type of metal together. Closing this appetizer – Artizan have signed with German label Pure Steel Records and are working on an album – is the wonderful and aptly titled ‘Rise’. Near the end of the song, Hermanus J. Rombouts – of Dutch descent, no doubt – is given room to shred across the board and relishing it, too. What makes this particular segment even more intense is the way the interwoven rhythm parts are played. It just makes you want to jump for joy. Because jumping is not metal, the only option here is to point those Ronnie James Dio horns up to Valhalla and be thankful.

Sharp production and transparent mix come courtesy of none other than veteran Jim Morris. Jim, you will recall, was producer on the first two Leviathan releases and recording engineer on their Riddles, questions, poetry and outrage (1996) and much overlooked masterpiece Scoring the chapters (1997). You only have to take in the warmth of Jennings’ bass lines complementing the exactitude of Tammeus’ snare and cymbal work and you will be comvinced: Jim knows his audio dynamics and his thinking man’s metal. Summing things up: the Artizan-EP holds nothing short of top-notch material. Let’s count ourselves lucky there’s more where that came from.

 (c)2010, Oliver Kerkdijk