When thinking of a prospective ‘album of the year,’ bands that I have followed for years come to mind. Generally, an established band at the peak of their creative finesse, or an older band making a big comeback will take the cake. Very seldom however, does a new band on the scene ever get a chance at releasing something that makes most of the other albums released last year shallow in comparison. The fine musicians of Altesia may have achieved this with their debut album Paragon Circus, and while their breed of progressive metal is certainly nothing new to the scene, they do a brilliant job of emulating established acts, and in parts, even trump the giants that have influenced them.
While Altesia can easily be likened to the sound of Dream Theater or Fates Warning, it is astounding that such young musicians can stand up to even the best, most experienced musicians the genre has to offer.
Regardless of their derivative nature however, Paragon Circus is for all intents and purposes, a technical, meticulous and emotional masterpiece. With much progressive music these days seemingly trying to hard to pull a facade of intelligence over our heads, Altesia manages to give a listening experience that only grows with time, while still developing a set of catchy and seasoned melodies in the mix.
Of special merit are the lead guitarist Alexis Casanova and the vocalist, (and rhythm guitarist) Clement Darrieu. While every musician is at the top of their game here, it seems that Paragon Circus really showcases the talent of these two musicians over all else. There is soulful, yet brilliantly technical guitar work that would make Petrucci proud, and while there is certainly a lot of time here where the band struts their instrumental wizardry, the overall direction of the song and composition seem to be always kept in mind. No soloing goes on for too long, and no ego gets out of hand.
While the album maintains a high level of consistency throughout, the highlights are arguably three epics, including “Reminiscence,” “The Prison Child,” and “Cassandra’s Prophecy.” For anyone who hasn’t heard any music from this band yet, these tracks are certainly worth looking into. While not having the apparent “sections” and sonic variety some more well-known epics might have, they flows seamlessly; melding beautiful anthemic choruses and frantic instrumental sections together in perfect function, and always too keen to throw something unexpected and pleasantly surprising our way.
Despite adopting a pretty familiar sound through all of this, I can safely say that Altesia is one of the best new bands that has come out onto the progressive metal scene in years. To those that might simply write off the band as a “Dream Theater clone” however; twenty years before this album was released, Dream Theater was taking it’s first steps, and sounding all-too much like Rush. However, it took until their second album to find their trademark sound. Like the old masters of the genre held their influences in high regard, as does Altesia, and with Paragon Circus, they have crafted the best-possible first impression for me. Even if I’m wrong, and Altesia does not become one of the flagship bands of the genre in years to come, the band has still imprinted its mark upon the music scene for this majestic work alone. Simply put, one of the greatest debut records of 2019 and, sadly, a late discovery.