Lebanese band OSTURA released its second album “The Room” on February 23rd 2018.
Some useful links:
Finally, make sure you listen to our audio interview with the band.
- Review by Rami Rouhana
My first criteria for how good an album is would be returning week after week for more listens. First, “The Room” is one of those few albums that stay in your mind as you find yourself humming some of its melodies some mornings. This happened to me many times already and I automatically took my phone and ran the album again for another listen.
Yes, this album deserves to be on my top 2018 albums list, regardless where it was made, who made it and who is playing on it; the music is diverse, influenced by following typical veins sort of speak but pushing some borders. As highlights, I totally enjoyed the melodies, the guitar riffs and perfect solos, but I thought the drum lines had the chance to experiment more yet remained in safe zones. Another highlight would be the brief electronic passages and the BIG choruses; it’s a Symphonic album but also a Heavy Metal one. The singers’ voices are enjoyable, at times pure classical, but I have to note the distinct tone of Elia Monsef: few singers have a range but also their own identity and “Timber”. Conducting an orchestra and writing music for it is not a small feat and Danny Bou Maroun managed to do it in an impressive way where few dare to go. The next step would be seeing the band perform some of the tracks live.
Patrick will lead you next through the history of the band, their accomplishments and their future. First, here’s our audio interview with OSTURA:
- Review by Patrick Saad
OSTURA became one of the biggest names in the Lebanese Metal scene since some years now, not because they played countless local gigs or took part in international ones – which they have not done yet – but because their debut album “Ashes of the Reborn” echoed well with local and international fans, especially Prog Metal fans who enjoy storytelling and concept albums à la Arjen Lucassen and his star-filled albums. Even though OSTURA nailed their debut with modest means and a single concert in Beirut a while after the album was released, no featured international stars nor high quality production were there, which meant limited international exposure without the help of a major label, promoting agency or major international festival appearance.
That positive feedback encouraged the band to focus on a follow up album – this time featuring more international stars, similar to what Lebanese Prog artist Amadeus Awad had on his releases, such as collaborating with Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One), Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering, Agua de Annique) among others. In fact, OSTURA vocalist Elia Monsfer was a band member with Amadeus Awad, and definitely had useful and insightful insight on collaborating with famous international Metal stars – which is a major improvement that “The Room” brought to the table, both in terms of increased credibility and quality, as well as advertising reach / international image.
The main difference between this album and the previous one is the Prague Orchestra and the influences and creative possibilities which it allowed the band to explore. In our audio interview, Elia and Danny described their music as “cinematic prog“, a more focused and unique direction from their more Symphonic-oriented debut which didn’t feature a live orchestra at all. On this album, the band creates a wider a range of moods while exploring new grounds, showcase their music composing skills and ability to smoothly incorporate a big orchestra into a Metal band setting, and finally their focus and determination to end up with a professional album with high production quality. “The Room” was more than a concept album, it was a proof of concept that a Metal band from Lebanon has the potential, creativity and dedication to release an album with an international impact, despite all the difficulties of being Metal musicians in a politically charged country with little or no infrastructure for a Metal music scene (check out our interview with Lina Khatib on those difficulties).
- My notes, opinions and comments about “The Room”
- The Prague Orchestra sounds amazing
One of the best live orchestra+Metal band collaborations I’ve heard in a studio album yet (high potential for an insane live concert). The Prague Orchestra is no stranger to Oriental / Middle-Eastern music, as Danny mentioned, and that shows in their professional performance. Check out “Escape”, “Deathless” and “Darker shades of black”.
- Impressive vocal performances
With Elia Monsef (vocals, male) and Youmna Jreissati (vocals, female), OSTURA has different storytelling methods and feelings it can use, and I enjoyed both vocalists separately but not together, maybe because I felt their vocal styles did not match. Youmna is brilliant on “Mourning Light” and “Beyond the new world”, where the mood is calmer and less violent, especially with piano or light orchestral touches which create a serene mood. Elia however, captured my attention more because he can deliver different characters and vocal styles, like on “Only One” and “Deathless”. While “Ashes of the Reborn” fit Youmna’s vocal style more, “The Room” was mostly the Elia show, and I’m not complaining.
- The rhythm section could have been better
Except in a couple of places like “Beyond the new world” and “Darker shades of black“, the rhythm section lacked a personality and touch of its own, instead ending up buried in the background on “auto-pilot”, with a few sudden bursts of life here and there. Noting that it went into a higher gear during the instrumental “Technical Prog” parts. This is an important point because in Prog, the rhythm section is known to be as much important as, if not more than, the guitars, vocals, keyboards or other lead instruments.
- Guitar solos anyone?
Plenty of awesome and insane riffs synced with the orchestra! The guitar lines were well written, never too much in the foreground, which meant they often stayed in the background, which takes a while to get used to if you’re used to something like Tool where the guitars are constantly spewing different ideas and tones in the foreground. In the end it is understandable given the wall of sound with the orchestra and multiple vocalists, but guitar lovers will still enjoy the album, mostly because of those tasteful and plentiful guitar solos – sometimes multiple solos in the same song. Check out “Erosion” and “Only One“.
- Decently Proggy
… with potential for more experimentation: on a scale from Standard Prog to Pain of Salvation, the band had great moments of creative power (ideas wise) mixed with some typical moments where they channeled standard Symphonic elements similar to the styles of Avantasia, Epica or even Nightwish. Symphony-X influences with time signatures and guitar riffs were pretty cool and explosive, but what I enjoyed the most were the Middle-Eastern instrument Oud in songs like “Erosion” and “The Surge“, the sick use of Electronic music on tracks like “The Surge” and “Only One“, and the Ambient music vibes that made “the journey” more authentic.
- Momentum-breaking “stop-and-start” approach
Some transitions between sections are either rushed or delayed: a short guitar solo stops then continues with an acoustic guitar rhythm, then stops again for a piano or an ambient stretch with some solo vocals – for me, this type of transitions broke the momentum and flow. Sometimes the music jumped between ideas so fast that you wish they would have just explored the previous one a bit more, especially since it’s “Cinematic Prog” and usually “cinema” with constant quick changes will challenge viewers to establish a connection to the main story and mood/style.
- Amazing intros and outros
A skill that’s hard to master, but OSTURA nailed some amazing variations and combinations of ambient, orchestral, vocals and electronic influences. Most songs had interesting intros, either straight up evil intros that signaled impending doom, or soundtrack-like mood-setting sounds. The outros were also fresh and seemed to have a life of their own, as if new ideas could spawn from them at any moment.
- Sounds like
Ayreon, Hans Zimmer, Nightwish, Avantasia, Symphony-X, Dream Theater, Amaseffer
- Favorite tracks
Erosion, Deathless, The Surge, Only One
- Key points
Massive orchestral sound, professional production, multiple collaborations with international Metal musicians, mature songwriting, incorporating Ambient, Soundtrack and Electronic music influences
- For Lebanese Metal fans
This is on my Top 5 Lebanese Metal albums of all time list
- For international Metal fans
Listen to this quality album from Lebanon, you’ll be surprised!