Aspera, (Latin for 'thorns') are five musicians hailing from Skien, Norway. They are active as a band since 2005 though in a slightly different line-up than in their schooldays. All members were about nineteen years of age when they conceived this album, which is quite remarkable. Although one can hear a great variety of influences, some of these guys must have listened to or have been inspired by bands like Pain Of Salvation, Pagan's Mind, Stratovarius and Symphony X. The band recorded the album in their home studio but the mix and mastering were done by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Paradise Lost among others). The artwork was done by Gustavo Savez. At a leter stage the band name changed into Above Symmetry and the album was re-released. This is the review of the original album.
Ripples opens with Intro: a rather soundtrack-like piece of music, almost electronic music with some voices from radio broadcasts. Intro flows right through into the title track, a prog metal song in the vein of Pagan's Mind. Immediately it becomes clear that we have four fine musicians at work. Nice hooks, tempo changes, tasteful choruses and a good lead vocalist named Atle Pettersen, as long as he sings in his lower regions as well as the choruses with really nice harmonies. When Pettersen forces his vocal chords it doesn't sound quite so natural. In my humble opinion this is the only serious criticism on this album, but since the vocals are an important part of the music, this weighs rather heavily where the rating is concerned. In the second part of Ripples a virtuoso keyboard solo by Nickolas Main Henriksen in the style of Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) as well as some stunning duets between Henriksen and guitarist Robin Ognedal matching the ones by Dream Theater. A bit more mellow are the vocal parts of Do I Dare, a nice pop song with Journey influences and several more heavy instrumental interludes in the vein of bands like Artension, Kenziner and Andromeda. In the slower pieces of Remorse, the band - especially Pettersen - sound like Pain Of Salvation and Daniel Gildenlow. A very impressive varied composition with references to Symphony X but definitely no copy cats. The longest track on this album is called Black & White. Next to the prog metal characteristics there are some fragments that remind me of early Spock's Beard. Outstanding craftsmanship from drummer Joachim Strøm Ekelund and bassist Rein T. Blomquist. Fine melodies with catchy choruses are alternated by heavenly instrumental pieces and a nice bit of classical piano as well as a awesome slide guitar solo. A haunting opening of Catatonic Coma followed by rather heavy riffs in the vein of Evergrey, then in lower gear with a 'telephone voice' by Pettersen and the tempo goes up again with the melodic chorus. Symphonic keyboards accompany Ognedal when he plays his axe like a genuine guitar hero, but Henriksen too plays his synth like the top keyboardists in the genre. At the end of the song I get the feeling there are some Therion influences as well. Beautifully sung are the verses in more mellow song Torn Apart featuring the piano. Ognedal's guitar sounds a bit like John Petrucci's (Dream Theater) and the choruses again are catchy but heavier as well. In Traces Inside we hear Symphony X influenced instrumental parts and Pettersen stretches his vocal chords to their limits but as on the whole record, the harmonies in all choruses are unsurpassed. Nearly acoustic is the shortest song Reflections, featuring piano, acoustic guitar and a good vocal performance by Pettersen. A bit of 'orchestral headbanging' in the last track The Purpose, partly coming close to Dream Theater's music, only the harmonies and at times the majestic and bombastic keyboards make the distinction.
Undoubtedly this album will stand a good chance of becoming my favorite debut of 2010. It has this unbelievable combination of power, dynamics, catchy melodies, stunning compositions and progressive as well as metal and classical characteristics. Although I'm not totally blown away by the vocals, Pettersen can compete with most vocalists in the genre and most certainly the musicians can challenge almost any colleague in the business. A most impressive album by highly talented and extremely young musicians and the beauty of it all for me is, it contains lot of original ideas! A must for all prog metal fans and highly recommended for metal fans looking for more than the basic verse- chorus- verse.