For those fortunate enough to bear witness to Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress band live, as they performed Dream Theater’s “Twelve-Step Suite” live, it was evident that there was more than a little bit of lightning in a bottle captured from the chemistry onstage. The elements in question were Portnoy on drums, along with his Neal Morse bandmate Eric Gillette, and most of the Haken lineup. In fact, during the Twelve-Step tours, Gillette and Haken keyboard wizard Diego Tejeida were very much of a single mind that when the chance presented itself, new music would need to be created.
As it turns out, that chance presented itself in 2023, with the genesis of TEMIC, a progressive powerhouse comprised of Eric on guitars, Diego on keys, along with Fredrik Klemp on vocals, and Simen Sandnes on drums. The band name actually is a product of Aztec Nahuatl language, meaning “Dream.” The idea originated with Diego, not only because of personal affinity with Aztec history and culture but also because the formation of this prog-metal undertaking is a bit of a dream, not only for him but for the entire band. It also bears mention that impressive bass guitar grooves are provided by Jacob Umansky of Intervals fame, albeit on a guest basis.
Before we dive into the details of the album, here’s the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” take on the band’s sound. It is contemporary, progressive, and heavy, although not stiflingly heavy all over. It is very much in the Haken/Leprous wheelhouse, as one may expect from the pedigree, and certainly a student of Dream Theater, like much of the current prog metal scene. One could draw comparisons to Seventh Wonder, but DGM might be a closer resemblance, especially from a technical standpoint. For better or worse, the album’s structure is song-based, and bite-sized, as the prog scene goes. Think more like “Awake” and less like “Octavarium.” All in all, for a debut offering, this would seem to be the safe and sensible approach for getting singles out into the intended scene and generating some buzz, rather than trying to record “The Wall” on the first go around.
On that subject, while the album opens with a semi-titular track ‘TMT,’ it is not an overture as much as it is more of an ominous foreshadowing. Only a couple of minutes long, but acoustic piano in a minor key sets the stage for Diego to blow up the speakers with his usual bombastic experimentation. It’s a keyboard synth onslaught of slow, heavy, lumbering chords, with a sort of “self-destruct” alarm feel to it, mixed with Mongolian throat singing, of all things. It sounds confusing, but whatever mood Diego is trying to set, it seems like it is doing the job.
As the song ends, the sound merges seamlessly into the first real track of the album, ‘Through the Sands of Time’. It’s all hands on deck as the entire band slams out some high-tempo high-energy modern prog metal riffing for about 30 seconds before Fredrik’s vocals emerge softly into silence while Diego continues to arpeggiate gently in a swirling atmosphere. Eventually, the drums and guitars crash some big, slow, heavy, percussive sections over the vocals to lend the track some inertia before picking up speed and charging forward, to ultimately be guided by a great guitar lead back into the original rhythm structure of the track. Fredrik’s vocals create an interesting vibe. Thankfully he is not Ross Jennings-esque, since that might have been a bit too on-the-nose for the Haken world; instead, he mostly stays in the midrange and refrains from any excessive screams or soaring highs. His controlled and often breathy vocals actually serve as a vehicle for the creative lyrics without distracting needlessly from the musicality of this technical band.
Getting back to the track itself, about halfway in, Diego goes for broke with the crazy staggered breakdowns, sound effects, bass drops, and anything else short of the kitchen sink, before Eric drops in with absolutely gorgeous tone and reverb to execute a guitar solo that is 10/10 for this track. As the solo fades out, the rhythm pauses again for a moment as the vocals merge softly and delicately with the misty fog of keyboard tones, before the song picks up its energy again for a strong finish.
‘Falling Away’ unfolds like textbook Euro prog metal, moody, mysterious, and almost angry at times, while always dipping back and forth between the pensive and the incredibly technical. It’s almost tailor-made for a drive on a lonely moonlit highway after midnight, where the mind likes to marinade in such vibes. ‘Count Your Losses’ almost sounds like some sort of industrial electronica, especially in the opening, but a minute in, when the drums and guitars come in to do a staccato slam, one can almost imagine a crowded venue jumping in unison to the addictive beat. The lyrical content seems to center around the subject of the song, a person who has sold out all morality and integrity in pursuit of base desires, only to be left with waste and ruin. It can be satisfying when the key changes, tempo, and polyrhythms of a song create a vibe to dovetail with the lyrical message or story.
‘Skeletons’ seems to lyrically explore similar themes of damnation and ruin leading to complete oblivion. The track oscillates well between the introspective and the energetic. It even has Eric and Diego doing what can only be called ‘Castlevania Scales’, in the first minute and it’s a fun addition to be sure. There are even percussive sections that bear more than a bit of resemblance to writing one might find in “Scenes from a Memory,” which is no mean feat to accomplish without seeming derivative. While it’s still a balanced song, there is no doubt the vocals take a bit of a backseat to all the instrumental flexing in this track. Every listener’s mileage may vary, but it’s great when you put on an Extreme record and here and there you get to hear Nuno just go absolutely nuts, before the songs go back to the usual level of merely semi-ridiculous. This is one of those tracks.
Speaking of semi-ridiculous, TEMIC turns down the adrenaline dial just a bit for the first parts of ‘Acts of Violence,’ a somber track with themes of paying a steep price for life filled with choices of deceit and violence. Perhaps it is a metaphor for the cost of wronging others, or perhaps it is a literal allusion to living and dying by the same sword. The second part of the song has a dark sort of energy to it, but special mention must be made for Eric’s usual flawless lead playing, with that glassy smooth Petrucci sort of tone. Diego’s tone, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to predict.
On the next track, ‘Friendly Fire,’ he calls upon his inner Arjen Lucassen for an absolutely over-the-top keyboard lead. There’s probably a name for the tone, probably some shape on a graphing calculator, but we are not Bob Moog and we will not try to explain it. It’s just cool and you should hear it. We all know Diego is a Vince DiCola fan, but this just sort of locks it in. The phenomenon earlier, where Nuno just goes for broke? This is the track where TEMIC really goes for broke. Instrumental, big, brash, with lots of changes, cool solos, and more demonstrations of technical tricks than a NAMM show. While some of the other tracks of the album might get clicks on Youtube, this will be the one that secures the band’s place as a sweetheart of ultra-technical musician types all over the world.
‘Paradigm,’ truly to its name, returns the album to its prior idiom. Ironically, the track is about getting lost in one’s own paradigm, in some sort of twisted Walden, thinking it’s a good state of being, but all the while wondering if the comfort is just the result of sanity slipping away. The music operates at a medium tempo, riffing steadily so Fredrik can paint vocals upon the canvas, before Eric joins in with more of those beautiful and tasteful lead parts. The vocals, usually reserved on much of the album, really shine on this one. ‘Once More,’ the next track, is an interesting example of how the lyrics of the album are not beholden to rhyming schemes. Rhyme exists on the album, but in the verses where it seems to happen naturally, but the band is not shy about choosing words for feel and reason first and foremost, and not forcing the writing. The track is more upbeat and major-key in the first half, but Diego gets weird again in the middle the keyboard sounds like Peter Frampton’s talk box is getting its stomach pumped, but it is a cool effect after hearing it a couple of times.
The album closes with ‘Mothallah,’ named for an Arabic constellation in the sky, which coincides with lyrics about coming away, far from here, in the darkest night, finding our morning star. The song has a cool structure, mostly true to the band’s sound across the album, although some key changes are downright Heavy Devvy, and there are some nice instrumental parts throughout. Diego gets gnarly in a Sherinian sort of tone about halfway into the track and later Eric gets to fuse together blistering scales with some majestic slow vibrato unraveling in waves from his left hand. The chorus builds through the final part of the track, with layers upon layers of vocals, really making it feel like the big finish it is, before we spend at least half a minute basking in a star-watching ambiance of insects and “space sounds.”
We had fairly high hopes for this album, and we were not disappointed. If anything, it exceeds expectations. If there is one thing the supergroup phenomenon has taught us, it is that one can throw some incredible talent together in the same room and just get a strange bland gruel, as is sometimes the case with too many cooks without a shared vision. In this case, it is clear that there is a guiding vision and a mission, and all five musicians involved understood the assignment. The band’s sound is technical without being a suffocating Berklee seminar of jargon, while still having the correct amount of seasoning to make this album good for several listens without getting stale.
The lyrics are accessible, the vocal delivery is skilled without being polarizing. For anyone already invested in the genre, there is nothing here to not like. One can argue that it does not have enough of Ingredient X or Z, but no one can point to any part of the album and say “This part is not good.” For a refreshing new take on prog metal, check out TEMIC, available November 17th.
Released By: Season of Mist
Release Date: November 17th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Metal
“Terror Management Theory” Track-Listing:
- Through the Sands of Time
- Falling Away
- Count Your Losses
- Acts of Violence
- Friendly Fire
- Once More
- Fredrik Bergersen / Vocals
- Eric Gillette / Guitars and Backing Vocals
- Simen Sandnes / Drums and Percussion
- Diego Tejeida / Keyboards and Sound Design
Order “Terror Management Theory“ HERE.
Diego Tejeida of Haken's fame and Eric Gillette of Neal Morse Band fame, collectively of Mike Portnoy Shattered Fortress fame, have joined forces with a talented team to deliver a fresh and powerful take on contemporary progressive metal. Check it out.