This progressive rock/progressive metal outfit hailing from the Netherlands have existed for almost a decade and after a five year hiatus in which the line-up has changed (the original vocalist Raymond Jansen was replaced by Michael Hos) Ulysses are back with their second full length album, The Gift of Tears.
The band has decided to incorporate real life stories into their songwriting in order to enhance the emotional content of the songs – as they say: ‘Why use fiction when the world already has so many stories to tell?’ In my opinion, Ulysses have done a good job at composing tracks that focus on conveying certain atmospheres and emotions and on constructing a believable story rather than on equilibristic musicianship.
In this sense I would say that they are a very ‘European’ band, and if I were to compare them to other progressive outfits, I hear influences from/similarities to Sun Caged, Lemur Voice, Lord of Mushrooms, Balance of Power and Hubi Meisel. There are plenty of long tracks which leave lots of room for variation, changes in pace and style, quiet piano passages followed by heavy riffing in complex time signatures and a vocal performance that ranges from quietly intimate to outright desperate.
In my opinion, however, there are two main issues that mar The Gift of Tears, the most important being that the tracks are unable to move me. They are well crafted and executed … but I feel nothing. It may be due to the slightly weird singing of Michael Hos, or maybe it’s simply because the music has been ‘over-composed’ making the tracks seem oddly lifeless. The other problem is the very uninspiring sound of the album which also serves to detract from my involvement in the music. It’s a shame, because a crisper and less flat production might have served to get these (objectively speaking) interesting tracks off the ground.
Despite my reservations I would recommend anyone with a penchant for the genre to check out this band. They certainly know what they’re doing and which direction they want to head in, but I think they’d benefit from thinking less and going more on instinct the next time. Oh, and getting a new producer, of course.