Artist: Ring Of Gyges
Album Title: Metamorphosis
Label: ViciSolum Productions
Date of Release: 19 May 2023
Today is one of those magical days. It is a day when I am bursting with excitement about a brand-new musical discovery. I wanted to wait longer before penning a review, but I equally wanted to capture the sense of euphoria that I’m feeling. The latter won out and, whilst I may consider re-writing the review at a later date once the dust has settled, I just had to bring you something as soon as humanly possible.
It was only yesterday that I first listened to ‘Metamorphosis’, the sophomore full-length release from Ring Of Gyges. But since that discovery, I have listened to it back-to-back on repeat with only time in between to sleep. So, whilst it is all still very new, I have listened to the full album in excess of five or six times, probably more. It’s all been a bit of a blur if I’m honest.
Ok, calm down, Matt. Breathe…and start at the beginning. Ring Of Gyges are an Icelandic quintet, hailing from Reykjavik, and they play progressive music that spans the rock and metal spectrum, whilst also offering a lot more besides. I took a punt on the band initially because of the words ‘Iceland’ and ‘progressive metal’. I’ve yet to hear a band from this most wonderful of countries that has disappointed me, and my affection for the country as well as progressive music in general meant that I had to give Ring Of Gyges a try.
The band is named after a hypothetical magic ring from the mind of the Greek philosopher Plato and consists of five hugely talented musicians. Without any information on their identity within the press release or on their official social media accounts, I am relying on less reliable sources. However, I understand the protagonists to be bassist Þorsteinn Ýmir Ásgeirsson, drummer Einar Merlin Cortes, keyboardist Gísli Þór Ingólfsson, and guitarists Guðjón Sveinsson and Helgi Jónsson, who is also the vocalist for Ring Of Gyges. Sincere apologies if any of this is wrong.
The first thing to point out is that ‘Metamorphosis’ is a long album, stretching beyond an hour in length. Yes, it could be a touch shorter, but in all honesty, I don’t want it to be. The flow from start to finish is marvellous and there’s not a passage within it, let alone a full song, that I don’t like for one reason or another. And listening to this record is simply not a chore; it’s a joy. The production is very commendable and a large part of why I enjoy this release so much. I’m not fatigued when listening, and all instruments are given the clarity they need, whilst also doing justice to all the various elements of the music, from the lightest to the heaviest material, for this record contains plenty of both.
The chosen approach by Ring Of Gyges is interesting too, because there is clearly plenty of technical ability between these musicians. However, whilst there’s no doubt that this is music of a progressive nature, there’s so much care and attention taken by the band to ensure that each composition is a song. Whether as part of the whole, or as a standalone track, each piece can be enjoyed on its own merits with the material rarely veering into anything that could be construed as an exercise in simply flexing their instrumental muscles. Yes, there are some very clever things going on that baffle my non-musician mind, but it’s never to the detriment of the song within which it sits. This is quite possibly the biggest strength of this album overall.
In terms of reference points, this is where things get a bit tricky, because there are so many. Without turning this review into an A-Z shout-out to the great and the good of the prog world, I hear influences that range from Haken to Leprous, and from Transatlantic to Genesis, Marillion, or Rush, with plenty more besides. There’s a definite desire to explore the prog of the 70s by Ring Of Gyges, but this desire doesn’t overpower everything else; it is just one of many ingredients added to the ‘Metamorphosis’ recipe.
Opening track, ‘Dragonflies’ sets the tone for the album, with a driving riff to begin with, energy and enthusiasm oozing from every pore. The sound of bells gives us a playful nod to Jethro Tull or Mike Oldfield, before a bass-heavy verse takes over with bright, breezy guitar work, and great vocals to top it all off. The chorus grows and grows, vaguely reminiscent of both Haken and Caligula’s Horse, reaching anthemic status by the end. And that end arrives so swiftly, it’s almost unreal.
‘Cabin Fever’ takes over, and it’s another upbeat track, albeit more overtly progressive thanks to a clever stop/start lurching riff that’s quite hypnotic as well as thoroughly engaging. However, ‘Nautilus’ changes things up yet again, entering with a thunderous bang. It’s altogether heavier and darker, featuring some great growled vocals, followed by a delicious chorus that’s catchy as hell and crowned by soaring vocals that sends a shiver down my spine. Mind you, the drumming and lead guitar solos are things of beauty too. To be fair, the whole thing is a fabulous affair, from start to all-too-soon finish.
And the brilliant tracks keep coming, including ‘Go’, which starts off in a jangly, indie fashion, with a bold 70s vibe but which twists and turns, delivering strong 70s vibes through the keyboard solos and overall tone of the composition. It wasn’t a favourite, but it has got under my skin expertly, thanks to its effervescence and sense of fun. On the other side of the coin, are tracks like ‘The Choice’ and ‘Holy Water’ that have a much more sombre exterior, much more introspective and deeper lyrically. They are both personal favourites of mine, though, especially the latter which is utterly beautiful in every single way. I hear a touch of both Wolverine and Riverside within its bittersweet embrace, whilst the apparent simplicity of the music allows the vocals to really shine against the backdrop of those stunningly deep and moving melodies. I also, naturally, love the way that the final stages sees an increase in heaviness via chugging guitar riffs that eventually open into a powerful explosion of sound. I think I’m in love.
If you were thinking that there would be a dip in the quality at some point, then prepare to look foolish as there’s no such thing in evidence on ‘Metamorphosis’. ‘Parasite’ is another darker, urgent track that has a strong Leprous vibe to it at points, whilst ‘Fading’ starts with a bizarre intro, that’s part mechanical, part lullaby piano (if that even makes sense) before carrying us away on a carpet of dreamy synths and irresistible melodies. I’m seriously in love now.
It wouldn’t be a true prog album without at least one longer song, and it arrives in the form of ‘The Face Of God’. And guess what? Yup, it’s superb. Heavy djenty riffs feature alongside bold synth sounds and textures as if to blend the old and new of prog together, and it’s within this song that the Haken-isms feel most pronounced – some of the vocals and melodies could have quite possibly found their way onto ‘Aquarius’ or ‘Visions’ to my mind. It has a great ebb and flow to it, featuring plenty of light and shade, not to mention a great sense of theatre, too.
Fittingly, after the excellent ‘Sea Legs’, Ring Of Gyges ends this record with a properly epic, and uplifting song in the form of ‘Find Me Here’. Again, the performances are stunning, and the melodies, enhanced by brilliant singing, are utterly sensational. I don’t want the album to end, but if it has to, this is the perfect note on which to end.
There’s a possibility that I will be heading back to Iceland in January 2024. If it comes to fruition, I will make it my mission to hunt down Ring Of Gyges and personally thank them for bringing their music into my life and that of others. It has been a while since I have been so blown away by an album, especially from a previously unknown entity. But blown away I truly am. Ring Of Gyges have crafted one of the most exciting, enjoyable, and downright fabulous progressive albums I’ve heard in recent times, and it deserves to bring them success and a much wider audience. That’s why I was so desperate to get this review out into the world, because anyone who enjoys progressive music, be it rock or metal, needs to hear this immediately. In time, I may be able to into greater detail about more of the album’s idiosyncrasies. But, for now, I hope you get the sense of excitement and enthusiasm I genuinely have for ‘Metamorphosis’. More importantly, I hope you listen to it, and join the Ring Of Gyges fanclub, just as I have done.
The Score of Much Metal: 97%