Need – Norchestrion: A Song for the End
The prog scene in Greece is lit. This little country is one of my favourites on the list of where to look for when trying to find some good new progressive music. And of all gems that it has churned out, Need might easily be the best one. I’ve been following these guys for a while, and their 2017 effort “Hegaiamas: A Song for Freedom” made a long-lasting positive impression on me that hasn’t been shaken to this day. Now, they just released the closure to their “A Song For” trilogy with the new album “Norchestrion: A Song for The End”. And with a few listens into it, my fondness of this band only grows.
“Norchestrion” follows a similar structure to “Hegaiamas”. It is a majestic 60+ minute journey consisting of a series of phenomenal prog metal tracks, suddenly interrupted down the middle by a theatrical spoken word dialogue track ‘V.a.d.i.s.’, and culminating with a prog epic, the 19 minute long ‘Ananke’. Numbers out of the way, what I’m trying to spotlight is that this album is big, whether you’re talking about the length of the material or about the intricacy and sheer scale of the composition. It’s a lot to take in, and it is an album that I will keep spinning for a long while before I feel I’m done with it.
When it comes to songwriting, they are masters at keeping things complex and interesting but balanced out nicely. The songs go on incredible passages of technicality and complexity but keep them brief and contained within a more or less verse/chorus structure that is easy to follow. The main melodies, riffs and vocal lines are very captivating and the songs are usually built fully around them, so it’s not like you’re listening to a tech display. However, the details and flashes of speed and technicality will squeeze their way in almost every aspect of the music, and purposely too. Stuff like quick licks, momentary ruptures in rhythm or snappy strums and accents on drums always work wonders in dressing and surrounding the main themes, giving a whole bunch of boost and flamboyance to the songs.
Guitar-wise, George Ravaya is, simply put, a genius. His riffs are super hooky, agile and headbang inducing, but never too simple, so if you just go full on throwing your hair in all directions, you will suddenly find yourself off-beat from time to time, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s very stimulating for both energy and focus and it has that very rewarding feeling of having to put just a little effort in your engagement with the music to fully connect to it. And the solos are really beautiful. They have melodic themes, shreddy technical passages and a cool flow into the changes of the background grooves. In fact, in all lead parts of this album (guitar, keys and even a bit of bass) there’s fantastic feedback between the spotlighted instrument and the background that sprinkles details forward so that you don’t forget that it’s there. It has this feeling of more things happening at once so that changing your focus from an element to another can provide slightly different experiences of the same song.
The drums are phenomenal. I always liked the fat and ballsy kick sound that Stelios Paschalis puts forward and I’m delighted to see that it’s still going strong on this record. And the fact that double bass patterns keep coming in and out contributes a great deal in the ups and downs of the instrumental mix, basically adjusting the ratio of “metal” to “prog” constantly. And damn do I love the strumming and cymbal work. Next up, bass! It’s a bit muffled at times, a bit more clear and brought forward other times, just as much as the music needs. Since the guitar sounds a bit light and agile (though it presents its fair share of Chonk), it is often in the bass duties to keep the music properly heavy and grounded. And for a few special moments, Viktor Kouloubis gets to show some super-power effects that I can’t help nerding out over. The tapping intro to ‘Circadian’ must be one of my favourite moments on the album, and the meditative bass tune on the intro to ‘Ananke’ can only get so dreamy. Basically, all instruments breathe a different vibration and they feed off each other to create a diverse and cleverly structured mix of sounds.
Keyboardist Anthony Hadjee seems to work more on the emotional side of the music. Not to think however that he doesn’t get his share of prog nerding, he even has some beautiful solos in there (the one in ‘Avia’ really got to me). But the “breathy” aspect of the keyboard parts are what I love the most, like the piano and bass duo right after the aforementioned solo, the swirly effects when ‘Ananke’ kicks off and the overall string or organ layers he uses to fluff up the sound (‘Beckethead’ kick-off). And he does some growls here and there (DEATH METAL!!! No not really though…)
The cool thing about an album from Need though is not just the music itself. It’s the ‘big’ that I was talking about in the beginning. From the lyrics to the emotional expression and feeling of development that it goes through as it progresses, an album of this sort has everything it needs to fully immerse you into the listening experience. It’s not a concept album but the deep lyrics and the BIG song in the end do make it feel like one at least a little. When it comes to the emotions, it’s all in Jon Voyager’s hands and his vocals are brilliant. I never thought he was a very impressive vocalist in terms of technique, range and what not. He is obviously very capable and in control of what he’s doing but not one to blow your mind like some of the most appreciated vocalists in prog. However, I find myself enjoying his delivery just as much or even more due to the sheer passion he puts in the notes and the emotional diversity he is able to achieve. From angry, frustrated sounds (‘Bloodlux’ verse) to longing belting (‘Avia’ chorus), somber tones (‘Norchestrion’ start and end) and serene reciting (first verse in ‘Ananke’) there’s really nothing more that would be needed on this album’s vocal front. There are even the occasional growls from Anthony’s side completing the spectrum with an extra punch of aggression.
And then we get to the theatrical part. The first 4 tracks are very much progressive metal bangers with a strong emotional component. But once ‘V.a.d.i.s.’ kicks in, the album seems to change tone. It gets darker, more philosophical and they start asking the big questions that’ll keep you up at night when you have an exam the next morning (Not cool guys! NOT COOL!). ‘V.a.d.i.s.’ is a spoken dialogue between two people that alternates between silly or funny moments and a dark underlying essence of contemplation. I especially love how it builds the pressing slightly apocalyptic image of where our planet might be headed. And I also love how the title track ‘Norchestrion’ seems to kick off from that feeling of aftermath. And just like with “Hegaiamas”, after the whole album feels like a struggle, a back and forth between needs, fears, hope and frustration, when ‘Ananke’ hits, it feels like it all comes together, not exactly as if the answer to the turmoil is revealed, but rather like it doesn’t really have to and also like we kinda knew this all along. This one has a feeling of deep wisdom and seems to make peace with things, bringing forth a meditative and calming approach at least as far as the beginning and end is concerned. It’s a true prog epic and it will mess with your emotions in many that you may not fully understand.
As far as progressive metal releases are concerned, I can hardly think of any better way to kick off the new year. I knew this was gonna be an album of the year contender and it only came to confirm that as strongly as it possibly could. I still have a hard time deciding whether I prefer it to “Hegaiamas” but I do feel it’s slightly more progressive, technical and darker, which is totally down my alley! Pick up any song from this album, listen to it once, and you will certainly NEED to hear more.
- Avia (05:51)
- Beckethead (07:02)
- Nemmortal (05:30)
- Bloodlux (06:21)
- V.a.d.i.s (03:25)
- Norchestrion (09:36)
- Circadian (07:05)
- Ananke (09:00)
- Kinwind (02:55)