Estonia’s X-PANDA exploded onto the scene in 2011 with one of the year’s best progressive metal albums in Flight of Fancy. The disc stunned as much for its members’ talents as for its incredibly infectious melodies. Taking cues from the obvious juggernauts of the genre (DREAM THEATER, etc.), the group crafted an album that many praised for its purity of form and exquisite melodies. New effort Reflections is not simply mimic its predecessor. Instead, it is a far broader, relatively more challenging listen that retains the band’s knack for penning catchy melodies, yet requires a tad more time for absorption. The end result is largely the same though, that of a wholly satisfying progressive metal monolith.
With addition of a new player in tow, Roland Jairus (who basically took the duties from Tamar Nugis, who focused on vocals on the new record), X-PANDA has crafted a concept album of sorts, perhaps explaining the album’s colder, brooding feel in parts. So as not to mislead, it is important to point out that Reflections is a logical progression from Flight of Fancy in that the group has spread its wings a bit, but continues to ground its impressive playing firmly in the art of song craft. Album opener “The Game” is a hard charging number that emphasizes the riff and stimulates the senses with a strong melody of its own. Vocalist Tamar Nugis is the guy that pushes these melodies into the stratosphere, his silky pipes pitch perfect and addictive on several levels.
Twelve-odd minute opus “Denial” does so much for the record weaving through a progressive maze of intricacy, led by wondrous symphonic arrangements. It has to be mentioned that the band joined forces with Tartu University Symphonic Orchestra and E Studio Youth Choir in order to execute the mentioned arrangements. The song works a little more subtly with lush instrumentation and obsidian hues, managing to hold one’s attention for the entire journey.
“Hit and Run” comes along with powerful riffwork courtesy of Risto Virkhausen and Kaarel Tamra’s convincing keyboard atmospherics. More than solid instrumental track “On the Way” brings in influences from jazz fusion and funk, but it works splendidly in the context of Reflections as well.
Reflections is an album that is a no-brainer for any fan of progressive metal. It is also an easy recommendation for those desiring a disc that emphasizes songwriting, but is still virtuosic. This record is a worthy companion to Flight of Fancy, yet not for entirely the same reasons. In short, X-PANDA has once again gotten it right.
Hear Reflections from Spotify.