Friday, 10 September 2010

OFFTOPIC - Backstage EP

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Generally, Spanish bands don't tend to get much coverage in the UK. However, this progressive metal band from Madrid are the second Spanish band to get featured at Real Gone, since the rather excellent Idealipsticks received a review of their album ‘Radio Days’ in June 2010.

This third release by OffTopic marks a turning point in their career. Their first two releases (released independently in Spain) feature the band performing their material in Spanish. 2010’s ‘Backstage’ EP finds the band attempting to broaden their listening audience by releasing re-recorded versions of songs from their second album, ‘A Fuego’, with the lyrics performed in English. Since it’s unlikely you’ll have heard OffTopic previously, this is undoubtedly a good move.

From the beginning of this EP, guitarist Toni Sánchez-Gil has a strong presence, his heavy and chugging style (in a typical approach for the genre) provides more than enough for OffTopic. One of his heaviest riffs lies at the centre of ‘Mask’, where, combined with Cristian Millán on drums and José Luis López on bass, there’s more than enough musical weight. Vocalist Rosa Ibáñez’s has a style which is somewhere between striking and slightly harsh. Her voice has strength throughout most of the EP, but it’s an untrained style. That said, it’s interesting to hear a voice which hasn’t fallen into the trap of studio perfection and tweaking of any kind, even if it isn’t always the easiest to listen to. ‘Mask’ presents her voice at its hardest, though – it seems slightly more at ease on the other numbers.

Similarly heavy, Cristian Millán’s drums are the main focus of ‘Game Over’. There’s very little here you won’t have heard from prog-metal bands before (particularly those of European origin), however, this track features one of Rosa’s best vocals and a rather pleasing guitar solo, as well as a classic sounding and very welcome melodic chorus. Driven by a solid riff, full of downstrokes and the occasional horsey squeal, ‘How Many Times’ is a great Euro-metal offering. Utilising another melodic chorus, it’s similar to ‘Game Over’, but features a soft bridge section where Sánchez-Gil gets to bring his quiet ringing tone back to the fore, before turning in a decent guitar solo. I’d really like to hear Jorn Lande cover this...although it’s unlikely he will.

‘Because of You’ – the EP’s big rock ballad – provides a change in pace. Sánchez-Gil’s guitar work adopts a perfect, ringing quality during the verses, before reverting to the usual havy riffing on the chorus. During the quiet verses, the band is accompanied by Nexx’s keyboard player Fran Rodríguez; his keyboard work is incredibly understated, sounding at first like woodwind instruments. Although appearing as a guest, Rodríguez proved very important to the release of this EP, having provided help with the English translations as well as arranging a reprise of ‘Because of You’ – a reprise which focuses on the song’s softest elements. The guitars are eschewed completely in favour of Rodríguez’s beautifully played piano part.

Stepping aside from their progressive influences, ‘Time Flies’ features OffTopic in a traditional metal guise. While the music isn’t always as complex here, the slightly faster and far more direct approach suits Rosa’s voice. Coupling a hard vocal with a riff which sounds rather like Deep Purple’s ‘Burn’, this track proves that sometimes a tried and tested classic rock formula is hard to beat.

‘Backstage’ features some top notch musicianship and it’s undeniable that making the transition to English lyrics will only benefit the band. If you’re a fan of progressive metal, you’ll certainly want to give this a listen - especially as OffTopic have kindly made it available to everyone for free!

Visit OffTopic at MySpace here.


offtopic

September 2010

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