Altesia is a Bordeaux-based progressive metal band whose style of music will appeal to fans of Opeth, Haken, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater and Between the Buried and Me. Pana Markides reviews their debut LP, ‘Paragon Circus‘, which has just celebrated its first anniversary and is available on all streaming services.
By The Hard Baroquer
Altesia’s debut album, Paragon Circus, is a concept album that shows a mature compositional effort of progressive metal from the five-piece that is currently made up of Clément Darrieu on vocals/rhythm guitar, Alexis ‘Idler’ Casanova on lead guitars; Hugo Bernart on bass (Bernart has replaced Antoine Pirog who recorded the bass on the album); Yann Ménage on drums and Henri Bordillon on keyboard.
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Clément Darrieu on THB – you can read it here.
Overview of Altesia – Paragon Circus
Paragon Circus has unique feel that skirts between traditional progressive rock acts such as Kansas Jethro Tull or Rush, while being able to traverse to heavier, more contemporary sounds, evoking Haken, Opeth and Between the Buried and Me. Not an easy feat, as it requires accomplished musicianship and song writing, both of which are on display throughout the record.
With this in mind, the album will appeal to those who enjoy both the old school elements of progressive music, as well as the newer school of prog, and so there’s something for everyone. But in trying to please everyone, are they alienating everyone?
The album certainly leans towards the less heavy side of things, which is not a fault for me (I’m very picky about the heavy progressive metal I listen to), but if you’re hoping for something in the vein of Automata I & II, this is not it. What we have is a excellent blend of melodies, that are supported with riffs that are aggressive when they need to, and elegant and nostalgic too where required.
Themes in Paragon Circus
Paragon Circus is defined by the band as a concept album that deals with the non-recognition of the decline of modern society, and how the environment that brings the decline has no mechanism to stop.
In Clément’s words: “Our world is ill, money and power are ruling the whole planet. While everything’s going wrong, people spend their time working and don’t have enough time for themselves and their family.”
Recognition being the first step to solving a problem, these observations are astute and something we can all take in to make this world a little better every day.
Standout tracks on Paragon Circus
Paragon Circus offers an seamless experience when it comes to listening to the album through, and that’ll be due to having six strong tracks that work cohesively as one. But there are some highlights in the album.
The track that stuck with me after I first heard it is “Reminiscence”; the track is a melting pot of influences from Opeth to Steven Wilson, and the inclusion of the guest saxophone solo (Julien Deforges) lends an enjoyable Thank You Scientist vibe. Very progressive rock. Very funky.
Henri Bordillon’s performance on the keys is also commendable for the character his solos add, breaking up the heavier sections, and delivering respite from Alexis Casanova’s faultless soloing.
“Amidst the Smoke” takes things up a notch with huge riffs, and is very reminiscent of post-watershed Opeth. Darrieu’s calm and collected vocals add a relaxed sense of melody to this track. Bordillon again delivers a rather classy Hammond organ solo before things calm down for a much calmer solo from Casanova.
If Yann Ménage’s performance has been overlooked so far, then he’s been given an injustice. His drumming has been powerful, tight and perfectly suits the style of music that Altesia create. And nowhere is this more evident than in “The Prison Child”. This is a track that showcases the heavier side of Altesia well with a high range vocal and blast beats to kick off the track. Darrieu’s vocal performance really shines in this track, from controlled falsettos to showing power in the higher registers. Another welcome addition is the violin solo (Thibault Malon), which adds sincerity to the music in the way only violins can. “The Prison Child” is the darkest track on the album so far, with menacing guitar riffs throughout it.
“Hex Reverse” begins as a nostalgic ballad, showcasing Darrieu’s falsetto skills in its opening, but builds up over its six minutes to a dramatic climax of some Gojira-like roaring, courtesy of Esteban Sainz, which raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
The album closes with the LPs epic – “Cassandra’s Prophecy”, recalling the Homeric character who prophesised the fall of Troy, but was never believed. This ties with theme of Greek mythology in the album – the opening track “Pandora” recalls the mythical Pandora’s Box.
“Cassandra’s Prophesy” goes through several movements in its 17-minute duration. The track builds up from a ballad-like start, to another emotional violin solo from guest Malon. The track gets progressively heavier from there with double pedals leading to an interlude similar to those we’re accustomed to hearing in Dream Theater tracks, with quick fills from Ménage, quirky time signatures and many other treats that resolve into a heavy breakdown that sends the track with huge momentum into it’s final movement.
For its final flourish, the song resolves with the refrain that begins the album (and a hell of an epilogue solo from Alexis Casanova):
Evil spreads out
Hope will remain
These final words allow for an element of optimism when the world seems at it’s most dire, and serve as a perfect closing for the record.
Few bands can put out a debut that showcases ownership of their craft that you’d see in a more established band – but the guys in Altesia really pulled it off. So much so, that a year on from the album’s first release, it’s still worthy of a review.
The album is well-crafted and the band has a clear idea of how that want to sound and what direction to take the music in – and it allows for an immensely enjoyable experience.
For me, I look forward to what comes next for this five-piece.
Paragon Circus track listing
1. Pandora (02:35)
2. Reminiscence (11:41)
3. Amidst the Smoke (07:46)
4. The Prison Child (10:34)
5. Hex Reverse (06:30)
6. Cassandra’s Prophecy (17:46)
About Paragon Circus
Released: December 11, 2019
Altesia – Paragon Circus – album credits
Clément Darrieu – Vocals, rhythm and acoustic guitar
Alexis “Idler” Casanova – Lead and rhythm guitar
Antoine Pirog – Bass
Yann Ménage – Drums
Henri Bordillon – Keyboards, piano
Julien Deforges – Saxophone on ‘Reminiscence’
Thibault Malon – Violin on ‘The Prison Child’ ‘Cassandra’s prophecy’
Esteban Sainz – Growls on ‘Hex reverse’ and ‘Cassandra’s prophecy’