For all of the purported ambition and willingness to innovate to be found within progressive rock and metal, it’s all too rare that a band’s music will prove to overwhelm or surprise me. Perhaps it’s a result of we as listeners having been desensitized to a lot of it; after all, when everything is extreme, ultimately nothing is. Regardless,Factory of Dreams‘ style of operatic space metal has hit me like a freight train, racing across some vast and cosmic terrain. Even entering a crowded genre as it is, Melotronical still manages to knock me over with one of the most over-the-top, bombastic and balls-out sounds in progressive metal I’ve ever heard. Moderation and subtlety are indeed alien concepts to Factory of Dreams‘ third album, and while the unrelenting hyperactivity undoubtedly makes it something of a love-or-hate-it affair, Melotronical has the potential to wow even the most seasoned prog metal veterans.
If I described Melotronical as a ‘space metal opera’, many reading this could certainly come up with their own ideas about what the band and album might sound like. Although details would vary from listener to listener, some elements would be very common to the listeners; among them, a larger-than-life atmosphere, chugging guitars, epic vocals and one foot in the space electronic genre. Factory of Dreams doesn’t circumvent any of these preconceptions surrounding operatic space metal; instead, the music draws in common tropes from this niche genre, and amps them up to a ridiculously high standard of energy and bombast. While space metal regulars like Ayreon and Dol Ammad could each make a strong case in terms of comparison, I’m often reminded of Devin Townsend, and his often-overwhelming eagerness to amp up his music to the 11th degree, creating a wall of sound that can’t be broken through and entirely calculated, the listener’s attentiveness be damned. Although Melotronical was released in 2011, the album’s ‘calculated chaos’ style of orchestration reminds me of two albums that came out the year after: one being Devin Townsend‘s loud-and-epic Epicloud, the other being Wintersun‘s polarizing Time I. With regards to the latter, some readers might recall the debates surrounding Wintersun, whether the overly dense orchestrations and symphonic arrangements verged on the realm of genius, or simply got in the way of the traditional hooks and grooves other listeners were left craving for. Given a comparable distribution, I would not be at all surprised to have seen listeners debating the same thing about Melotronical.
Ultimately, Factory of Dreams may often sound like the music could use a breath of fresh air at times, but I also know that the sound wouldn’t have had as much of an initial shock and impact on me had there been a greater degree of restraint. Although the constant drive and chugging rhythms can serve to desensitize the listener to the orchestral intensity sometime before the album has finished, Factory of Dreams have been more than up to the task of balancing out this approach with detail, dynamic and plenty of compelling ideas. Even the album’s mellow moments- which often dive into prog electronic territory in the style of pioneers like Tangerine Dream- feel loaded with wall-of-sound textures and cosmic Easter eggs. Surprisingly, almost all of this is the work and performance of one man, Hugo Flores. Although an operatic soprano is lent here by Jessica Lehto, Hugo has been responsible for all of the instrumentation and orchestrations. The fact that Melotronical has been forged from what is essentially a one-man band is all the more impressive. Nothing here sounds like it has suffered from the imbalance of ‘solo artist syndrome’, and even the drums- often the weakest point in one-man bands- sound wild and exciting in spite of being artificial.
Although the sure highlight of Factory of Dreams‘ sound on Melotronical is their intensely cosmic ambiance and mind-boggling orchestrations, the vocals are worthy of note on their own. While I imagine it would have been a hard time squeezing proper vocals into music this bombastic and instrumentally busy, the vocals here really work. Although Jessica Lehto’s floaty soprano doesn’t sound unlike many other female vocalists in the symphonic and gothic metal genre, the vocal arrangements are kept quite busy themselves; harmonies and complex melodies are commonplace here, and there’s even room for the occasionally catchy hook. All impressions look towards the guitar as Hugo Flores’ flagship instrument, but the guitars are what stand out the least here. Even the programmed drums manage to profit from the music’s manic pacing, and while all of the orchestrations seem appropriately mixed together in the final production, the guitars lose their independent bite amidst the chaos. After having finished the album, I don’t remember any particular riffs or moments where the guitars shone beyond their traditional role as a rhythm-keeper.
Indeed, Factory of Dreams is a band that has me wondering still where Melotronical would sit in terms of quality when compared to other albums and artists. For one, the atmosphere and scope of the music is menacingly impressive, infectious even; it’s impossible to put this album on without being enveloped by it. The sheer energy of Factory of Dreams‘ cosmic style simply demands the listener’s attention without question or distraction. It’s as densely composed as a neutron star, and prospective listeners who don’t give it the full due are robbing themselves of the potential this album has to impress and even shock. At the same time, I have a difficult time picking out particular highlight tracks from the album, much less distinguish the songs apart. Like a progressive metal summer blockbuster, Melotronical feels absolutely larger-than-life in virtually every way, and while I know the album could have benefitted from some counterbalance in the way of moderation and knowing when to hold back, the way Factory of Dreams have conjured the essence of space metal and amplified it to galactic excesses deserves to be experienced by prog and symphonic metal fans alike.
1. Enter Nucleon (3:42)
2. Melotronical (5:26)
3. A Taste Of Paradise (3:39)
4. Protonic Stream (8:05)
5. Into Oblivion (4:41)
6. Obsessical (4:24)
7. Back To Sleep (3:18)
8. Whispering Eyes (4:17)
9. Subatomic Tears (4:33)
10. Dimension Crusher (4:23)
11. Echoes From Earth (4:25)
12. Something Calling Me (3:37)
13. Reprogramming (4:08)
* Hugo Flores – guitar, bass, keyboards, programming, vocals
* Jessica Lehto – vocals