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Zero Hour managed to fly under my radar almost completely for a few years. I actually had a copy of Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond shortly after release due to a recommendation, but had never really listened much. It wasn't until their 2008 release Dark Deceiver that they caught my attention. I was blown away by that album, and couldn't really imagine technical progressive metal done any better.
That was when I noticed this two year old album in my collection. Boy, was I wrong.
Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond is quite possibly one of, if not the greatest example of techincal progressive metal ever recorded. It truly is that good.
Zero Hour is built on an amazing base, with twin brothers Troy and Jasun Tipton handling the bass and guitar respectively. They are both incredibly talented musicians, and this is clearly evident on this album. The guitar work is amazing, stunning in its speed and precision at times, yet emoting and communicating deep feeling at others. The rhythm combination of Mike Guy and Troy Tipton is nearly peerless. Astonishingly fast at times, with nearly machine-like perfection, they provide a powerful and thrilling backbone the the entire album.
New vocalist, Chris Salinas, fits the music perfectly. He is a bit of (old school) Geoff Tate mixed with Ray Alder, yet his own sound as well. An agile, powerful, and compelling vocalist, he expertly uses the entirety of his range on the album. Finally, the production is crystal clear, an absolute necessity with such precise music.
One of the most interesting aspects of Specs is that of rhythmic unity. There is a subtle, but identifiable rhythmic motif that recurs throughout the album, but is sufficiently distinct each time to never feel the same. The first two tracks, "Face the Fear" and "Falcon's Cry" showcase Zero Hours ability to switch rapidly between heavy and gentle, while still maintaining a sense of cohesion through each track. "Embrace" and "Zero Hour" are two very distinct instrumental tracks. "I Am Here" is a beautiful ballad. However, it is the title track "Specs of Pictures Burnt Beyond" and the closer "Evidence of the Unseen" that elevate this album to its lofty position of "Favorite album of all time". Both of these songs are truly incredible, heavy, dynamic, powerful, with moments of quite contemplation before unleashing the full storm these guys are capable of. They are both in my list of 5 favorite songs ever. They are that good.
Really technical progressive metal too often falls into the trap of relying overmuch on the flashy aspects of the music. However, Zero Hour sets themselves apart by writing highly technical music that still has heart. There are deeply emotional passages on Specs, with moments of real beauty to balance the pummeling assault. The fact that they have done this on every release of theirs adds to their considerable talent.
Final Verdict: Adore it
This type of technical metal might not be for everyone. However, there is just such an amalgamation of talented songwriting, unsurpassed musicianship, and perfect production that this is a perfect album. I can't find a single flaw on this gem and recommend it whole-heartedly.