One of the brighter stars in the prog-power underground returns after a too-long absence with a new vocalist and an oppressively heavy-handed approach. Right out of the box, with "There For Me", ZERO HOUR wedge themselves in amid DIGITAL RUIN or DREAM THEATER's most aggressive works, and nearly into NEVERMORE territory — melodic, yes, but with pounding bass and thunderous drumming, and a muscular guitar sound that almost seems too heavy for the music it's playing!Fred Marshall invites comparisons to James LaBrie or Roy Khan, but his strong delivery and his utility (he apparently joined and helped get this record put together on relatively short notice after the dismissal of former singer Erik Rosvold) make his presence both essential and welcome. He also adds a bit of humanity to what can sometimes be a suffocating, impersonal wall of arbitrary time changes and tempo shifts. Given some of the lyrical themes — the "fragile mind" of the title, the physical intrusion of "Brain Surgery", and the like — it makes sense for the vocals, the most human part of the music, to almost seem to be swimming against the tide of the music, making a stand against its overpowering quality (see the chaotic midsection of "Twice the Pain" for the best example of this). Though many of the songs on "A Fragile Mind" are shorter and more concise, "Destiny Is Sorrow" and the title cut are sprawling epics, the kind of songs made to be gleefully dissected by message board geeks for the next decade, feasts of prog-metal prowess with melody and complexity to spare. While some fans of the more melodic side of things may be put off by the abrasive, manic edge of tracks like "Brain Surgery", its avalanche of propulsive rhythms is hard to resist. ZERO HOUR will hold zero interest for anyone not already immersed in the prog/power world — this isn't exactly a "gateway drug" into this rarefied sub-sub-genre. But for those already deep in its clutches, it'll be an absolute — Marshall should receive a warm welcome to the community, and "A Fragile Mind" will go down as one of 2005's elite prog-metal efforts.
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