Frontman, multi-instrumentalist, and former music teacher Aaron Bell formed progressive metal band DEGREE ABSOLUTE in 1999, and will finally release this self-titled debut album on January 31, 2006. The disc's nearly one hour of music mixes standard riff-heavy and melodic progressive tunes, jazz-influenced pieces, and moody interludes. Mixed by Neil Kernon at the famed Sonic Ranch Studio in Tornillo, Texas, the sound quality is strong, the instrument clarity in particular first rate. One will of course hear shades of the usual suspects (WATCHTOWER, FATES WARNING, etc). That is to be expected and Bell's style is generally appealing, though not necessarily mind-blowing.
The album is roughly split up into somewhat traditional (progressively speaking), melody-based songs and winding, often ethereal and jazz-based, instrumental pieces. Songs such as "Exist" and "Laughing Alone" are representative of the album's more accessible and metallic end, the former sporting a rather thrashy approach. "Questions" and "Ask Nothing of Me" fall into roughly the same category. I found "Confession" to be quite moving with its soothing tunefulness. In general, the melodies are solid, but don't offer much more than your average prog metal act. In other words, it sounds good and is relatively catchy, but won't leave you standing there with eyes bugging out and mouth wide open. A string of consecutive instrumentals near the middle part of the album ("Distance", "HalfManHalfBiscuit", and "Pi") offer everything from light 'n' jazzy to heavy chug to the trippy and atmospheric. The 11-minute "Ergo Sum" is sort of a laid back proggy jam that seems to want to work its way to climax, but never reaches it. Still, the song's general airiness and some beautiful picking make it noteworthy. Berklee College of Music graduate Dave Lindeman is responsible for some especially adventurous bass work, his playing a definite album highlight.
In the finally analysis, "Degree Absolute" is generally satisfying, if not earth moving. For the most part, it is an enjoyable ride, even if it isn't one that remains embedded in the brain.