At some point in the spring of 2017, I was contacted by Elia Monsef, whom I had known through his work with the great Amadeus Awad (a/k/a "the Lebanese Arjen Lucassen"). He asked me to be part of a focus group for some new music he was working on. Blown away by the song, little did I know at the time that it was for the new Ostura. A few months later, Elia followed up with the album and sitting on this enticing masterpiece for seven months silence was no easy task as the band shopped the record, finally landing a deal with Universal Music. There was no mistaking it - from listen one I was listening to an album that not only encapsulated every single great element about progressive metal, but a band on the verge of stardom.
Subjective as progressive metal may be (some internet warriors swear that "progressive" is thrown around a bit too much these days), what makes a perfect album of this subgenre is: the ability to defy the genre, stellar and emotive songwriting, musicianship to back up the hype and (this is the most important) always remembering the 'metal' part. Your author has spent a great deal of time in past reviews via CROM or other sites talking about linear song styles and how too many quick deviations from the line can destroy the rhythm. "The Room" should be renamed "The Book," for there can be no better model for progressive metal bands to follow.
Ostura is symphonic..its cinematic...its progressive..its metallic...its majestic....its (and I cringe at ever using this word) epic. Wonderful songwriting tied together by tasteful orchestration (a la Elia Monsef and Danny Bou-Maroun), emotive string instruments, big airy bold choruses, a touch of oriental flair and musicianship beyond compare - this Lebanese band has held my attention for a longer period of time than Ayreon, Symphony X and Seventh Wonder combined. No disrespect to the greats - but sometimes an album comes out from virtually nowhere to keep them all humble. "The Room" is this album.
Never losing site of the fact that metal is at the core of its mission, Ostura produces some of the heaviest riffs (that thankfully never chug or choke) that are only enhanced by the orchestration of Danny Bou-Maroun. Look no further than "Escape" - in which Alain Ibrahim's massive riff is intertwined with Joken Solban's soulful violin just before Youmna Jreissati's beautiful vocals (which shine brightest in "Mourning Light") kick in. This song plays so much like that of Ayreon, but in many ways is exceedingly more exciting. Album favorite "Beyond (The New World)" follows it up - a song that can be dissected in the annals of "How to Write A Perfect Progressive Metal Song" - delicious heaviness, stunning theatrical vocals from Elia Monsef and dramatic, enticing and suspenseful songwriting.
The variety of styles throughout "The Room" is reflective of Ostura's members and stellar guest performers. Like a perfect blend of metal, rock, hard rock, classic rock and symphony - "Deathless" has it all and is an unmistakable gem for "The Room." The trade off of vocals between Elia Monsef (as Erosion) and Michael Mills (Toehider/Ayreon) (as Utopia) is one of the highlights of the album - and the chorus sounds like an ode to 80's arena rock with modern orchestration, especially how it jumps out in juxtaposition from the 'Pyramaze-esque' verses. If that wasn't enough, it is followed by the equally deadly "Duality" - where Monsef absolutely kills it. Other guests on the album include: Marco Sfogli (James LaBrie/Creation's End) (who lends amazing leads in six tracks, including "Deathless") and the man himself - Arjen Lucassen (lending a solo on "Darker Shade of Black").
With Jens Bogren at the helm for mixing and mastering - you know exactly how well "The Room" sounds. So much at stake in this high achieving release, Bogren masterfully blends Monsef and Bou-Maroun's orchestration - highlighted by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lebanese Filmscoring Ensemble. I can only imagine how many tracks were involved, but Bogren's mastery turned out one of progressive metal's culturally rich albums.
In the end, the success of "The Room" lies in the songwriting and vision of Elia Monsef and Danny Bou-Maroun and the immense work and time involved stands as the pinnacle of their budding careers. "The Room" is a journey - a voyage, both rich, bold, inspiring and exhausting - which I imagine represents the progression Monsef and Bou-Maroun felt from concept through release on the world. There is no doubt though - "The Room" stands among progressive metal's best - side by side with any of the subgenre's greats from Ayreon to Seventh Wonder to Dream Theater. With blank expression and zero regrets, it quite possibly ranks as my favorite.
Label: Universal Music (2018)
1. The Room
3. Beyond the New World
4. Let There Be
6. Only One
7. Morning Light
9. Darker Shade of Black
10. The Surge
12. Exit the Room?