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The dreaded 'sophomore jinx' is a term used in sports (which, for our more sedentary readers, are contests of physical dexterity often involving a ball-like apparatus). It describes a player having a disappointing second year after an outstanding debut. This can happen in music, as well, and it takes outstanding talent to avoid such a pitfall. Lucky for us, Envy is posessed of abundant abilities and a deft knack for writing gripping progressive goth-metal. Empyreal Progeny builds on the sound they established in their 2002 debut Sweet Painful Reality and carries listeners on a maudlin -but never mopey- march around the bases.

Speaking of bases, Envy covers them all by incorporating elements from numerous genres into a distinctive blend which ensures you won't mistake them for any run of the mill goth-rockers. Empyreal Progeny has a strong progressive component that yields complex guitar riffing and delicate drum patterns laced with jangling synthesizers. The guitar work here is much stronger than on their debut, and is helped tremendously by crisp, bright production: full of bite and vitality. This sonic clarity leaves plenty of space for ringing synth arpeggios to chime in and lend the music an exotic edge. It also provides ample room for Niko to ply his vocal trade.

Niko's singing keeps the album's progressive flights of fancy grounded in trademark gothic handwringing, lending gravity and pathos to what otherwise might be mistaken for darker than average prog metal. Indeed, his clean, evocative vocals provide an emotional core to the album around which the other sounds revolve. Far from being a gothic gloomy gus, Niko seems determined to soldier on through his worrisome angst. A distant hopefulness pervades his lyrics. Things might be bleak now, but they're not going to hold him down for long. He even busts out a pseudo-metal-snarl every now and then, further varying the vocal soundscape.

Coupled with tuneful and catchy riffs, Niko's vocals paint pictures with a dark but vibrant gothic palette. These grim portraits are brightened and highlighted by the exquisite (and sometimes ass-kicking) progressive metal arrangements. Envy's smooth presentation and strong songwriting is sure to win over listeners from all walks of dark music fandom. Their technical merits should also please aficionados of instrumental prowess. About the only thing missing on Empyreal Progeny is a dancing bear… and really, after thinking about it, I'm not so sure that would be an improvement. No 'spohomore jinx' here: Envy has hit a home run. If there's any justice in the music world, some major label will shortly be heaping piles of money on them. Until then, head to Envy's website and purchase this must-have album.

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