If there is an heir apparent to the progressive metal throne held by Arjen Anthony Lucassen it might possibly be England's Rich Hinks and his Aeon Zen project. Last year's A Mind's Portrait was a thunderous and wondrous debut from Hinks; sort of the prog shot heard around the world. The praise was well deserved as Hinks' single-handedly, from composition to performance (but with some guests), delivered a masterpiece. And now lightning strikes twice with Aeon Zen's sophomore effort The Face of the Unknown. Guest vocalist abound on this time including Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Jem Godfrey (Frost*), Andi Kravljaca (Silent Call), and Jonny Tatum (Eumeria).
The Face of the Unknown is as deliberately intriguing and entertaining as its predecessor. The elements of melody and technicality return without redundancy. Yet, a noticeable echo of past English prog develops over the first effort, quite noticeable in the song Crystal Skies. But this also is certainly not novel to Hinks. While power and melody can move a song like Salvation in a conventional prog metal manner, Natural Selection moves on much subtler notes of vocals and piano while intermittently enveloped in a harder rock. Perhaps, however, Hinks' genius is not in how developed or complex his arrangements can be, but how much of that developed sophistication he can pack into hugely accessible, but often smaller, arrangements. Visions and You're Not Alone, by example, turn on such efficient machinations.
Indeed, progressive metal creativity succeeds and swells in and through Aeon Zen's The Face of the Unknown. I think Rich Hinks may have a future in his chosen field. Highly recommended.