LABEL: Independent
RELEASE: September 22nd, 2023
AUTHOR: Michael Estrada

BORN IN EXILE albumrand

01. The Fortune Teller
III The Empress (The Fifth Element)
nooM ehT IIIVX
XVI The Tower
Arcane XIII
– The Hunt
– Dreamcatcher
– Conflagration

Spain’s BORN IN EXILE first came onto my radar back in early 2020 where I encountered their sophomore release titled Transcendence. It was one of the better records of that year and a stand out in progressive metal. I could see the passion project come together and in talking about the album with vocalist Kris Vega there was something brewing for the band. When Major Arcana was announced earlier this year, I was more than ready for the journey, the genre having a bit of a weak year overall, in my estimations. The title of the third album also hinted at a more thematic approach, another aspect progressive metal has lacked a bit of this year as well.

The journey begins with an instrumental opener, The Fortune Teller. Twangy guitars really open and establish BORN IN EXILE‘s melodic approach to the sound. While on Transcendence the highlight was on the power and aggressive riffs, there was still the subtlety to the playing that could be felt throughout. The transition that comes from the drums to lead into the second track, III The Empress (The Fifth Element), is also a beautiful touch. At first, when Kris‘ vocals come through, it takes me a bit to adjust with how commanding her singing prowess can be. She never has to fully growl or roar to get across a more aggressive tone, the guitars here more than filling the space. A trademark to the band’s sound is apparent with how seamless they can ratchet up from being more grounded to going very high and clean, The Empress serving as a great showcase for that.

Cleverly inverted titled, nooM ehT IIIVX follows in a much more darker sound with the bass showing off some proficiency here. Kris‘ vocals are in a lower register and she is singing a bit faster to help convey the shift in mood. The backing vocals here maybe don’t fit as well in execution, but I appreciate the idea of them adding another layer to the singing, perhaps mirroring. There is a crisp riff from the guitars that gets a spotlight as well about halfway through and what follows is an exceptional solo. It is another example at the band’s execution in melody.

There is the return of the twanging guitar to open up XVI The Tower and it slows things down for Kris to really deliver some beautiful vocals over it, which are likely to be the most memorable performance from her on the album. She gets six minutes with what essentially acts as the ballad of the record and takes advantage of every moment of the song. An equally majestic guitar solo brings the track to a great crescendo before Vega ends it off singing a capella.

BORN IN EXILE bandpicThe final song, Arcane XIII, is stretched across three tracks over 22 minutes. This is probably the strongest performance of BORN IN EXILE‘s career, with so many twists and turns, seeing the band journey across the progressive landscape. All their strengths are highlighted here, from Kris‘ transcendent voice to the breathtaking instrumentals. The Hunt is full bore and aggressive to kick off the grand undertaking while Dreamcatcher slowly evolves into a climactic ending for Conflagration to really close things off instrumentally. It is a grand exclamation point to a powerful third album.

Though we may not have stand out tracks like we had on Transcendence with Ziggurat, Enchantress or Save Us, Major Arcana is meant to be experienced in its full forty minute runtime and tells a story in both narrative and musical fashion. This is the thematic progressive record that I have been searching for this year and now have.