Progressive Rock

Black To The Future Tour: Ghost w/ Purson

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: September 23, 2015
Ticket cost: $27.60 ($40.30 with Ticketmaster’s asshole-ish convenience fees)
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

I think it’s about time for a pre-review rant about concert ticket prices. Shows that are at Alrosa Villa or Ace of Cups and/or promoted by Columbus Events Group are very reasonable in terms of cost with minimal advance fees. But then there’s Promowest Live and Ticketmaster. How do they think that adding a 50% markup on ticket fees is acceptable? Why even bother working with the evil empire that is Ticket[ass]master in the first place? There are plenty of good shows both at the Newport and the LC Pavillion, but these fees price me (and probably others) out of their shows.

That didn’t stop the Newport from nearly selling out last night, easily eclipsing the Decibel Magazine 2014 tour stop for the largest crowd I have seen at this venue, approaching upwards of 1,700 strong. With more than a handful of audience members dressing up in their Papa Emeritus garb, Ghost put on a stellar show that engaged the entire crowd. But was their performance worthy of an all-time favorite designation? What about Purson? Read on, together as one.

Purson: 3.0*
Set length: 40 minutes

This might be one of the few occasions where I can say with a straight face that the opening band sounded better than the headliner. …why are you chasing me with pitchforks? At least give me a chance to explain.

Perhaps it was because they had one less member to work with; they had pretty much the same makeup as Ghost, running two guitars (with founder Rosalie Cunningham handling the lead vocals), one bass, the drums, and a set of keys. Having even one less person to mix can make all the difference in terms of sound quality; I took my usual perch on the balcony towards the center of the venue*, and their take on 70’s style psychedelic progressive rock sounded pristine. It was like I was watching them play in their practice space. The only issue I had with their sound was with the somewhat soft backing vocals, and half the time, it just looked like the person who would be singing backing vocals just had their mouth up towards the mic while playing his instrument, which brings me to my next point:

While that kind of intimate feeling in a large venue can be a good thing, the drawback here is that Purson lacked any semblance of stage presence, spending less than a minute talking to the audience over the length of their set. The band didn’t move around on stage and, with a few exceptions, showed little visible energy. The lighting was consistently dark and brooding, and their song selection was also puzzling; their last song, even with a brief uptempo section, was easily their slowest of the night. All of that adds to listener fatigue, at least from my perspective.

Two audience members who were more familiar with Purson than I was told me that they heard the band’s full studio releases and felt indifferently about them, but said they sounded significantly better live than on tape. After taking another whack at their music, I can’t help but agree. Their latest EP, In The Meantime, is solid, but the sound on stage is vastly superior. Even so, I’ll be looking forward to their next release, Desire’s Magic Theatre, when it drops in the near future.

They could also stand to lower t-shirt prices. I have a hard time paying $35 for a t-shirt for any reason, but that goes double for a band that I’m not especially blown away by. They’re good, but not “$35 for a t-shirt” good.

All that said, Ghost picked an ideal touring mate for their jaunt around North America, as Purson is a great complementary counterpart to Ghost.

Ghost: 4.0*
Set length: 110 minutes

Ghost has the art of stage presence down to a science. With Papa Emeritus leading the five Nameless Ghouls, the band’s performance took on a life of its own. Even before the set started, anyone who was, for whatever reason, unfamiliar with Ghost quickly got their answer as to what they got themselves into; with a large satanic alternate cover art banner in full display and church choir music blasting on the speakers, everyone knew they were in for a night of occult counter-culture shenanigans. And for those still confused, the crowd was chanting “Satan! Satan! Satan” shortly before they started.

Once the band took the stage and roared into the spooky “Spirit,” it was all smiles from the audience, and rightfully so. And while I greatly enjoyed their set, I had a few nitpicks with it. The obvious first complaint is that the band was a little bit too loud across the board. One of my favorite features of Ghost’s studio albums is the subtle mix of the drums, but that is nixed here in favor of a straightforward drum blasting. This was especially noticeable on “Con Clavi Con Dio,” arguably my favorite Ghost song.

Papa Emeritus III, meanwhile, was somewhat flat on his lower notes on occasion. And while all of the new tracks they played (the only one that wasn’t played was “Deus In Absentia”) sounded great, I was shocked at the largely ignored Kansas-esque keyboard riff in “Absolution,” and further puzzled by the use of a keytar on “Mummy Dust” instead of the former.

There was also the small issue of Papa Emeritus taking off his anti-papal cloak during “Cirice” midway through the show and leaving it off for the rest of the show. I’m not sure if that’s normal, as this was my first time seeing Ghost live, but it was baffling to see him perform without that garb. But that doesn’t take away from how great of a live song “Cirice” is.

Minor shortcomings and/or question marks aside, this was a pretty special show; most notable was the debut acoustic performance of “Jigolo Har Migiddo,” adeptly showing off the skills of the Nameless Ghouls. Papa Emeritus III also gave several small percussion instruments to fans for them to play during this song.

Watching “Year Zero” was a spectacle in and of itself, and I was thoroughly pleased with “Ghuleh/Zombie Queen,” a song that I was already highly fond of and is currently stuck in my head. “Ritual,” “He Is,” “Stand By Him,” “Per Aspera Ad Inferi,” and “Mummy Dust” also stood out among their best songs as tracks that translate extremely well into a live setting.

Closing out the show with “Monstrance Clock” was simply masterful; it seems like an odd choice until you realize that there are few things better in a concert setting than having a huge crowd singing along with a backing track choir as the band exits the stage: “Come together; together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son.” Fucking genius.

Above all else, Ghost is right up there with Devin Townsend in terms of personally engaging with fans during the set. I counted at least ten instances where Papa Emeritus singled out a specific fan who said something to him, and there were nothing but smiles coming from those fans. It was a high-energy set that should be considered a must-see for any metal fan.

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*If you go to the Newport and are looking for the best possible sound quality, stand as close to the sound booth as possible, located behind the main concert floor and next to the bar. 

Live Show Review: Rush

Location: Columbus, Ohio
Date: June 8, 2015
Venue: Nationwide Arena
Cost: $104
Merch purchased: None

By: Kris Kotlarik

Way back in 2008, when Rush was on tour supporting their penultimate release, Snakes & Arrows, I had the pleasure of seeing them in Milwaukee with my dad. It was my first real concert experience, one I will probably never forget. The set contained a fairly definitive list of Rush’s greatest hits, along with the best tunes from Snakes & Arrows (“The Way The Wind Blows” among them).

With word spreading that Rush will be significantly scaling back their touring, it seemed like as good of a time as any for the band to significantly change up their setlist and play some songs that haven’t been played in a significantly long time. Fitting the title of the latest album, Clockwork Angels, they also played their set from most recent to their oldest, a theme that I found to be quite interesting. It’s a bold approach that might alienate some of their fans who just want to hear “the old stuff.” Indeed, some of the great classics were left out. No YYZ, Freewill, Limelight, or A Passage to Bangkok. It’s hard to picture seeing Rush play an entire show without busting out YYZ, the legendary instrumental, but that’s what we got.

We also got more of the epic 2112 than in the 2008 show, as well as the marathon track “Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings. Both of those tracks were on my personal list for Rush songs I would like to see live, as well as Red Barchetta off of Moving Pictures and the incredibily long (and fun-to-watch) Cygnus X-1 tracks, so I am hardly complaining.

What else has changed over seven years, you might ask? For one thing, Neil Peart’s kit is slightly less insane than it was back then. It is no longer surrounding Peart (although the chimes are where the remaining battery of percussion pieces used to be) and it no longer revolves and does other crazy shit. By and large, the concert experience remains the same; Peart is as stoic as ever, Geddy Lee can say anything and the crowd will get fired up, and there are some cool sketches that feature Jason Segel and Stephen Root, among others, that lighten the mood. That includes the South Park spoof of “Tom Sawyer,” one of my favorite segments of the 2008 show.

My two biggest disappointments of the show would be the following items:

  • At the end of the show, there’s a funny video in which the Rush members attempt to get to their dressing room, only to find that the room has been taken over by a clown puppet bouncer who says they’re not on the list. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for another encore; after all, the show’s not over until the band hits the dressing room, right? But then the lights were turned on.
  • The merch prices were fucking ridiculous. I’m sure that the demand is high for their shirts, and rightfully so, but there is no way in hell I’m paying $50 for a t-shirt and $100 for a hoodie. That’s just absurd.

And for a show in which there were supposedly no cameras allowed in the (massive) venue, you would think that somebody would be searching people for weed. Sure enough, a couple of Cheech & Chong wannabes decided to blaze it up during the first set and were nowhere to be found during the second set, resulting in what may very well be the single-dumbest act of stupidity I have ever encountered at a concert. Yes, even dumber than pit ninjas. Dumber still than the woo-girls screaming for no reason at a local show. Who goes to see Rush and doesn’t even bother staying around for the whole show? By all means, blaze it up on your own time, but not in a goddamn arena. The security in general was rather lax; they barely showed any interest in searching people for anything, most likely because they probably already saw all the weapons they ever wanted to see during the Chris Brown Valentine’s Day show (aka the definition of irony).

Overall: If you’re debating on whether or not you should go see Rush on this tour, I would definitely recommend it, assuming you can get around the douchebag scalpers who have completely hijacked the secondary market. The band sounds as tight as ever. You may not hear everything you want to hear, but there will also be pleasant surprises for those who are open-minded. With that said, be prepared to give up your spleen for any souvenirs. Already lost your spleen? Well good news! They also accept kidneys, testicles, and aortas.

Rating: 4.0*

Review: Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Location: Hertfordshire, England, UK
Genre: Progressive Rock
Released: February 27, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Uprising – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

I have an immense amount of respect for Steven Wilson; he is a highly talented musician capable of fusing many genres together to create a solid work of art. He has been a maestro of his craft since 1987, and has taken it upon himself to remix some of the most classic progressive rock albums of all time from bands like King Crimson, Yes, and Jethro Tull, among many others. Chances are, if you have any interest in progressive rock, Steven Wilson has probably had something to do with it.

And yet, I can’t really say that I love his own work. I tend to find his work to be precise to the point of it sounding robotic and devoid of emotion, even if the concept is one that should evoke emotion merely from talking about it. Hand. Cannot. Erase. continues this trend of emotional desolation for me.

Per Wilson, the concept is about a young woman from the United Kingdom who died in 2003, but was not found for three years. He also describes it as an album that warns of the false promises of social media, which makes a lot of sense. I have a lot of “friends” on social media that I barely communicate with anymore. For all I know, they could be just like Joyce Carol Vincent.

Purely from a production standpoint, this is a fantastic piece of work, and one shouldn’t expect anything less from Wilson at this point. It runs a gamut of different styles and even includes ambient and electronic features. But I have given this album ten listens (hence the long wait for the review) and I simply can’t get into it from start to finish. It does become more captivating as it gets closer to the end of the album, and the immensely long “Ancestral” is a meisterwerk of a track that rewards the listener with the most dynamic songwriting on this album. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to salvage the rest of the 66-minute album.

As a whole, this is a tough album for me to rate, as I can legitimately see how some would view this as an absolute gem. Ultimately, however, I consider work like this to be in a group with Tech-Death albums. It’s impressive work, but hard to fully digest because of the lack of dynamic range, especially (in this case) on the vocal tracks. That said, if you’re looking for a modern Pink Floyd, look no further. This should be heaven for you.

Overall: Too good for a 3.5, but not engaging enough for a 4.0.

Rating: 3.5*

Review: The Gentle Storm – The Diary

Location: Waalwijk, Netherlands
Genre: Progressive Rock, Acoustic, Folk
Released: March 23, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Upcoming Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Arjen Lucassen is at it again! To which I say, “thank goodness.”

This is a unique album, even for Arjen, a man who has written many a rock opera about everything from space sci-fi to a story about a scientist that was later made into a movie.* The closest comparison that can be offered is to Ayreon’s Universal Migrator albums; it is widely known that he believed that his fans were divided into two camps: The light, progressive rock camp, and the metalheads. So he put out The Dream Sequencer for the former, and Flight of the Migrator for the latter, releasing both albums at the same time. Although fans, myself included, generally liked both albums, he did figure correctly that some people would prefer one album to the other. I’ve had a draft typed up for a while for my review of Flight of the Migrator, which might make my Top 50 all-time list. The Dream Sequencer would probably rate in the 3.5 range if I were to review it today.

My rambling about these albums is important because The Diary is the same album done twice in two different styles. The Gentle version is very folk-oriented and should be regarded as a treat for those who enjoy modern folk rock bands. There are even some lounge jazz elements in “Heart of Amsterdam” and “Brightest Light.” Meanwhile, in “Shores of India,” Arjen makes use of traditional Indian instruments, making them sound authentic in the process.

The Storm version, in contrast, is significantly heavier and makes use of a choir, as seen in “Endless Sea.” The title track, if it can be called that, is full of symphonic metal goodness mixed with the occasional electronic effect (as seen in “Age of Shadows” from 01011001), and is probably the heaviest track here, like an Epica track written by someone with a significantly better ear for melodies. And yet, this isn’t a “metal” album. It’s a fun listen, but (and this is going to sound strange coming from me) I believe the “Gentle” version is the better disc.

The concept is also unique by Arjen’s already-lofty standards; the (based on a true) story revolves around a couple, Joseph and Suzanne, that is torn apart during the peak of The Netherlands’ golden age of exploration. Joseph is called away to visit India, and while he is gone, the two exchange letters to each other, as narrated by the illustrious Anneke van Giersbergen. This is not the first time the two have worked together; she also had parts on Into The Electric Castle and 01011001. But this is a direct collaboration between the two.

And that’s why I consider the Gentle disc to be the better one. The concept, which has a diverse setting, lends itself better to the array of acoustic instruments that Arjen uses in this project. Furthermore, Arjen, who has a reputation for bringing out the best in the musicians he works with, did a great job utilizing Anneke both discs, especially on the Gentle side. While her voice is powerful in nature, she dials it down considerably, and to great effect. Despite that, the Storm version is also a great listen.

Overall: An ambitious project that should wind up on many year-end album lists.

Rating: 4.0*

P.S.: Anneke, if you ever read this and happen to bring The Gentle Storm to the United States, please play “Strange Machines” like you and Arjen did during the European acoustic tour. Or perhaps “Probably Built In The Fifties?” Oh who am I kidding, any song from The Gathering. Actually, I really just want to see this band play live. Otherwise I’m just going to have to move to Europe, and I don’t think Europe is ready for me yet.

*Wait, you mean Ayreon released The Theory Of Everything a full year before the movie of the same name? I smell a lawsuit! All joking aside, that album is also a good one, albeit even more over the top than usual, occasionally to its detriment.

ATF Review: Devin Townsend – Infinity

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock
Released: October 21, 1998
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

Carl King: Briefly describe the contents of the Infinity project.

Devin Townsend: 80 tracks of vocals, chaos, tip o’ the hat to JCSuperstar, 8 tracks o’ guitar, Gene (Hoglan) on drums, 1 yam, 1 trip to fun-ville hospital, 400 happy pills, 8000 strands of hair — in toilet, 300 cups of high-grade jasmine tea, 15,000 Canadian dollars ($174.63 American).

From a hilarious 1998 interview with Carl King, it encapsulates the project so effectively that a review is almost unnecessary. I mean, we’ve all been there: you’re trying to write a big paper, but there is so much fog in your head, or you’re just mentally drained, and nothing seems to be working. But all of a sudden, everything clicks and you turn in something stellar and unique.

This is basically what happened to Devin Townsend; after checking into a mental institution (voluntarily), he received a bipolar disorder diagnosis and everything made sense to him. That led to the creation of Infinity, an album containing many elements while never being completely “metal.” Whatever the fuck that means, right? One of those elements includes Broadway (as mentioned in the above quote), so if that offends you for some reason, run to the hills (and run for your life).

What this record is, as one could guess from the aforementioned vocal and guitar tracks, is a wall of sound. To some, this might be considered overwhelming. As a standing rule of thumb, I tend to like “overwhelming” music; it makes you think and gives you more things to focus on. And Infinity is overwhelming in a remarkable way.

The best track? “War.” It has some great lyrics (“We can see the enemy; they say, ‘Hey! We don’t want your war!'” I take that as a metaphor for your own internal struggles and facing them. The line “You can’t fight a war without losing blood” also points to this), Devin doo-wopping with himself, a burst of sound, and some excellent solo vocals to close out the song. The other absolute standouts are “Christeen” with its hard rocking pop goodness, and “Dynamics” for being the epitome of a wall of sound.

Weak songs? There aren’t any. “Wild Colonial Boy” is the closest thing I can find to a weak song, but it also fits that Broadway motif that works so well on “War” and “Bad Devil,” a demented jazz number complete with brass instruments and a choir. “Unity” is a bit long, but is a good way to decompress following “Dynamics.”

The others range from heavy instrumentals (“Truth”) to short wankfests (“Ants”) to one of Devin’s better goof-off album closers (“Noisy Pinkbubbles”). The main obstacle for people when it comes to this album will probably be its heavy production. If you can get past or even embrace it (like I do), there will be a lot to enjoy here.

Overall: Arguably Devin’s 2nd-best album ever released, making it a candidate for the top 10 albums of all time.

Rating: 4.5*

Review: Devin Townsend Project – Ki

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock/Ambient
Released: May 25, 2009
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Look at any album review for this album, and you have about a 90% chance of seeing the word “restrained.” If you look at vjetropev’s semi-infamous review, you’ll see him rip this album, as well as anyone who likes it, to shreds.

He’s not entirely wrong (although his methods of going about it might be) here; the reason why I like Devin so much is because he has almost always been unbridled in releasing whatever crazy idea happens to be in his head at the time. Ocean Machine, City, Alien, Terria, and Accelerated Evolution, all of which have been reviewed on here with high marks, are all evidence of this process. Imagine being a lifelong fan of a band like Dream Theater, which is well-known for using time signatures that probably don’t even actually exist (I’m just kidding here…but seriously), decides that they are burned out with their current process and wants to make an album that is exclusively in 4/4. Some (many) fans probably won’t like it. Ki has the same effect.

However, Devin’s restraint on Ki is still part of his “do what comes to mind” mentality; after over ten years of drug-and-alcohol-induced insanity, Devin gave all that up and wanted to control his anger for one album with the knowledge that anything after that was open season. So yes, I respect Devin’s mindset here. But a lot of the material on this album doesn’t stand out for me.

So I know what you’re probably thinking: “I bet this asshole hates Ghost and Casualties Of Cool, too.” No, those albums are fine. They are both only listenable in the right mood, but feel much more cohesive than this one does. There is so much discombobulation here, often caused by Devin himself, especially in “Heaven Send,” a song in which he engages in dialogue for about fifteen seconds, all well after the song should have actually ended. There is no way that song should be nine minutes long. Other non-starters here include the fluff jams of “Ain’t Never Gonna Win,” “Demon League,” and “Quiet Riot.”

My overall favorite song here is “Disruptr,” which fits the whole “coffee lounge metal” vibe that has been thrown around quite a bit when describing this track. But this track thrives in a live setting, right up there with some of his live staples such as “Deadhead” and “Juular.” It has the right composition to be thoroughly crushing if played in a certain way. As it stands, it’s still a great track.

Other good moments are mostly orchestrated by Che’ Aimee Dorval, who is a collaborator on the Casualties Of Cool project. Her voice is heavenly; there’s no other way to describe it. Her part on the end of “Trainfire,” a rockabilly track with tinges of Elvis and themed around the perils of porn, is brief but great. She also has other small parts throughout the album that are always pleasant. Meanwhile, “Winter” has a pleasing melody that goes on way too long, and the title track is rather dull up until around the 4:00 mark when he busts out a happier version of the arpeggio Ziltoid riffs and bursts into a massive wall of sound.

“Coast” is an all-around solid track that is probably right behind “Disruptr” in terms of ranking. The rest of the tracks here, and this album in general, can best be classified as a moodscape. “Terminal” might be the best example; it’s a lovely track with a relaxing melody, but it’s not what I usually would go for unless I am trying to go to bed. The same can be said for “Lady Helen.”

Overall: Since I am completely on the fence on this album, it should get a corresponding rating.

Rating: 2.5*

ATF Review: Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine: Biomech

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock
Released: July 21, 1997
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

Casualties Of Cool has been something I’ve been working on for years, a real passion project. Not since Ocean Machine (my first record) have I had the opportunity to do music for the sheer sake of the love of it. It represents a fair bit to me.

-Devin Townsend

Canada’s cult hero has had one hell of a career. He has built a wall of sound over the course of the last 18 years, dating back to Strapping Young Lad’s debut album, Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing. This was Devin’s first actual solo album (no, the Punky Bruster parody punk album doesn’t count as a solo album, although it is pretty goddamn funny). Much like his Casualties of Cool project, as well as Ziltoid The Omniscient, he had virtually no outside interference in the direction of his work for this album. Not that external influences, as limited as they were, have stopped him from coming up with some great albums, but this one takes the cake.

This is not a “metal” album in the textbook sense. Hell, this is barely metal at all. The only thing this can adequately be called without coming across as more masturbatory than this review is probably going to sound to most of you is that this is a progressive work of art. It spans too many genres to try and break down on the basis of an entire album. Indeed, this is going to be another one of those song-by-song reviews that many blogging editors hate. But if there ever was an album that deserved a track-by-track review as if I were calling a football game from the press box, it is this one.

Some openers in Devin’s albums, especially on Terria and Epicloud, are quirky in some way or another, and the first eighteen seconds of “Seventh Wave” is no exception. You’ll here a digitalized recording of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” that fits in perfectly with the ocean metaphor that this album portrays. What follows is a riff that starts somewhat lightly but builds up over the next 80 seconds into a powerful groove that carries on for the rest of the track. What I really like about this song is the final chorus, with a meticulously recorded multi-layer mix of Devin’s vocals coming in loud and clear through the rest of the track. Using one of many samples spread out during the album, it fades into “Life,” the upbeat, poppy track that should have been on the Billboard charts of 1997.

In A Dose Of Buckley’s list for the worst songs of 2013, he commented that the “worst year of music” would always be 1997. And let’s be honest, that year was pretty damn terrible in the world of pop (Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” did not qualify for this list, but it was released in 1997). But while everyone was trying to gouge out their eardrums with a pickax, they could have been listening to this weirdly worded song about the struggles of life and how humanity needs to gain a new perspective on a finite measurement of time. My favorite line in this track is easily “Wouldn’t you rather live it on your own, even when it bends you over?” It makes me chuckle every time I hear it because it just makes so much sense to me.

I consider “Night” to be the most underrated song on this album; it stands as one of Devin’s more dynamic vocal performances. The loopy synth melody also adds an element of catchiness to it. This track really kicks into gear at around the 2:15 mark, with a powerful Devin scream and a heavier guitar-driven melody behind it. There’s a breakdown of sorts before picking up once again. I also like the lyrics of this song; they come off as a reflective piece about being in a relationship that is both rewarding and utterly exhausting.

While the first three tracks, along with “Regulator,” are among the more straightforward tracks on this disc. The rest have a bunch of quirky features that will either be endearing to you or just turn you off; it is an exploratory album, after all. “Hide Nowhere” continues the string of upbeat tracks; this one starts with a triumphant beat and a great vocal line in the verses, but contains a vocal line in the chorus and bridge that initially turned me off to this song. I would say this track took me far more listens to appreciate than the rest of the album. The difference between tracks like “Hide Nowhere” and other songs that don’t initially register with me, however, is that the music is so good that I want to give it multiple chances because of its complexity. Amaranthe’s Massive Addictive simply did not register with me at all because there was nothing special about it that separates it from the field.

“Sister” and “3 a.m.” are mainly an ambient interlude with airy vocal melodies. “Sister” is propelled by an acoustic riff, while the latter is exclusively ambient with some unidentified voice samples slotted in. These are not tracks I would usually listen to on their own unless I were attempting to put myself to sleep, but fit well within the grand scheme of the album. The lyrics to both tracks are simple, yet poignant, especially in “3 a.m.” This fades into “Voices In The Fan,” which is one of the better examples of using screaming vocals as a melody that I have ever come across. Like “Hide Nowhere,” this took me a while to appreciate but I really like this track now. You may recognize the lyrics from the first verse as the same lyrics from “Color Your World” from Ziltoid The Omniscient. Perhaps the most unique feature of this track isn’t the aforementioned melodies, or the electronic rhythms that back up the more lush-sounding clean vocals later on, but the sampling of a choir piece from Orlando di Lasso. As if that wasn’t strange enough for a “metal” album, anyone who is fluent in Morse code might be able to understand the feint clicking that goes on during this minute-long section.

The guitar melody for “Greetings” is simply enchanting; it is the kind of riff that I could listen to for hours and not get bored with it in the slightest. And that’s a good thing, because this melody occupies much of the first half of this song, complete with a key change. The second half is also great, and much heavier, with more stellar vocal lines from Devin. The lyrics in this section are among my favorites of the album:

I believe we’ll lose our world for them/
I believe we’d throw up arms before them/
And bore them/
So call it home…

What does that mean? That’s anyone’s guess, but I like to think of it as an internal metaphor for sticking to your own principles and making the best with what you have. Different interpretations for different folks, right? “Regulator” is the conventional headbanger of this album, if such a thing exists. It’s one of the most fun songs to listen to on its own right (that title goes to Seventh Wave, which I played nightly before going to bed for upwards of a year), but also among the least memorable. This song makes a lot of sense for Devin to play in the live shows that he doesn’t headline, as it can get a lot of people into his music with how fun this song is to listen to.

The next four tracks could have easily been placed on their own album and we’d have been none the wiser; three of them are eight minutes or longer, and the closer is a great conclusion to this album. It starts with “Funeral,” a track that some prefer to be heard acoustically instead of its electric version on this album because it feels more emotionally charged in an intimate setting. As it stands, it’s already an emotional track that carries a religious metaphor with it. I particularly gravitate to the guitars in this track; they’re not overly technical in any way whatsoever, but I cannot imagine hearing anything else in place of them. The ending of this track is quite memorable, with more sample loops placed over ambiance and a rather ghostly guitar sound that segues into “Bastard.”

Technically split into two movements, I consider “Bastard” to be the best track in this album. It’s also somber, much like “Funeral,” without being depressing. It’s a 10-minute song that feels like four minutes. The first movement, “Not One Of My Better Days,” lasts about six minutes, while “The Girl From Blue City,” which seems to be about a prostitute, is only a slight variation from the first movement. I know this song (and album) is already long, but I would have liked to see this part explored for longer than it was. Regardless, it’s a great track to listen to on most occasions, something that most 10-minute songs can’t claim.

I don’t even know how to begin describing “The Death Of Music.” For starters, this is an electronic ambient track that carries no traditional percussion (except for a vibraslap and some other minor instruments) and very feint guitars. Secondly, this behemoth of a track is twelve minutes long. And lastly, Devin belts out some utterly impressive vocal lines that nobody else, with the possible exception of Mike Patton, can deliver. This is especially noticeable in the sections where Devin sings “It’s like a death becomes musical.” There’s another section between 5:40 and 6:30 in which Devin manages to make an effective use of whispering, and the four minutes that follows this is a stunning piece of music driven almost entirely by Devin’s vocals. Considering the fact that this beat is essentially a jazzless bossa nova that drones on for almost the entire track, this song is a work of art. Other excursions into ambiance from Devin haven’t done much for me, but this one nails it.

Lastly, we have “Things Beyond Things,” a track that picks up where “The Death Of Music” left off; it feels like the immediate aftermath of that track. This fits in with a more somber Alice In Chains track instrumentally, with Devin delivering some more gorgeous vocal lines. Look out for the vicious scream that occurs about 15 seconds before the track ends; it is an ear killer. Perhaps he put that scream there to exercise some demons or something, but it scared the crap out of me.

Many people have an album in their library that hit them like a ton of bricks, and they can’t put that album down for more than a week or so without feeling some kind of withdrawal symptoms, begging them to come back for more. For me, this is that album. I don’t listen to this album every day, but several times a month, I have to listen to it to remember why I love this so much. There’s so much going on; so many different moods, so many sounds, and so many genres being cooked in a big pot. It all comes together to form one of the most uniquely coherent albums that has ever been released.

Overall: From start to finish, a masterpiece.

Rating: 5.0*