Redemption – This Mortal Coil – 5/5
It would be very easy to take one glance at this album and decide that they're late on the 'dark direction' bandwagon; after Symphony X puts out “Paradise Lost;” Adagio's “Archangels in Black;” Zero Hour's “Dark Deceiver;” Into Eternity's “Incurable Tragedy,” and I'm sure I'm missing plenty of notorious prog bands that have all recently released their darkest material thematically to date. And changing your sound in such a manner has always been met with mixed success, many of the above gaining as many new fans as losing old ones, but with Redemption it's not that simple, because since their last album some rather dramatic news has befallen our lead songwriter: he was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer that doesn't look pretty. Fact is, statistically speaking, there was a very good chance he wouldn't be around long enough to write another album (though after his ordeal he has since gone into remission, though is keeping a close eye on it's possibility of return. I'll be adding links to his blog as well as an essay he wrote on the subject of the disease).
I've always sensed that he drew immense influence from his own life in the construction of his work, and such profound tragedy can't not affect his song writing – hell the clue is in the album's name. Take a glance at the names of any of their back catalogue; “The Fullness of Time;” “Origins of Ruin;” “Snowfall on Judgement Day;” and you'll note that this is not a band to squander their titles on something that rolls off the tongue without evoking questions and swirling thoughts about their implications. “This Mortal Coil” is no different, and as with so much of their work the lyrics leave upon the listener such a strong impression that when you finally take it all in it's hard not to be moved; lines such as “Pull the marrow from my bones and then destroy it/I can will myself to overcome this all/Give me everything you've got, I defy You/I will break you and will laugh as you go down” - (Stronger than Death) making their mark, and not because they're necessarily poetic. This album is not just another album in a discography, it's a chronicle of his fight against this disease and all the thoughts that come with it.
But this isn't a poet we're talking about here, it's music, and if the overarching compositions weren't up to scratch then nobody would be paying attention at all. For the unprepared it all comes as a bit of a shock; the theme far more bleak than before has made it's impact on the tone of the tracks, and whilst still distinctly 'Redemption' it feels like they've moved on from their previous sound, whether to the listeners preference or not. There were times where I felt Ray Alder, the vocalist, needed to divert from his clean vocals and add a touch more aggression to the proceedings; a bold rasp or roar to work with some of the darker passages of the new material, and as a consequence of requiring a more powerful back beat there are times when the bass and drums feel as though their playing beneath their abilities, but these are all minor complaints when put next to the quality of the material taken as a whole.
There is never a slow moment in this entire release; there is never a point where the track isn't shifting or doing something, whether using keys to build the atmosphere, delivering some of the most emotional vocal lines in the genre or demonstrating that all three guitarists – I am of course referring to the bassist as the third guitarist here, who proves between the solo's and slaps that he's just as worthwhile member as any other guitarist – can shred with the best of them, feeding into one another to create an entire powerful instrumental aspect. There's no shying away from using riffs, and at many points it would be considered gratuitous wankery if for the fact it didn't fit the tone of the music so perfectly every god damn time. It's as though every member has their own voice, and even if they aren't necessarily speaking, they can screech their thoughts through weapon of choice, swaying from solo's reminiscent of Symphony X going full pelt, into passages that almost feel as though they could fit on a Pink Floyd album.
This album has been spinning for no short amount of time – in fact I managed to write another review in between listening almost constantly to this one for about a week now – and at 71 minutes, each moment filled with poignant lyrics to absorb, solo's to swoon to and atmospheres to breathe in deep, there's an awful lot to take in. This is one of those albums that will grow on you as you come to learn it's nuances and realise the shocking truth of his plight; tussles with whether he did something to deserve this cruel fate, depression to the point of giving up, melancholy as he ponders how short life truly is and summoning the strength to persevere on; it's an emotional journey like nothing else they've done. And it's remarkably consistent on top of all this, even after number of listens I still haven't come up with clear cut favourite tracks like I have with the rest of my Redemption collection, and yet as impressive as each track is on its own it is when they flow together that they find themselves working best, contrasting each other and flowing in this epic journey of trauma. If this isn't the best release they've ever done it's bloody close.
Highlights: Blink of an Eye, Dreams from the Pit, Noonday Devil, Let it Rain, Perfect, Stronger than Death
Van Dyk explains his condition
Van Dyk's Cancer Blog