Album Title: The Art Of Loss
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 26 February 2016
Redemption must surely be one of the most resilient bands in heavy metal. Founding member, guitarist and co-song writer Nick van Dyk was diagnosed with blood cancer and was given a bleak prognosis. He survived and the band kept going. Nick’s daughter was diagnosed with a life-long debilitating eye condition. The band kept going. More recently, guitarist Bernie Versailles (Agent Steel) suffered an aneurysm from which he is still recovering and is therefore out of action long-term. The band has kept going.
But Redemption have not just ‘kept going’; they have continued to release studio albums during these difficult times and the quality contained within them is simply staggering. Although I hold ‘Snowfall On Judgement Day’ in the highest esteem, there is seriously not a sub-par release anywhere in the Californian’s five-album-strong back catalogue. Theirs is a name synonymous with heavy progressive metal full of chops, shredding solos, multiple time signatures and, somewhat unsurprisingly, emotionally-charged lyrics delivered by the irrepressible Ray Alder, he of that other trifling little prog band Fates Warning.
After a five-year hiatus that cannot be bemoaned too vociferously under the circumstances, Redemption have returned with album number six, entitled ‘The Art Of Loss’. Aside from the temporary loss of Versailles and no Greg Hosharian on keyboards, the line-up remains the same as on their last outing, with Nick van Dyk and Ray Alder being joined by the stalwart rhythm section of bassist Sean Andrews and drummer Chris Quirarte. Not only this, but to add another dimension to the Redemption sound and to assist with the hole in the second guitar slot, the band invited a few guests to play on ‘The Art Of Loss’. The result is a record that features the likes of the ex-Megadeth six string trio of Chris Broderick, Marty Friedman and Chis Poland. Together, this eye-watering group of musicians have come together to create what I’d playfully refer to as a ‘delicious racket’ or more seriously, a masterful album of highly-charged, emotional, technical and melodic progressive metal.
I’ve not had the company of ‘The Art Of Loss’ for too long as I write this review, but I’m dangerously close to considering this new album to be Redemption’s best ever – it is the most instantly enjoyable Redemption album as far as I’m concerned. Everything from the music itself to the lyrical content that frequently touches on the idea of love being more important than fear, is of the highest order. Add to this equation the Travis Smith-created artwork and the fantastic Tommy Hansen production and the whole package screams quality. If anything, it was the production which slightly marred the previous album ‘This Mortal Coil’ but with ‘The Art Of Loss’, that has been rectified and then some. By heavens, I can even hear the fabulous bass playing of Sean Andrews which is a real treat.
As stated, Redemption have always been known for creating genuinely heavy and fast-paced compositions, full of dextrous instrumentalism from all corners of the band not to mention a flair for the dramatic, melodic and overtly emotional. This theme continues of ‘The Art Of Loss’ but there’s an ‘x’ factor, a certain something that really speaks to me on this album in particular. If I try to put my finger on it, I’d have to say that it has a lot to do with the lead breaks and solos; I am a complete sucker for well-executed guitar work and this album just blows my mind on that score, effortlessly blending melody with speed and technicality. There are other reasons too, but this jumps out at me in particular.
‘The Art Of Loss’ opens with the title track, a vibrant, urgent and galloping song that distils everything that is Redemption into a little over five minutes. The trademark Van Dyk riffs sit at the centre of a composition that features plenty of keys and synths, a rhythm section that is as flamboyant as it is metronomic and a typically energetic vocal performance from Alder. The solos are, however, other-worldy, so blazing that they almost setting my stereo alight.
And, after all that, can you believe that the title track is nowhere near my favourite track on this album? It sets the tone for what is to follow but is frequently outdone by the majority of its successors. That’s not to say that this track is poor, it’s just that the consistent quality on display means that an excellent opener is eclipsed by other moments of even greater brilliance on the album.
‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ is marginally slower in pace and altogether darker, more menacing and brooding. However, there’s a little more in the way of groove and melodies are really ear-catching and strong. Real drama is created by the changes in tempo and the softer sections that juxtapose the heaviness are superb. Oh and did I mention the lead breaks? They are masterful, particularly the one at 5:24 which is short but tingles the spine.
‘Damaged’ is a shorter song and displays a real groove and is intriguing in that it allows the lead guitar to play a part within the choruses that’s almost as integral as the lead vocal in places. ‘Hope Dies Last’ breaks the ten-minute barrier but along the way it delivers some fantastic music. Chop-laden riffs, several tempo changes, great rhythmic interplay and numerous solos sit alongside some genuinely powerful and majestic melodies thus allowing Ray Alder to cut loose a touch more.
Certain to raise an eyebrow is ‘That Golden Light’, a quasi-ballad and a tale of two approaches. The verses are relatively slow-burning intense affairs but the chorus just erupts into a stadium-friendly, sugar-coated hook-fest. Coupled with the overly warm and fuzzy lyrics, it veers very close to cheese territory but avoids this ignominy thanks to the overall song-writing and several killer led breaks, definitely one of the biggest and best weapons deployed on ‘The Art Of Loss’.
‘Thirty Silver’ is another favourite. The guitar playing is neo-classical in style for large parts, thus reminiscent of Symphony X. However, the chorus complete with prominent piano is pure Redemption and, with the heaviness quota dialled up to create a properly muscular sound, it is addictive listening. The same can be said for the head-bang-worthy ‘The Centre Of The Fire’ which features a chorus bathed in atmospheric synths and a relatively simple but heavy and effective guitar riff.
Vocalist John Bush (ex-Anthrax) guests on the cover of The Who classic ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ and as you’d expect, does a great job. It is undeniably a powerful song covered really well but to be honest, I’d have liked another original Redemption composition instead, particularly when they’re in this kind of form.
And on that note, ‘The Art Of Loss’ is then brought to a close by the 22-minute behemoth ‘At Day’s End’. To go into every facet of this track would take far too long given its complexity and sheer variety. However, suffice it to say that if the opening title track distilled everything Redemption into five minutes, ‘At Day’s End’ is the unabridged director’s cut; it has literally everything. It is classic Redemption but with a few added extras for good measure including a classic prog rock intro and grandiose cinematic flourishes. Importantly, despite its length and many twists and turns, it retains the feeling of a cohesive song, culminating in an all-too-brief yet hugely uplifting closing crescendo.
So how do I sum up an album like ‘The Art Of Loss’? Unlike the music itself, it’s an easy task. Quite simply, it is a magnificent body of work that plays to all of the plentiful strengths of the band. This is all-out progressive metal that combines technicality and superb musicianship with genuine heaviness and all the sumptuous melodies and hooks that you could possibly wish for. As a result, ‘The Art Of Loss’ will not only delight the faithful and probably lead to claims that it is their masterpiece, but is sure to bring a few new fans to their cause.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld