Artist: Lux Terminus
Album Title: The Courage To Be
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 24 August 2018
If you were to ask me what my favourite instrument is, I’d wait a fraction of a nanosecond before firmly replying ‘the guitar’. That’s hardly surprising really, given the fact that I have two, that I have tried and failed for years to actually play them and that I am a died-in-the-wool fan of predominantly guitar-based music, usually at the heavier end of the spectrum. Whether it is the all-out grunt of distortion or the more relaxed and gentle sounds of an acoustic, the guitar is the instrument to which I gravitate most of the time.
The reason why I have opened up this review in such a way is because ‘The Courage To Be’ is a progressive rock instrumental album that…wait for it, wait for it…contains little to no guitar.
I’ll pause a moment while you take a sharp intake of breath and process this phenomenon. Or is it just me that needs to take a moment to compose myself? Either way, I bet you’re thinking ‘he’ll hate this record’. You’ll think that even more strongly when I also reveal that the album features plenty of jazz influences, another style of music with which I generally struggle, although less so as I get ever older.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but somehow, inexplicably, I have well and truly taken this debut effort from Lux Terminus to my heart. It is a really excellent album. Fundamentally, the reason for this is because the trio of musicians involved are all supremely talented. Keyboardist/pianist Vikram Shankar, bassist Brian Craft and drummer Matthew Kerschner have certainly written music that is technical, complex, challenging and occasionally a little off-the-wall. However, the compositions are imbued with a warmth that I wasn’t fully expecting. I also wasn’t necessarily expecting to hear such defined songs, where melodies, motifs and clever changes in direction and flow help to tell an engrossing story.
The title of this record is well-chosen, simply because Vikram Shankar and his two cohorts have had the courage to do what they wanted on this album. They could have invited a guitarist to add another layer to the music, but they didn’t. For that, I am told that they have received a lot of flack from certain corners of the prog community. But to their credit, they had ‘the courage to be’ and deliver us the kind of music that they wanted. Huge kudos to the guys for that, too.
So, how does this record actually sound? Well, first off, it is a bit of a rollercoaster ride of emotions as ‘The Courage To Be’ is something of a concept disc, telling the story of human feelings in the context of a deep relationship. As such, you get peaks and troughs; moments of huge, life-affirming euphoria are quickly replaced by sections of moody introspection or quieter contemplation. But it is all wrapped up in the most intelligent of musical soundtracks. Indeed, there is a demonstrable cinematic quality to a lot of the output on this disc. There’s depth, a richness of sound and a deftness that brings things to life so beautifully. Nothing is forced, nothing is contrived and it comes across as smooth and effortlessly elegant. And when I’m talking about jazz-infused, progressive fusion, that’s something to be heard to be believed.
Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of short instrumental intros, but seeing as this is an instrumental album and because it is such an exquisite opening to the record, I’m prepared to make a wholehearted exception for ‘Prologue: The Departure (I)’, the first in a series of four songs littered within the album that come together as one homogenous body of work. More melodic and serene than I was perhaps expecting, it immediately tells me that technical prowess is not the only objective of Lux Terminus. The gentle atmosphere that is lovingly created gives way to Shankar’s delicate piano, only to be built upon by a gorgeous melody and angelic, ethereal choral vocals that threaten to bring a tear to the ear, such is the poignancy of it all.
‘Electrocommunication’ takes over and is much more urgent and bold in tone. It begins in a Haken-like fashion with strong electronic elements but again, it is the piano of Shankar that sits at the heart of the composition early on. Craft’s bass is cheeky, whilst Kerschner seems to revel in producing some beats that I haven’t got the musical intellect to adequately describe. However, what I can say is that the music has an ebb and flow that keeps me engrossed from beginning to end, especially in the way that it builds to a crescendo of sorts, where each member leaves nothing at the door and which ends on a relatively expansive and triumphant note.
Next up is ‘The Journey (II)’, a much more bittersweet-sounding song, that on the one hand reveals a brighter and breezier side to the band. And yet, at the same time, I sense a more regretful and sad tone that lurks just beneath the surface. Needless to say, it is another immersive composition that grows stronger with repeated listens.
By contrast, ‘Aberration’ is a quirkier beast, led by some interesting electronic sounds as well as an intriguing blend of cinematics and jazzy sections. At times, I’m reminded of the scores of Hans Zimmer or even Ennio Morricone at his romantic and understated best. At other times, there’s an outlandish effervescence that is certainly infectious.
As wonderful as the music is throughout this incredible record, I have to say that the latter stages contain my very favourite material, starting with ‘The Road Home (III)’ and then via ‘Effusion’, the mind-boggling 20-minute epic title track and the final composition, ‘Epilogue: Fly (IV)’ which features the guest talents of Anneke van Giersbergen. This quartet of compositions are about as good as technical, complex instrumental fusion/progressive music gets. I really mean that.
‘The Road Home (III)’ is a moving piece of music that benefits from some of the most immediate and strongest melodies anywhere on the record, especially towards the end when the song, led by sensitive synths and more choral vocals, opens up like a flower to reveal the sweetest of nectar within. Again, a tear threatens to make an appearance.
I love the commanding drumming and the strong bass work within ‘Effusion’, but I like the way that it also opens up to underline the melodic sensibilities of Lux Terminus and their innate ability to create pieces of music that transcend just being an exercise in ability and actually offer bucketloads of emotion and raw moodiness at the same time.
And then, just as I begin to run out of superlatives, I’m faced with the enormous title track. On its own, it would be worth purchasing ‘The Courage To Be’, it’s that good. Just about every mood and every music style within their extensive armoury is unleashed, but it is wrapped up in a multi-layered, multi-faceted and lush-sounding cloak that screams cinematic film score. Despite its length, I’m never bored, my attention is always kept and every time I listen, I hear something new that draws me in and makes me want to listen again, however emotionally drained it makes me. The hallmark of a great piece of music if ever there was one.
But we’re not done yet, because there’s still time for the final part of the quadrilogy, the dreamy ‘Epilogue: Fly (IV)’, which offers an entirely new dimension thanks to the devastating talents of Anneke van Giersbergen.
What else can I say? I was never expecting to like Lux Terminus as much as I do. It has connected with me more than I thought possible and has masterfully manoeuvred its way into my affections to the point where I look forward to the next time that I can spend an uninterrupted hour of my life listening to it. In fact, I’m going to do that right now, because I can’t think of anything better right now.
The Score of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse