While Heaven Wept - Suspended At AphelionWhile Heaven Wept is a band I expect excellence from and actively root for them to achieve it, almost as if I was in the damn band myself. Their Of Empires Forlorn album is one of the best doom releases ever and one I return to religiously whenever I need a good soul drubbing. Follow ups Vast Oceans Lachrymose and Fear of Infinity were very good, sometimes great doses of highly polished melodic doom, though neither could replicate that special something Of Empires possessed. With all the hype surrounding the writing and recording of Suspended at Aphelion, and the fact it’s a conceptual piece composed of one song with eleven movements, a fanboy could dream this would be their magnum opus rex. That Fates Warning alumni like Mark Zonder and Victor Arduini were onboard did nothing to extinguish my growing enthusiasm.

So, after marinating in this ambitious release for a week, I can say it’s still classic While Heaven Wept with all the elements they’ve experimented with over time, but this tries to be much more in both vision and scope. It strives for something more grandiose, epic and diverse while maintaining the band’s core style, and in some ways it succeeds and in others in doesn’t. It’s loaded with brilliant musicianship and interesting genre crossovers, but some of it doesn’t work and the execution and writing is hit or miss.

This mammoth composition opens with an entirely tasteful, familiar feeling piece titled “Introspectus,” which leverages the moody symphonics and ambient keyboard effects the band has long toyed with. Lovely acoustic guitars layer upon weeping cellos and violins while an ambient keyboard hum rumbles underneath. It’s classy, gorgeous and what we’ve come to expect from this band. It segues a bit abruptly into album set piece “Icarus and I,” which  is instantly recognizable as While Heaven Wept and features those uniquely soaring vocal moments the band excels at.  The band also attempts a darker, Dimmu Borgir eruption of symphonic blackness at chorus time, which is interesting, but so overly layered and chaotic, it partially disrupts the song. Some excellent keyboard flourishes and Rain Irving’s sweeping vocals pull things back, but every time they lurch into the blackness, things get loopy.  It still ends up a good tune, albeit one that suffers for its ambitions.


From there we transition to a slow, roiling number called “Ardor” that builds toward a bigger, more bombastic style akin to Atlantean Kodex and it works, but lacks real gravitas. This leads to the touching ballad “Heartburst,” which pulls at the heart strings before exploding into a glitzy, Broadway themed ditty like Savatage used to write, and you’ll even hear hair metal ideas scattered alongside the jazz hands. The high points culminate with the schizophrenically proggy instrumental “Indifference Turned Paralysis,” which touches on Euro-power, thrash and black metal as it whirls this way and that in a twisting maelstrom.

From there, Suspended at Aphelion takes a significant downturn, hitting a rough patch of movements that aren’t exactly bad, but aren’t particularly gripping or interesting. “Souls in Permafrost” sticks out a bit due to a slight Sonata Arctica vibe to the writing and vocals, but things become too sedate and nothing much resonates until the penultimate movement, “Lifelines Lost” which is decently melancholy.

Aside from inconsistent writing, the transitions within individual songs and between movements can be disjointed. There’s a herky jerky feeling to the way the pieces fit together that distracts from the overall flow and hurts the album’s momentum. I suppose that’s the risk inherent in one long song intended to be experienced in its entirety, and that risk sees the band hoisted by their own petard on a few too many occasions.

Rain and TomIn the band’s defense, they do a lot of things right. The sound is phenomenal, with a clear intent to deliver a rich dynamic experience with real peaks and valleys. Founder Tom Phillips remarked that he was well aware of the “Loudness War” prevalent in music these days and wanted to deliver an album audiophiles could get behind. Mission accomplished, Tom. Another big plus is the album length. Considering this is such an ambitious project with so many moving parts, the band showed heroic restraint by keeping things limited to a mere 40 minute run time, thereby earning copious Ego Suppression Points.

Performance wise, there isn’t much to fault here either. Rain Irving sounds great throughout, dishing out ample pathos and pain with his soaring vocals, and managing to keep things delicate and understated when the music requires it. Phillips and Scott Loose play their hearts out and the album is dripping with beautiful, delicate solos, pristine harmonies and epic riffs. As a unit, the band is highly impressive, and it’s never their playing that lets them down, just lapses in writing and arranging that pulls things down a few notches.

Ultimately, Suspended at Aphelion is an inspired mess; part brilliant, part disappointing, always ambitious. It’s so front-loaded, it’s easy to hear the best moments and bail before the lesser selections drag it down, and that’s likely the best way to enjoy this over time. It may not be the album I hoped for, but it’s definitely one worth experiencing. Just approach with the hype train uncoupled and expectations fully managed.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 10  |  Format Reviewed: 274 kbps MP3
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU][NA]
Websites: whileheavenwept.com  |  facebook.com/whileheavenwept
Release Dates: EU: 2014.10.24  |  NA: 11.18.2014

  • tomasjacobi

    Been really looking forward to this and have the vinyl pre-ordered. So it looks like I’m in for a slight disappointment…

    • Who knows. I seem to be in the minority and the blogosphere is screaming “masterpiece “.

      • tomasjacobi

        We’ll see. Judging from your review I’m sure I’ll at least enjoy parts of it.

      • JL

        No it is not a masterpiece but it is indeed quite excellent. The vocals alone are worthy of heaps of praise.

        • Hank Rain Irving

          Cheers JL. I sincerely appreciate the comment. m/

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        Being as obsessed with this band (particularly the Of Empires… release), I trust your review. Still want to hear it badly but now I know what to expect. Great review. Thanks.

  • Aaron Feigenbaum

    This is pretty much how I felt about this album.

  • Kalsten

    I discovered this band today in Spotify and I really like them. It reminds me of Seventh Wonder (another discovery thanks to Spotify) but more bombastic and epic. I really looking forward for their new album :)

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    ‘Ego Suppression Points’ love it!
    An ESP outta 5 could sit under the rating and DR score.

  • hubcapiv

    I don’t know about the album, but I give 5/5 to any review that uses the phrase “hoist by their own petard.”

  • Zadion

    Great Review, Druhm. I remember discovering this band with your review for Fear of Infinity. I thought that album was mediocre at first but found it had huge staying power and I ended up coming back to it a lot in spite of myself. Same story for their other albums, really.

    So I suspect this album will be a similar experience.

  • JL

    This is a very good release. I would probably give it a 3.5. Some of the moments are breathtaking in their emotion. Others, like the review said, try but fail to evoke a strong feeling. But this is still very, very solid work.

    • I wanted to give it a 3.5 but the second half was too much a drop off for me.

  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    “sees the band hoisted by their own petard on a few too many occasions”, above all in the tracks featuring Wile E. Coyote =P

    just joking, masterful review! I will definitely listen to the record, hoping to find a Vessel 2.0 somewhere (seriously, that song is unbelievable)

    • Chris Gates

      Vessel might be one of the greatest songs of all time. If this album has a song comparable to it I will be extremely satisfied.

  • PropsToOrpheus

    I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but the more I get sucked into this album, the more my cognitive dissonance has grown as I reflect on your phrase “inspired mess” that was burned into my mind. I really enjoy the album, cover to cover. My only gripe are those (IMO) cringe-worthy harsh vocals in “Icarus and I”. They just do not have the feel, punch, or drama I think they were intended to have.

  • Rain Irving

    Cheers Angry Metal Guy. Im late to the party but thanks for the well written review. Keep up the good work. We appreciate your honesty and thorough review.