Over my life as a metal fan I’ve had my share of issues with proggy musical endeavors. Though there was a time when I loved everything Dream Theater did, they eventually drifted into a grey purgatory of wanking and showboatery which left those of us who appreciated actual songs out in the cold. I loved early Fates Warning even more dearly, but they too took their progressive tendencies too far afield for my liking, losing their traditional metal charm entirely. Somehow, Redemption managed to avoid alienating my affections over their career though they embody the exact same tendencies as the aforementioned acts and also bear the unspeakable stigma of being a “supergroup” (don’t get me started on those things).
Led by Fates Warning frontman Ray Alder, the band released a series of accessible and memorable platters like The Origin of Ruin and Snowfall on Judgment Day and though they can wank with the best of them, they usually make sure there’s a song worthy of being wanked upon first. Neat touch that, and one I highly appreciate. I thought 2011s This Mortal Coil was solid but less impressive than earlier works, and was hoping for a bounce back with The Art of Loss. When I heard the album would be 75 minutes, I had serious concerns. After spending a lot of time with it though, I’m happy to report those concerns have mostly abated. Mostly.
Fans of the band will be pleased how little has changed with the Redemption sound. It’s still the same dark, somewhat depressive style of prog-rock and the opening title track is the type of song they’ve always excelled at – straight-forward and memorable with the frills and proggy flair ups restrained and penned into listener-friendly safe areas. Though there are tempo shifts aplenty and reams of interesting playing within, the song is simple in design. Ray Alder’s vocals guide the listener along to a catchy chorus and the song never gets bogged down by 10 minute guitar-keyboard-hurdy gurdy duels. Things get better and more melancholy on “Slouching Toward Bethleham” where the emotions start to flow like the wine adorning the awful cover. Call it downer-prog or doom-wank but it’s quite a grim little tune with many references to things falling apart and the center being unable to hold. Throughout the 8 minutes, Alder’s plaintive vocals are juxtaposed with crunchy riffing and dramatic keys with potent effect.
The same glum mood is captured on “Damaged” (with a really poignant chorus) and “Hope Dies Last” (more energetic but still bleak). The latter is a testament to the high-quality writing as a 10 minute song flies by in a flash because it’s so engaging and memorable. “Thirty Silver” rocks one of the album’s best and most bitter choruses and by now you realize someone in the band must have been in a really dark place when penning the lyrics because damn if they’re not soul-sick.
The album’s .44 magnum opus is the 22 minute closer “At Day’s End” and coming as it does at the conclusion of some 52 minutes of music, it’s set up to fail due to listening fatigue and inevitably lessened attention spans. And that’s the band shooting themselves in their collective foot because the song is really good and loaded with memorable, emotional playing (especially around the 7:30 mark). That said, it’s not the album highlight you’d hope for and it’s far too long, especially on such an already long-winded album.
While there are no bad songs, “The Center of Fire” is weaker than its neighbors, and the cover of The Who‘s “Love Reign o’er Me” seems superfluous, though it does benefit from a raging vocal performance by John Bush (Armored Saint, ex-Anthrax). If you drop these songs off, you get down to a (still unreasonable) 63 minutes and avoid a public flaunting of the Metallica-itis plaguing the band’s current roster.
Musically you know this stuff will be beyond reproach. Ray Alder was born to sing these kinds of songs and like Dr. Fisting, I think his voice has grown more and more interesting over the years as he lost those stratospheric highs heard on his Fates Warning debut. Nowadays his tenor sounds lived in, a bit rough at times and very human, and it totally benefits the introspective material. He’s backed by some highly impressive guitar-work by Nick Van Dyk and guests Chris Poland, Marty Friedman and Chris Broderick, all of whom know a thing or two about chops. Greg Hosharian lays down some quality keyboards and Chris Quirarte turns in a pretty remarkable performance behind the kit as well. It’s a supergroup and sounds like it, especially with a warm, non-smashed production that lets the technicality be appreciated in full.
The Art of Loss is very good album with really catchy songs, and it’s a major showcase for the band’s talent. Notice which got listed first? That’s why this works despite being way too long and lacking in restraint. Knock off 25 minutes and it’s a contender for Album o’ the Year. As it is, it’ll be one of the year’s best prog releases and one you can keep returning to because of the plethora of interesting music. Check it out.