One-man bands abound. Is it because these guys have no friends? Too much ego to get along with others? Or are they just introverts who prefer to putter around on their own, with no accountability to others? Hard to say, and while these ‘projects’ can dominate the black and doom metal genres, it’s a little less common to see them on the progressive metal front. So when I see a promo that comes from The Reticent, a one-man (Chris Hathcock) project hailing from North Carolina, I’m a bit leery. Then I read he’s a Grammy-nominated individual. Cool! For what? Well, for being a music teacher, and you know what they say: those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach (or review). So I expect a lesson in obscure scales and don’t hold out much hope for awesomeness.
A bit about this record. On the Eve of a Goodbye is, yes, a concept album. Queue the eye rolling: it’s not as if this isn’t the norm in this genre. And it’s 70+ minutes long. Yay, prog metal bloat! But hold on, because the concept here isn’t the overused “a young man in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future must find the chalice/artifact/woman and save humankind.” No, this is an autobiographical concept, detailing the day before, of, and after Hathcock’s friend Eve’s suicide, his feelings, and what he imagines her thought process was. That’s heady stuff. And one final note, production is handled by Jamie King, he of Between the Buried and Me fame. So sonically this might sound like Coma Ecliptic, but I hope there’s at least a modicum of song structure on this album, and not just chaotic wankery.
And there is. On the Eve of a Goodbye opens with a brief narrative, something that reoccurs throughout in an effort to convey more thoughts than the songs do. These narratives are one of the minor issues here: the style is mixed, at times coming across like Thomas Hayden Church and other times breaking down a bit more like the singer. These narratives needed to be more consistent, but the songs quickly make us forget this. Hard-hitting opener “The Girl Broken” is a great song – fast, aggressive, complex yet well-arranged, with a mix of clean and harsh vocals similar to Watershed-era Opeth. Considering Hathcock plays all instruments except horns, and provides all male vocals, the talent here is remarkable. While he has a somewhat plain-sounding clean voice, his harsh growls and screams are stellar, and as the story gets more emotional, so does his delivery.
The entire album is as strong as “The Girl Broken,” but the emotional impact really picks up in the second half. The climax of the story comes in the two songs “The Decision” and “Funeral for a Firefly.” The former builds to a stunning, white noise crescendo before abruptly cutting off and the latter is simply one of the most emotional songs I’ve heard. In fact, the vocals for this track were cut in one take and not cleaned up at all. You can hear Hathcock sobbing, his breath shaking between lyrics, and the anguish drips from his words. I’m a big tough olde metal dude, but I definitely get something in my eye every time I play “Funeral for a Firefly.” Album closer “For Eve” is a touching, poignant acoustic instrumental, reverently plucked at first before building to an uplifting finish. The whole record leaves the listener, and almost certainly Hathcock, exhausted.
I haven’t talked about the album’s problems, but they are nitpicky, really: a narrative voice that can’t decide on character and a lack of lead breaks – there’s a sax solo, and a couple of short, tasteful guitar solos, but more leads would have increased the emotional impact of some of these songs (think Operation: Mindcrime without solos).
These issues don’t detract from the overall package, though, and the fact is On the Eve of a Goodbye is one of the best concept albums of recent memory, a lengthy prog metal opus that fires on all cylinders. The concept is beautifully executed, the songs are actual songs with stellar arrangements, crystal clear production, and a ton of emotion. The Reticent have released a great record here, one that needs to be played beginning to end, and one that’s sure to finish in my year end top 10 list of prog metal, if not the top 5.