Album Reviews

Redemption – The Art of Loss

The word redemption means deliverance, rescue, or in a theological context, salvation from sin. Every quality of the Los Angeles progressive metal act Redemption featuring the inimitable Ray Alder is designed to express this thematic dichotomy. Their skillful combination of corrosive heaviness with memorable, uplifting melodies is uncannily perfect. Their almost universally acclaimed lyrical content is entirely devoted to the human condition and its frailty: the internal flaws that hinder our self-worth, the debilitating life events that drive us to the edge of despair, and yet the hope to persevere and turn life from something tragic and fragile into something beautiful and whole.

 Redemption have already walked through the shadow of death with their Dantean voyage through the inner turmoil of band leader Nick van Dyk’s Multiple Myeloma diagnosis on This Mortal Coil. The ravages of time stalk the band as the members approach 50 years old and lead guitarist Bernie Versailles lies indefinitely sidelined in the aftermath of a brain aneurysm. The losses of rock icons such as Chris Squire, Lemmy Kilmister, Scott Weiland, Glenn Frey and David Bowie loom less than a year in the shadows of the past, and even this generation’s icon Piotr Grudzinski of Riverside tragically left this life no older than anyone in Redemption, five days before The Art of Loss’ release date. Yet van Dyk is in complete remission from what is generally judged an incurable and inevitably fatal disease, and is expected to live indefinitely. On 2011’s This Mortal Coil, he resolved to make the most of his remaining years by translating the lessons learned and spiritual growth from such a tribulation. The five years that followed could have been filled with far more life and gratitude than all of his other forty combined. By 2016, van Dyk has transformed the pain of loss into The Art of Loss. The name is one of Redemption’s trademark statements of beauty and art forged and found through suffering and trial. It is the band’s most explicit thematic statement to date: a testament to their further refinement of their signature style, and a firm declaration of their limitless vitality and iron-willed perseverance.

The professionalism apparent from the first note flaunts Redemption’s stellar conceptual form and musical poise. The smooth melodicism and pristine production of Snowfall on Judgment Day is maintained despite the aggressive riffing, perhaps even improved upon, as the mixing and recording are second to none, warmer and more organic than the frigid Snowfall, and the mastering is by far the most dynamic and lively at DR8. The lack of reverb makes The Art of Loss more immediate and live sounding. Less about what has gone before, but the here and now. The grimy, foggy production of This Mortal Coil is left behind with its relentless intensity and harrowing existential turmoil. The Art of Loss is the band’s least metallic, warmest, and mature effort, as van Dyk looks forward to a brighter future and resolves to live his life in its pursuit.

For unlike all previous Redemption album openers which began bleak and ended bleaker, The Art of Loss almost immediately sets an optimistic tone. A brief drum solo crashes into the silence and Chris Quirarte’s kit pounds and fires at breakneck pace, in battery with van Dyk and bassist Sean Andrews ripping apart inside a quaking rhythm figure. As the notes grow steadily further apart and less consonant, they overwhelm the competing rosy tone of DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni’s solo and its final gasp is turned disconsolate by its disappearance underneath a wave of Megadeth style melodic thrash riffing. Ray Alder scowls out the repeated lyrical motif, that there is no happy ending, in his lowest register, with a slight note of tiredness, a resignation of inability to keep up with the pace of the assault. The entrance of piano and keyboards, also all manned by van Dyk, imparts a subtle pathos to the quandary at hand: even though perseverance is a virtue, the longer we persevere in a failed endeavor, the more painful the eventual failure. Is it worse to never try at all and live with the regret of never learning to fly, or to instead pointlessly suffer going down in flames?

The answer is only found by taking a step of faith off the edge of our perfectly comfortable fantasy world, into the reality of a world beset by pain, loss, and heartbreak, no matter the risk. van Dyk’s lead guitar line is embedded inside the galloping riff figure within the chorus, accentuating all its rhythmic and melodic peaks and valleys, beautiful and fragile at once, ambiguously major and minor. This juxtaposition encapsulates the very spirit of Redemption exemplified in the profound lyrical statement that comes to signify the album as a whole:

“We can try to insulate ourselves
But there’s a truth that we can’t hide
Unless we open up ourselves to pain
We never truly are alive”

We are better human beings to have felt the healing bliss of romance even as we bleed out the wounds of heartbreak; to have worked our dream job even as we live in the nightmare of being let go from it; to have been touched by the music of a legendary musician even as we are crushed by the tragic untimely death of a legend like Grudzinski. Would you rather never have kissed for one second? Never have spent one hour living your life’s dream? Never have heard Grudzinski play one note? Just for fear of feeling what is natural to feel when the door was slammed into your heart, the pink slip fell into your hands, and the guitar fell silent forever? Are you not still alive and breathing despite it all?

Redemption’s music has a history of arriving at the exact time I needed it, as This Mortal Coil was released during the darkest period of my life and was a major factor in turning it around. Five years later, having lost a musical hero for my first time ever on the same week of this album’s release suddenly amplified the emotional weight of the narrator’s epiphany.

The rhythm guitars are ground to a halt by a wash of piano, the resurgence of the hopeful main theme from Mularoni. The burst of energy and creativity from Quirarte’s hustling drum solo sparks rejuvenation and determination in the brighter version of the surging guitar riff and the electric dynamism in Mularoni and van Dyk’s solo duel. When the final verse begins, its riff pattern is choppy and uncompromising, steadfast in a newfound confidence. Even as life is fragile and we are driven to the edge of despair, we have the chance to make the right choices in our lives to make the best of what we have, so that there might very well be a happy ending. Our power is not to always get our way in what lot we have, but is our realization of our will to persevere. The moment of first victory is the one when we take control of determining what we will become. We cannot directly control what words make up our life story. But because we are the author of our story and can interpret the words to mean what we want them to, in a certain sense, we can.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is the very manifestation of the malicious fear and the darkest impulses of the human condition that have to be confronted along the way. Its haunting intro with hollow delay-laden guitar soundscapes darkens the unsuspecting afternoon sky with evil intent, the harbinger of the corruption of a city symbolizing redemption itself. The unsavory connotation of the word slouching, from the W.B. Yeats poem “The Second Coming,” reflects in the crude metallic bass chords incarnated into a towering riff laden with Redemption’s signature “emotional urgency,” a musical element produced by the increasing harmonic tension when a chord is repeated but its notes are gradually pushed apart by ever widening intervals to produce a gradual dissonance that demands resolution. Quirarte’s drumbeat plods along unlenient within a 5/4 meter, smoothed over enough to be monolithic while maintaining metric unrest and opening up a chasm of sonic space, upon which is cast a vast vista of the unsullied landscape of the city. The synthesizer scorches the azure sky a molten red as the bass and guitars thunder gravely in their lowest register, as the meter eases glacially towards collapse. Before the Second Coming the author awaits, is the Fall of Men that heralds the Apocalypse.

Everyone who has the will to fight is the enemy of the cause. Everyone who has a cause to fight for has no will. Where good men do nothing, evil will conquer. Throngs of men, women and children haplessly drown in the blood seeping from their skin. The vile face of the beast hungrily opens its gigantic jaws to swallow the entire soundscape, leaving behind a pallid shrunken vacuum. The diabolical chord that composes the guitar arpeggio recalls Redemption’s hellish opus Dreams from the Pit. Alder’s voice is permeated by a horrifying backwards reverb effect, possessed by invisible minions of darkness, not drawing in a breath, but moaning out a last breath. Transfixed head-on by the beast’s basilisk gaze, any thought of hope or salvation is engulfed by torturous visions and the dissonant chords begin to decompose his very soul. Quirarte’s kick drum and hi-hat thump the steady rhythm of the beast’s heart, with such powerful resonance it makes his heart beat in rhythm with it, as the one who fights with the monster becomes more like it.

The beast’s towering shadow scatters the flock of millions into a pile of chaotic guitar solos, spastic time signature shifts, and erratic riffing. One of van Dyk’s riffs hits the ground running, still switching between the same bizarre time signatures but finding bearings amidst the mayhem as it flees towards the outskirts. But the shadow has irrevocably surrounded him with its plague and ponderously crawls towards its prey with abject rancor and the ravenous hunger accumulated in 2,000 years of sleep. As a portrait of the world after the first ever world war, “The Second Coming” is a prophecy of the horror to come around this time in history. The tale of another birth in Bethlehem, the incarnation of a depraved humanity loosed upon the earth, erasing the memories of the hope that was born here long ago. The double kick delivers a crippling blow into the foundation of the temple, at the climax of the poem, the soaring vocal lines that the entire civilized world sings with dread and despair as the cataclysm unfolds. Quirarte’s drum fill explodes in fury as the structure of the city’s foundation creaks, crumbles, and finally collapses, leaving Alder to mourn as the dust settles into nothingness.

The redemptive journey encapsulated by the title track and necessitated by Slouching Towards Bethlehem is commenced by the forthcoming Damaged. The word damaged directly suggests struggle, pain and loss from whatever suffering has befallen, but yet indirectly implies that what was damaged was something pure and righteous. To speak of man as “fallen” in the Garden implies that man was once perfect. While the word suggests a steep lean towards the Megadeth style thrash influences in Redemption’s sound, especially with Marty Friedman as the song’s lead guitarist, its thematic contrast as a straightforward 4/4 melodic metal number with echoes of soulful classic rock greats like Journey is signature Redemption. Its pumping Neal Schon type stadium-rock guitar tones and sturdy rhythm are punctured by Megadeth esque riffing, borrowing from the Dave Mustaine playbook of combining the choppy with the smooth, offering two people’s two opposite perspectives on coping with the same dire trauma. One fears change, accustomed to a lifelong history of indiscretions, and has reason to expect every circumstance to be bleak and hopeless; another takes the risk of change, seizes the chance to finally exercise discretion, and has reason to expect every circumstance to bring growth and hope, even when life seems bleak. The thick blankets of cinematic keyboards atop the uplifting Rush esque pre-chorus bear the revelation that the decisive choice is between embracing one’s fear and never living life, or embracing love and living the fullness of life.

From thereon, the paths of light and darkness markedly diverge. Friedman’s solo is played with soul and the limitless creativity that has taken flight even outside the Megadeth context, to be snuffled out as the riffing abruptly returns when one beat is cut out from 4/4 to make a bar of 7/4. Its structure is more staccato and leaning far more towards Nevermore style choppy, and yet the appearance of piano is a tower of strength withstanding the metallic barrage. While the resolution to withstand such a punishing siege requires courage, at its heart all it takes is one decision: to let love conquer fear, by opening oneself up to all of the travails that we fear about giving and receiving love, but winning the victory through the strength the experience of having loved imparts to us. The pained echoes of Friedman’s guitar are overcome by the Pain of Salvation type twinkling high-register piano, as he extends a merciful hand out to his friend left drowning in his fear.

Yet as Friedman and van Dyk stretch the meters out of 4/4 and Quirarte lugs his cymbal against the beat, it is clear that the boat is tipping, and the only person moving is the one leaning towards the edge of the water. When we have shown sufficient love, but it is not being received, to continue to extend one’s hand out to the rising water is to drain oneself of energy, to risk oneself drowning too. To know when to shake the dust off one’s feet and move on is a decision most fear even more than the one to hold on for dear life. When the electric guitar dissipates into the clarity of a Fates Warning style harmonic arpeggio and a Hangar 18 solo duel between Friedman and van Dyk resolves back into the chorus, van Dyk has reached the last of his momentous realizations: to live life in pursuit of what is possible. To dream of how things could be, but to wisely make peace with reality. Not to let perfection be the enemy of goodness. To accept the toil of the human condition that he cannot change, but to have the courage to change what he can: his response to it. As sooner rather than later, his resilience will be put to its first great test.

The phrase Hope Dies Last is itself a double ideological inversion in signature Redemption style, initially beginning with a positive, life-affirming word, then inverting it with the statement that hope dies, and then re-inverting it back to a positive statement of belief in hope as the last bastion against trying circumstances, the only solace when everything else has crumbled. The mystical impressionist piano that opens the song is the only sound holding back the suffocating silence of despair. The notes are redolent of hurt, nervous in their fearful distrust. The guitar is processed into a stark numbness, the scars left upon Alder’s soul as he reflects upon the loss of the one he loved the most. The consequences of this catastrophe are common to Redemption’s back catalog, the subject of the Kubler-Rossian journey through rage, despair, and release into transcendence that gave 2005’s The Fullness of Time its title, and the still deeper regret of losing a love that felt ordained to be in the three-song on three-album suite Sapphire, Memory, and Love Kills Us All/Life in One Day, and yet this pain is ever more excruciating than those, as it shatters his faith in the very idea of love. Both faith and love have withered away from its venom. Out of the three things that remain while we walk this earth, the last to die is hope. To light its candle in the eleventh hour leads not to a sheltered and painless, but anesthetic shell of an existence doomed to shortly dwindle into nothingness. Instead, it is willingly letting one’s wounds be ripped wide open, steeling oneself to feel every ounce of pain within their deepest crevices, but embracing the possibility of healing along with it.

The dread in the piano and fatefully rising bass crescendos to the point of no return, the consternation about as painful as the inevitable pain itself. When the rippling bass tapping sequence spurts into an ominous Zero Hour by way of Fates Warning guitar riff, the levee breaks into an unyielding groove with understated emotional urgency. The keyboards sound off in a wailing air raid siren as faith is the first of the three to fail, slipping away so discreetly in this skeptical day and age we don’t even realize we’ve lost it. Chris Poland’s guitar solos throb weakly, the feeble gasps of a heart struggling to draw breath as love dies an ever more violent death, of which we cannot avoid feeling every last agonizing pang. Yet every labored breath is one moment of not giving up. Even while we mourn a loss near and dear, our daily life inevitably goes on. Simply continuing to live is an acknowledgement that all is not lost. The chorus riffing is an impregnable fortress with the melodic structure of Megadeth and the busy drumming of Rush. Alder’s voice remains adamant in his persuasive mid-register that hope is the most dogged fighter, the piano buried so deeply underneath the riffing that we don’t even recognize we have it. That only when we breathe our last would all hope be truly gone.

The inexorable verse riff persists as hope slowly trickles away toward that terminal state. Losing blood saps our energy, the nourishment necessary for our body to function and the oxygen for our lungs to breathe. Yet losing hope saps away the reason to make our body function and our lungs breathe. Even as they continue unabated, we only wish for them to stop. Yet every time hope dwindles, we become more aware of the hope we still have left. Primitive snare and rhythm chords crash against a desperate guitar and bass lead unison as we fight with the most primal instincts we have, to preserve that last dying ember in the darkness at all costs.

The resolution of Poland and van Dyk‘s solo exchange into the auspicious tone of the Rush style synth leads half-reminiscent of Tom Sawyer is the first true glimmer of light. It irresistibly draws forth the one who has stumbled through blackness for as long as he can remember, and yet makes the blackness surrounding him look that much blacker. Alder’s voice rises above the wall of guitar riffage to declare his steadfast commitment to victory, no matter the setback. Even if he should lose a battle, he will win the war.

As the war of attrition wages on, his resolve is stressed to its breaking point. The short victorious burst of van Dyk’s lead solo is momentarily stifled by reality. He is beset with moments of weakness as Quirarte’s resolutely sturdy drumbeat is ever so often cracked apart by a syncopated accent. What is the point? Is hope as useful as beating a dead horse to wake it up? As living in such denial as to continue our daily life pretending she is alive, but yet she is dead and never coming back? Is hope really just a lack of self-respect, the willingness to mortify oneself in the misbegotten pursuit of a pipe dream? Yet as irrational as it may seem, caring not for a dignified surrender but, if it should lose, insistent on fighting to the last man’s bloody slaughter, hope is the greatest resilience of the human condition. As the chorus towers atop the darkness of the original riff sequences, an optimistic guitar line emerges above the final stanza of lyrics, the solemn gratefulness for the spiritual gift of hope.

The acknowledgement of a higher source to his hope gives the final impetus to the cathartic climax with Quirarte pounding his toms frantically underneath bombastic, uplifting orchestration. As they boom and thunder in primitive tribal patterns, the war has reached its most fierce and intense conflict. The cross he bears on his shoulders has become heavier than the weight of the world itself. And yet just ahead is the moment when that weight is lifted off. Hope lies broken and bleeding, but hope dies last. The keyboards quiver and tremble with anxious anticipation as Poland wrings every last inch of length from his frets and every possible bend and emote, rising triumphantly in a prayer of thanksgiving to the majestic skies, as Quirarte’s signature double kick crescendo propels the song towards its stirring finale.

That Golden Light could belong to the Neal Morse playbook, catchy up-tempo pop styled chorus and sound-somewhat-religious lyrics included. Yet instead it is the counterpart to Damaged, the resolution to Hope Dies Last: the chronicle of two people broken in so many places by the experience of having loved and lost that their hearts’ jagged edges make the prospect of joining them together almost prohibitively painful. But when they risk losing the little they have left by giving themselves in love to each other, what’s left of them repairs the other’s broken pieces to make them whole together. The song gives me hope that falling in love will someday become a reality for me, to continue the journey of healing This Mortal Coil set me on five years ago.

A Criss Oliva type solo guitar piece glacially thaws the icy coldness retained in the guitar arpeggio behind Alder, as apprehension in the face of their past slowly gives way to the tentative hope that somehow, some way, they can fit together without causing each other agony so unbearable they will push each other out of their arms and into lovelorn despair. As they join the dance of love, the toms and snare gently sway in a nervous trance, the Matheos-esque distorted guitar line trembling with trepidation. As their fingers first meet, the thought of accepting another human’s touch is as intimidating as touching a burning hot stove. And yet with a re-discovery of faith and love for each other, the intense heat instead begins to melt hearts of ice. He and she sing the warm, sincere, tender chorus as encouragement to each other, their earnest vow that they will never abandon each other in sickness and in health.

The cold arpeggio from the first verse is now played as a distorted guitar riff, no longer shrunken and lifeless but becoming full and vibrant, illuminated by the iridescent synth line. He and she were withering away into abandoned shells of who they once were, but are both awakening back to life renewed. Every day is a new beginning. Every moment is a memory to be treasured forever. But will we live every day and every moment for what they are? Or will we build with the sky as the limit but forget our foundations until the day our life’s work topples to the ground?

Rebuilding their lives from the foundations up requires the radical commitment the two of them have made their life’s creed. No secret can be hidden. No word can be left unsaid. No chance can not be taken. Every act of love is a gamble, that someday the love we give will be returned in kind. That surrendering oneself is the way to discover one’s true self. To become no longer the person we once were, but more like what we love. In a certain sense, love does kill us all. But it puts to death the most selfish parts of us, allowing what remains to live more abundantly. To be ready to love, we cannot cling to our ego. To be ready to be loved, we cannot wallow in unworthiness and shame. Love on earth is a process by which we are purged of these faults before moving on. Where one day on earth we may stand in the healing light of our soulmate’s presence and feel a glimpse of perfection, one day in another time and place we may stand in that perfect golden light that was once just a glimpse, and experience an unconditional love infinitely greater than even the unending bliss of loving our soulmate, for there shall be no pain nor heartbreak.

van Dyk’s rhythm guitar line oscillates excitedly and Quirarte’s drum fills explode with zest, throwing all caution to the wind as he and she are enraptured in the thrill of life as it was meant to be lived. The pursuit of love in its purest form, and the willingness to embrace risk to achieve it. A passionate exchange of solos welds their hearts forever together with the flame of faithfulness. van Dyk bends his last note into one final embellishment, consonant with the interval to bring their hearts into perfect harmony. The final chorus with hearty ad-lib backing vocals perpetually reaffirms these vows until they overwhelm the entire mix, a light shining so brilliantly the most vivid memories of the darkness behind are mere shadows. With the final two words “heal me” sung a cappella, their wounds are finally sealed and life goes on.

Thirty Silver is the antithesis to this resolution, exploring the polar opposite nadir of such a relationship, a vintage Redemption theme: betrayal. Its mud-churning opening riff, turbulent double bass and grungy vocal lines come straight from the Megadeth arsenal, but it becomes distinctively Redemption as the firestorm of unhinged guitar solos are overcast with synthesizer. The desertion of his best friend in a time of need leaves him alone to face the oncoming storm, itself a mere flutter in the wind compared to the hurricane that rages inside him. Bitterness pours out like seven bowls of wrath as the main riff rampages ominously and Alder gnarls out an ever so pitying tirade against his turncoat. That even though the one he thought was his best friend left him drowning, it was a fear of action to protect him that was his greatest sin. That even as he scowls out that “there’s a special place in hell for the disloyal,” the piano underneath that line laments the emotional state that made it possible for his friend to fail him. How he was so blind to the loyalty and devotion shown to him that he had none to give in return. How he could be filled so much with himself and yet deign to demand the exact opposite from someone else, to empty himself into him, until they both sink.

As the taut bassline topples away from the root guitar chord, the china cymbal crashes on the upbeats to capsize the boat. His bearings are lost as he clutches at straws to stay above water. He is strapped for refuge and fighting back the waves, washing away the wreckage of his boat and battering against the levees he has carefully built up around himself. His physical wounds will heal with time, but the wounds to his soul from betrayal cannot be healed by physical means, and maybe not even by time. Quirarte’s hi-hat throbs on and off atop the red-burnished chorus as pain radiates out from his innermost being through the flickering keyboard line. His flesh is willing but the spirit is weak. How can he swim through the tide to find security when a promise of security is what sent him overboard?

Swathes of chunky riffs devolve into a Nevermore style unison of choppy jackhammer riffing with a pandemoniac shredding duel between Poland, Friedman, and Chris Broderick, a momentous event even the most diehard Megadeth aficionado could never conceive of actually happening. Friedman’s solo is angular, atonal, a scattering of debris as the rhythm guitars finally abate to give way to a slick bass anchor. While he is momentarily safe, the waves swell dead ahead as van Dyk unleashes the seventh string of his guitar, darkening the clouds to a malignant black as the sea rumbles hungrily. One was so afraid of the wave that he jumped his ship, and meanwhile the other has become tethered to that ship and if he does not cut ties with it and lets the betrayal control him, he will drown in the depths. Friedman relentlessly pounds out a discordant chord more grating and devastating than anything he may have ever played in Megadeth, a series of single-minded tameless blows to the rope that once symbolized trust and brotherhood, the exorcism of the rage against his former friend’s affront to his own dignity. To those who besmirch the higher calling and God-given dignity and value of humanity by living at a Neanderthal stage of spiritual evolution, as if they were merely animals.

As the furious gale of lead guitars intensifies, he is battered and tossed by the wind and tide, but free of the dead weight, he doggedly stays afloat. Now having faced the storm that scared another into abandoning ship, he has greater sympathy for those who fear it. It was not malice that caused his betrayal, but cowardice. While cowardice is a great flaw, it is a tragic one, as the greatest role model can have all his imperfections laid bare to his followers through one act of cowardice. Someone who can talk the talk and walk the walk has it all. Someone who can’t walk the walk is so close and yet so far away from who he could be. While left reeling and cynical, Alder has passed through the eye of the storm and set himself on the path to overcome his damaged trust, to become someone who can do both.

While he can hope for his companion to face the repercussions of his choice and save himself, there is nothing further he can do. The chorus repeats twice, the second time with a tense staccato riff figure and Alder’s voice electrified by a surge of panic as he sees the proverbial Judas climbing up the tree and measuring out a rope. He repeatedly intones part of the last phrase of the chorus, constantly holding back the word “noose” as the lead guitar wrenches into an ever more frenetic climax, the burgeoning fearful thoughts of the man about to yank the rope tied around his neck. As Alder finally lets the word drop off the cliff and suspend into midair, Quirarte unleashes a suffocating barrage of double kick which crashes to a halt on an unresolved chord one beat early. It is the ignominious end to a life who feared the consequences of a choice so much that he resigned himself to a legacy of unending shame. Who bears the weight of his sins upon the rope that once promised life to another and now strangles the life out of him.

The rebuttal to Thirty Silver is the dedication of loyalty and trust, The Center of the Fire, its spirited Iron Maiden esque dual guitar harmonies immediately dispelling the caustic juggernaut that came before. The poetic rendering of the Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s world-beloved inspirational poem The Invitation examines the strengths and weaknesses of every human. The lies we tell ourselves and others about the source of our character: not wealth, status, and fame, but rather our integrity, courage, goals in life, love for others, and ultimately the scars we bear from living true to them all.

van Dyk, Andrews and Quirarte strip down to the bare essentials of a 4/4 metal groove, placing undivided focus on the lyrics as Alder conversationally addresses the audience with blunt honesty. The riff bristles with the desire to reach a resolution as the keyboards pulse in rhythm, offering a pointed challenge to conventional wisdom. It is said that you are what you eat, and truer is you are what you do. But far truer, and far more important, is you are what you long for. What would it feel like to possess it? How far would you go if it meant you could? Would you risk losing what you have to gain what you want? The riff builds from its cautious beginning into an enterprising staccato figure, carefully calculating its every tread into the unknown. Many have already known what it is like to lose everything when they have chased after love. Whoever has known loss has felt the very essence of sorrow and come to value the smallest of joys. Has being hurt shut us off to any possibility of trust, or made us place greater trust in the people who have earned it? The one who learns to trust again learns to trust judiciously, when it is placed for the right reasons, in those who have shown true virtue.

Poland’s scantily restrained solo transforms into an excited unison between Quirarte’s Nicko McBrain hyperactive kick drum, and van Dyk’s serpentine riffing and restlessly vivacious piano line. While the scorching riffery is at its most intense, so is the light radiating from the fire at its brightest. As we walk on hot coals, can we bear the pain we feel, without bottling it up or trying to numb it or artificially drown it, but not being ashamed of our pain and letting it heal naturally, acquiring a natural immunity that augments our resilience? On the other side, can we seize joy without restraint, letting gratitude guide our every step to accomplish things we never dreamed of? Things we would never have dared do? Things everyone tells us can’t be done?

The cut-time wide-open chorus with Quirarte emphatically pounding out a basic beat freezes this very moment, slowing to an almost complete standstill where nothing exists but him and her. He exhorts his partner to be the one who fills all his longings, the one whose soul burns with passion as blazing as his. The one whose passions will overcome all divisions until they become one mind and one heart. The one he desires wholeheartedly because of her resilience, courage, and integrity. The ability to stand with him in the center of the fire and not run away, even as the flames scorch their every hair, skin and bone. The flames fuse their fingers together until their bond is forged in the furnace of the refiner’s fire. When we walk through flames, the weak become ashes and dust, and the strong become diamonds.

van Dyk’s piano joyfully waltzes through the dazzling fluorescent riffing, its temperature boiling over the once simple arrangement that began simmering through the second verse into an urgent, volatile guitar riff, a sizzling rocket ready to fire. It erupts into a hammering unison battery of guitar riffing and kick drum in 7/8 with van Dyk’s futuristic Moog-like keyboard lead similar to Richard West of Threshold. Waves of 6/4 syncopation between walls of guitar chords and off-beat snare hits fire in all directions, as Poland’s solo blazes up the scale, sputters out, consumes itself and grows again, until the day comes when the phoenix lies in hibernation, engulfed by the silent darkness. But resounding still into the silence is the beckoning echo of the beauty that came before. The beautiful piano line always remains, calling to us all to be found wherever it lies. Can you look at the desert and see not the miles of empty sand, but the one lonely flower? Can just that one flower make the whole desert beautiful? Can you live every day spent in darkness not as if it were dark, but as if the sun was about to come out? When haunted by the shadows of despair, can you refuse to let it consign you to groveling in wait for the sun, but to let your light shine before others, that they may see a glimpse of the sun?

Mularoni, Poland and van Dyk respond with an extravagant solo duel with the preceding riff sequence, so captivated by the enveloping light that all fear and doubt are extinguished. But when the chorus drumbeat reoccurs, heralding the descending darkness, van Dyk’s solo gradually extinguishes into a dark, cold guitar arpeggio with Alder’s grave tone reaching its lowest register. The final chapter, the final test. When you flew to the sun and your wings failed, and the fire began to sizzle out, can you delve within the deepest recesses of your soul to stoke the flame? Can you endure failure with grace and dignity, and look at yourself in the mirror to accept yourself for being human? To not surrender your wings, but make them stronger? To remember not how far you fell, but how high you rose? In the moments when life tells you “no,” can you say “yes” to life?

The recurrence of the chorus at this moment resounds with the raw emotion of Evergrey. Knowing the ordeals that loom ahead of him, he lays bare before her his need for her to be all these things, and more. Though her innocent face is shot through with a twinge of fear, she gazes into his gleaming eyes to see a glimpse of hope. This moment of indecision reaches an overwhelming emotional zenith as Alder pleads for the only chance he has left never to leave him or forsake him. His plaintive tone reaches the stratospheric heights of Bruce Dickinson and even sounds precisely like him on the very final phrase. Just before the cymbal and guitar can crash one final time, the song stops without resolution, putting the onus on everyone to make this decision once and for all. Are you strong enough to take the heat or will you run out of the kitchen?

Lyrically, a cover of The Who’s classic Love Reign o’er Me is eminently apropos to the Redemption ethos, its very theme redemption from a life of misdirection and loneliness. Its iconic sound of falling rain depicts Pete Townshend’s pitiable character’s morose emotional state. Piano phrases nervously stop, start, and trail off in varying rhythmic permutations, the scattered broken pieces of his life. He bows his head in a moment of despair, pounding the same dissonant low-register chord and letting it settle into the most distant, forlorn highest register as he takes one final look away from what lies below him, up to what looks down upon him from above.

The sky cries for the man on the edge of the island in the sea, ready to throw himself off. But instead of a literal jump, casting himself into the depths below, he figuratively jumps into the arms of love. Townshend’s spiritual advisor and inspiration for the song, Meher Baba, believed rain was a blessing from God, a baptism given to the one willing to leave everything behind. The rain that was once his sorrow becomes a cleansing rain from above, washing away all his mistakes and all of his past regrets. The raggedy voice of Roger Daltrey is channeled by the contrast between Alder’s desert-weathered introspection and the unrestrained fervor of Armored Saint’s John Bush, an acknowledgement of the decadences and emptiness of the past, and the reckless abandon of the present, as he throws the scooter that symbolized his past life plummeting into the sea instead of its rider. Unlike the many that seek a release from pain by choosing the drop to their deaths, he does not have to end his future to end his past.

The silvery cinematic wash atop the opening stanza is the first ray of white light through the gray clouds. van Dyk successfully duplicates the original mystique of the passage while drawing from his extensive classical background. But his addition of crunchier metal guitars and drums transposes some of the innocent wonder and gratefulness that the song opens with into the hunger and zeal for change that defines the bridge. The yearning he felt in the desert for the rain to come. The realization that everywhere he has been before now has been a desert and what he was seeking unawares all along lies right before him, now. To not just be grateful for the opportunity to live life again, but seize it by the horns. To devour life and suck the marrow from each day.

Townshend’s guitar solo retains much of its bluesiness while also informed by the Iron Maiden school of harmony and van Dyk’s gift for smooth, economical warm melodic phrasing. Andrews’ jubilant rendition of John Entwistle’s lively bass work is as proudly unrestrained as the legend, a free spirit not confined to its dark lowest register, but instead brightening the arrangement with its dreamy improvisation. Quirarte’s fills retain the grand, swaying waltz of the 6/8 meter while balancing it with the brash spirit of Keith Moon. But rather than the reckless self-destructive life Moon lived, the song offers a chance to live recklessly in a different sense, without being constrained by fear of the difficult choices we make. Fear of the choice that most radically changes one’s life: to love.

Quirarte’s commanding snare amplifies Bush’s fierce declaration of the iconic chorus anthem, reverberating with such intensity as to be heard in the skies above. His piercing scream of the word “love” elevates Poland’s solo into the stratosphere, enveloping the entire arrangement in one last unimaginably powerful declaration of love’s reign over all things, as the band grind their brakes with all the tectonic power of the signature rock band concert outro. Poland lets his guitar disappear beyond the range of human hearing, the distant echoes of the prayer “love, reign o’er me” as it reaches heaven. As the prayer of a contrite heart is heard, the last sound fades away into peace surpassing all understanding.

At Day’s End encapsulates the entire journey in one tremendous 22-minute epic, running a gauntlet of peaks and valleys in the two people’s lives, with as much of a musical gauntlet necessary to express them. The tender, intimate acoustic opening reminiscent of The Trees by Rush portrays love innocent and virginal, the perfect night spent in a hotel after senior prom, our dreams accomplished and all barriers ahead cleared, and a whole life ahead to love unreservedly. But when a solemn Steve Harris galloping bassline leads into the bombastic rendition of Infernal Dance by Stravinsky atop crashing cymbals and booming toms, the experience of love becomes far removed from a happily ever after Disney fantasy. Chaos ensues with a Watchtower type shredding riff unison with battering double bass, then harnessed into a charging riff with the trademark James Hetfield forward attack, its time signatures morphing and building as the going gets tough. van Dyk and Mularoni introduce themes recurring later in the piece, representing the confusion and apprehension of change. For who would want change when everything is perfect?

When Alder finally appears, the guitar arpeggio sparkles and reverberates exactly like Jim Matheos, in a passage that could come straight from Fates Warning‘s Parallels. As they lay in the cozy luxuriant hotel at twilight, the world around them has gone silent. Nestled next to him is the treasure of his life, the one he has come to suspect is his soulmate. They have already come so far since they met each other as freshmen. Through the clarity of his gaze upon her peacefully sleeping form, he sees everything the past years have shown him about her. Her ravishing bright blue eyes are windows into her soul. And yet his youthful mind’s perception is ever so slightly unrefined, not yet mature enough to fully understand love, to see it for the greatest of all blessings that it is. If he could just see inside her mind, he would see herself for what she truly is. What defines her is what she longs for, and she dreams of nothing greater than to love and cherish him all her life. They may dream of each other, but are her dreams part of his? For he has his own dreams that he can’t express in words. Though he reigns on top of the earth, he yearns to fly to the sun.

From then on, he is physically by her side, but mentally on a voyage of his own that takes him far away from his destiny. The metaphor of Icarus, the Greek mythological representation of overachiever’s hubris, is a caveat to the exhortation to live life with abandon. While life is not about the destination, but the journey, we must be safely grounded in our destination for the journey to be successful. Whatever we dream about, if we pursue it with broken wings, we will fall out of the sky and find our greatest dreams have given us our worst nightmares.

Militaristic drum patterns march with a mixture of fear and wonder at the impending takeoff. van Dyk’s piano soars with abandon as he hungrily fixes his gaze to the boundless skies above. His riffs grind and clatter in offbeat time signatures as the bulky aircraft creakily lifts off the ground, dipping ever so slightly in foreshadowing as the plane struggles for every inch of altitude. The electronic radio chatter somewhat like Depeche Mode feeds into an anxiously climbing bass and Iron Maiden style galloping riff, rumbling with notes of turbulence as the plane rockets up to the sky against the thrust of the clamoring wind. The thrill of the unknown is colored with a measure of fear. Never would he have dreamed of defying what he had once believed, that love is the highest of all dreams. But the choices he has made have set in motion a chain of events that he feels powerless to change. Why would he turn back and have wasted both the time he spent chasing a pipe dream and the time he could have spent truly present by the side of the one that would fulfill all his dreams?

His thoughts drift from the sky to below as Alder dives into his deepest register with Doug Pinnick style soul. As he flies higher, the clouds obscure his view of what’s ahead. How accurate is our map through life? How well are we prepared to navigate through the vast expanse of the skies to reach home, while staying airborne through turbulence and storm? If we don’t have the facility to choose to make the right choices, are we as good as blind? He flies on and on, vainly searching for a revelation of his destination ahead. As the day wears on, he is no closer than when he began. No matter how fast he flies, time flies faster than him. Awareness of mortality haunts his soul as much as it ravages his once unblemished face. His time is growing ever shorter and he must achieve something that won’t be forgotten before it is too late.

Andrews’ solo bass piece trails off randomly into a deserted nighttime wilderness as he is temporarily grounded. The keyboards cast a wispy trail of smoke and ashes he has left behind him. Now so far away from home, wrestling with the will to turn back but without the energy to carry it out, the road behind is more on his mind than the road ahead. Alder’s vocals rise in a cheerful Peter Gabriel theatrical manner and then fall back to a somber tone, echoing into the distance of the past with mixed emotions. We make choices, some good and some bad, every one of them a footprint in the sand behind us, the sand that later comes to pave the path of our future. One misstep can lead us somewhere far away from where we meant to go. Yet no matter how far we have run astray, one step in the right direction paves the way for two, then four, then eight, until we find our way again. But with no map and no sign around us to guide our way through this land of confusion, what pushes us to make that one step?

Suddenly, the lights of civilization as he knows it flicker in the distance between the impenetrable maze of the trees. Undeterred, he makes a beeline for the forest through van Dyk’s rushing 15/8 meter and surging keyboard line. The slowly descending riffs collapse into an adrenaline-soaked chug, blindly charging and hacking through the endless detritus of a knotty forest, over Mularoni’s heavily Michael Romeo influenced neo-classical solo barrage. As the obstruction is cleared to leave only a solo guitar, van Dyk’s phrasing coalesces into a clarity of purpose, as he resolves to make the best out of his detour and get back home with the fuel he has left.

The charming tubular bells that greet the morning strongly recall Rush’s Xanadu, an impression soon bolstered by a sparkling Alex Lifeson chord sequence, combining his signature angular chord structure and sense of space with Neil Peart’s signature on-off hi-hat. The metallic rhythm guitars return in muscular steady straight 4/4 tempo, gradual in their careful optimism, yet underscored by an ever so slight existential dread. That perhaps his newfound judicious self is too careful, that he should risk falling again rather than stay carefully on course but not have the time or energy to make it home. Not every day will be bright and sunny. We only have so many chances to make choices. His misdirection has created for himself a maze which he must unravel in order to prevent himself from trapping himself inside the walls of his own fantasies. Her rapturous voice is Ariadne’s thread, slowly pulling him out of his solitary prison. Yet even as he races home, he is locked in a sprint with time. No matter what we do, it does not slow down the hands on the clock and the rotation of the earth. Our present creates our future. But we can’t begin to fathom the future repercussions of our choices in the present time, until the day when we reap what we sow. Having sown the seeds of estrangement and seen the weeds threaten to strangle their relationship, he now pours all his energy into sowing seeds of their future. Even though the wasted years will be an obstacle for a long time to come, he hopes that someday if he nurtures their love, the soil will revitalize and the weeds will wither and die.

The seeds he has sown begin to bear fruit and his life blooms into prosperity. The cherubic acoustic strumming, paying homage to Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill complete with the steady thumping kick drum, captures van Dyk’s 15 minutes of fame in his own mind. His moment of glory as he basks content in the banquet of the accomplishments of his life, and his sheer fortune at still being alive, five years after This Mortal Coil, repudiating his death sentence to thrive as a hotshot film executive, musician, husband and father. And more than that, to live to testify to the hope he found in his moments of hopelessness. But could he rest on his laurels? Is contentment the enemy of growth? What dreams would we have left to dream if everything was how we wanted it? Would living the existence we dreamed of take away our ability to dream at all? If we moved to our favorite island paradise, could we resist the urge to never come back?

Though he gazes down at the wild splendor below him, its value begins to depreciate as he realizes how much he overlooked something far more valuable. The fact that she once was as young and free as him, and yet was someone totally different than him. Someone who possessed the wisdom he is beginning to grasp. Out of the countless paths she could have taken with her life, out of all the time in the world she could have invested in pursuing whatever endeavor she wanted, she chose to devote all of it to one goal that he is always grateful for: she chose to love him with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength. Alder’s sentimental voice and a keyboard solo of magnificent beauty exude thankfulness for this greatest gift of all. As days turn into months, their tears begin to dry up and their wounds close.

All of a sudden, his awakening to love becomes a nightmare. A ferocious Slayer influenced thrash assault with maniacal soloing. Dave Lombardo pounding drums with erratically firing kick. Turmoil has struck out of the blue as the tower he built to the sky is beset with gale-force winds and begins to creak towards a sudden inevitable doom. The thrash segues into a riff following the exact chord progression of Dust in the Wind by Kansas, its timeless notes lending a sense of existential despair to the frenzied picking technique, the agonizing loss of all he ever knew laid waste in an instant. The confusion leitmotif is recast on guitar as the house he built on sand tumbles under Quirarte’s explosive drum fill. Everything he had labored for in his life without secure foundation has been destroyed. All his accomplishments are now dust in the wind.

A bass and drum unison hobbles out from the rubble. Quirarte’s syncopated drumline and deft cymbal accents play all at once, a cacophony of the voices of their every panicked thought that renders them deaf to the outside world. Mathematical start-stop riffing follows the drumbeat, in time signatures as paradoxical as the self-destructive human tendencies that led to this unspeakable cataclysm. We spend half our lives lying and the other half covering up the lies. Half burning bridges and half trying to build them again. Half disguising ourselves and half finding someone else in disguise. Half wanting not to be seen and half wanting to see the same plasticity in everyone else. All the time, never really living. A sitting duck when tragedy comes to claim their livelihoods. He has lived a life of pretending he was someone he never could be, deluded to think that she would love him for who he never was and become someone she never was. But there are certain experiences we endure in our lives which irrevocably change our character. His disguises cannot hold when its manifestation in his life collapsed. The riff sequence sustains throughout the overarching message that comes to close the piece much later. It would be itself a paradox for us to throw out the disguises that have come to serve as our face, and forsake the existence we have come to affirm as reality, as shallow a mere existence as it may be. Yet when that false reality falls down into smithereens, this is the only way to pick up the pieces that once constituted our livelihood and build a new life with love as the foundation. When love becomes all he has, love becomes all he needs.

In the midst of loss comes the comforting piano, unadorned and stripped down to the basic 4/4 as their souls are exposed bare before each other inside the wreckage of their past. Though his face has greeted her every morning for as long as she can remember, she still looks at him as if he’s a stranger. Something about the ordeal has changed him to his very core. But then deep inside, she recognizes that he has come full circle, to the person he should have been now if he had never left. The pulsating riff elevates their heartbeat as her breath quickens expectantly, waiting for him to speak the words that will soothe her aching soul. But both of them are still wordlessly gathering their thoughts, as their gazes lock together in that moment in time, as the bassline guides Alder’s voice to duplicate the melody from the state of retrospection from long ago. If they could travel back in time to that night in paradise, would he still run astray only to rediscover his way, before his love could be true? Would she still choose him, even if she knew in that hotel room what suffering she would have to endure before her love was returned in truth? Was it all worth it?

In hindsight, never would he regret any choice he has made, as changing his greatest regret in his past might take away the greatest blessing in his present. As he surrenders its burden, he surrenders himself wholeheartedly to the second chance that comes to embrace him as he embraces it with open arms. The piano line and military drum march from the introduction long before no longer herald his departure, but his arrival back home. The realization he chased all along in the skies was right beside him. In unison, they brave the one final resolution that their love is worth risking everything for. That they will not give up on flying because they have fallen from great heights. But the purpose of their ordeals was to realize that they should never need to chase their dreams alone. They have given each other their wings. And this time, they will fly hand in hand, catching each other if they should fall.

As Redemption triumphantly march inevitably toward their patented major-keyed finale with Savatage grandiosity, the piano shimmers and blossoms like the sun rising above the clouds, steadily growing brighter and thicker as the constant drumbeat gradually grows thicker and fuller. The years they spent emotionally torn apart, the months they spent stitching their lives back together, only to have it ripped apart at the seams, are but a dying memory from a past lifetime already dead and buried. van Dyk’s solo bursts into the wide open sky, a flower blooming in the springtime sun, the kick drum accelerating to escape velocity as the ecstasy of their imminent takeoff to a nearly unbearable apex of emotion. The orchestration crashes into a resplendent, gloriously uplifting finale reminiscent of Neal Morse-era Spock’s Beard, with Alder’s voice bathed in the most brilliant golden light radiating from the scintillating rays of van Dyk’s guitar. Together they have lived their lives in this one day, and at day’s end, all semblance of a disguise is gone. They hold nothing back from each other. They carry nothing with them but each other’s love. As all the pieces of their lives before this moment lay scattered on the sun-baked ground, they picked them up and built their wings.

The cathartic final chord disappears with them into the clouds, leaving the eternal strains of the opening acoustic serenade. The love song remains the same, yet the key change signifies they are older and wiser, the notes resonating far deeper with the weight of the years lived since the last time. But now that they have lived through sickness, health, rich, poor, better, worse, their doubts have proven vain and empty. Their faith in each other has been realized. Their hope in each other has been fulfilled. And ultimately, their love for each other has proven true. Their hearts will beat as one, until death do they part. And even then, the memory of having loved so perfectly and unconditionally will, as it always has, be stronger than the pain of a last parting sigh. Until, at day’s end, they reunite in the place where all tears will be wiped away, all pain will cease, and love will last forever.

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