Goddamn I love music.
It’s a never-ending thing too, you see. Just when I think it has run out of gas, that maybe the passion has finally left, BAM!!!!, it slaps me upside the head with a brutal reminder that I know precisely jack shit. Not saying that nothing good has come out lately, far from it. There have been some outstanding releases in the past years, but it’s been a while since THAT album came out. The one that shook me to my core and made me have to sit down and reconsider how music and I relate to each other. And most importantly, that delightful pondering of where it will take me next. There are options out there again, possibilities, the musical future is a bright sunny day and I’m skipping like an idiot through it. The responsible party for this upheaval? Lebanese band Ostura, with their sophomore output The Room.
The Room was a massive team effort, with Ostura members at the core pulling the strings. The writing credits are shared by Danny Bou-Maroun(keyboards, orchestrations) and Elia Monsef(vocals). Fellow Ostura members consisted of Youmna Jriessati(vocals), Alain Ibrahim(acoustic, rhythm guitars, guitar co-arrangements) and Alexander Abi Chaker(percussion, drum co-arrangements). Then, they brought in a bevy of brilliance to fill out the epic scale sound that is presented here. The principle players are Michael Mills(vocals), Thomas Lang(drums), and Dan Veall(bass). The massive soundscapes are provided by the City of Prague Philharmonic and the Lebanese Filmscoring Ensemble(choir, string quartet). Lead guitar duties are shared by Marco Sfogli, Arjen Anthony Lucassen, and Ozgur Abbak. And if that wasn’t enough, the finishing touches were provided by the king Midas of mixing himself, Jens Bogren. Put all this into a six-year labor of love, and it’s hardly surprising that the outcome was nothing short of spectacular.
So, let’s start with the concept first, the story of a socially recluse girl who locks herself in a room. In that room, her imagination turns it into an endless venture of self-discovery. Eventually, her creations begin to affect the creator, turning the story into a looping adventure of growth and change, touching on all the aspects of the girl that held her as a recluse to begin with. Lyrically it’s a very textured album, with lots of allusions and layers of emotions. It’s one of those that you have to work through to really get it, and just like peeling an onion, with each layer you get through, another one awaits. It grows with you.
Musically, this is where the album takes no prisoners. The one thing that really makes it stand out from the pack is the relationship between the traditional metal instruments and the orchestral and choir elements. They pushed this, for me at least, into undiscovered territories. Usually one or the other will take a lead, or the orchestral elements are there just to color the music, but with The Room, they blend into each other in a way I’ve never heard before. It seems that they belonged together, this exact way, the whole time. While this is well demonstrated throughout the album, it really shines on Let There Be, where the interplay is virtually seamless. It gives the album an absolutely massive soundscape to play with, and no stone is left unturned. The music scape is only enhanced by the trio of vocalist, with Jriessati playing a beautiful soul between Monsef’s piercing highs and Mills’ forceful middles. They share the stage together selflessly, and as a result all shine. As to our bevy of guest musicians, they deliver as one would expect of such talent.
The album was written chronologically, starting with The Room, and the girl’s gasping breaths of anxiety immediately set us on edge. The next few tracks set up the conflict between the three parties, with Erosion(Elia) and Utopia(Mills) vying for top spot in the girl’s psyche. Three of these, Escape, Beyond, and Erosion are monstrously heavy tracks, delivering the huge soundscape with sheer authority. The other two, Let There Be and Only One, are more cinematic in their hugeness, though not by any means lacking power on their own. Mourning Light serves as the real transition track, a pure ballad with only Jriessati belting it out. From here on out, the album kicks into overdrive, beating us up and down through thirty plus minutes of music.
Deathless, the pre-release single, opens with massive notes worthy of a superhero movie preview. It’s just the beginning my friends, the track picks up a frantic pace, and combined with the overpowering scope of the sound, makes for a harrowing ride. Darker Shade of Black is just killer, bringing all the elements of the album together. The Surge, my personal favorite track, is a beast, and has one of the best finishes I’ve ever heard. Duality is the penultimate track, a twelve-minute epic to bring the story to a close, with the melodic Exit the Room finishing the album out.
The whole album is one of those musical landscapes that words can’t do justice to. Ostura deserves a tremendous amount of credit and praise, of which I’m sure will be laid on in the coming months. They’ve re-set the bar in my mind. Pretty much every rock and metal album that comes around these parts, in one way or another, reminds me why I love music in general, but very, very few change my perception of music, expanding and enhancing it. The metal world is a massive bubble, and Ostura managed to push it out further, giving everyone else just a bit more room to play in.