Saying someone is a ‘jack of all trades’ is like damning them with faint praise because, it is usually followed by ‘but master of none’, implying that they can turn their hand to anything but, perhaps, are doing too many things to become extremely proficient in one. I feel that, in the world of music, this trend is bucked to a certain extent. Many stand-out musicians are found producing theirs and others recordings to a very high standard and, you see multi-talented musicians turning up all over the place on other artists releases, quite often showing a talent that is not normally associated with them in their ‘paying’ jobs. To be honest, it quite often leaves me feeling jealous and inadequate, these supremely talented people pop up all over the musical industry showing off their highly honed skills as musicians and producers and I can’t even hum a tune (trust me, you don’t even want me to try).
As you may well know, recently I have reviewed two excellent artists from the Layered Reality stables and, it was with some interest, I was extremely keen to get my hands on the debut release from Layered Reality’s supremo, Tom De Wit’s band Mind:Soul. Hailing from The Netherlands, Tom de Wit is a composer, arranger, singer, guitarist and synth player and has been making music since he was 14 years old for his own Symfo/Prog Metal project TDW and is the lead singer and one of the main songwriters in the Progressive Metal band Mind:Soul.
Workaholic Tom has his own studio set up in which he produces his own music and also that of other artists and bands, in this studio he beavers away on Audio, Video and web design related projects. Last but not least, as previously stated, Tom is the main person behind the Layered Reality Productions label which is a non-profit music label in which artists and bands combine their talents to give new progressive, symphonic and avant-garde music a bigger stage worldwide. Completing the Mind:Soul line up on the album we have Roland le Fèvre (Piano & Synths), Jim O.S. Ilden (Guitars), Joey Klerkx (Bass Guitars & Vocals), Stefan van Leeuwenstijn (Guitars) and Raul Tamas (Drums). Mind:Soul have been together since 2010 and released two EPs and a split DVD, The Way It Should Be is their debut full length release and is a concept-record that deals with love, compassion and a sense of longing, but also with hatred, disappointment and a feeling of worthlessness. In this album, a male and female character are presented which fall in love, break up, get into a terrible fight and finally end up learning a lot about each other and themselves. (This is of course, a very crude and fast summary, but you get the idea.)
To my very prejudiced ears, classic progressive metal has been making a comeback recently, along with the progressive rock genre as a whole and, The Way it Should Be is another excellent addition to the ranks of quality progressive metal albums. Album opener Breakpoint Hour actually does not give any idea of what stylish metal is to come being rather generic in its composition, efficient keyboards, adequate riffing and an above average vocal providing a rather middle of the road feel to the start of this album. However, as we get into the meat of the song, things definitely take a turn for the better with a definite Rush and Dream Theater vibe running throughout and a smile appearing on my face. There is a definite early 90’s progressive metal feel to Novae with its cool opening, especially the excellent bass work and the whole track just blossoms into a supreme exposition of the genre. The powerful chorus just begs to be sung along to (don’t worry, I held myself back) and the guitar work is phenomenal, the guitar/synth break in the middle of the track is seriously clever slice of music, very impressed with this song indeed.
Sequence #1 is, as the title suggests, one of 3 interludes that are interspersed throughout the album and has some nice incidental music playing over a conversation between the man and woman with a low, soft vocal taking up the story, this then runs smoothly into Pillow Talk which starts with a more laid back, piano led intro and an emotional timbre to the voice before a crunching riff and harsh, growling vocal crash the party. The song takes on a much more metal edge with powerful guitars, thumping drums and faster pace. It’s an emotional punch in the face and a solid track that steps of the accelerator a bit towards the end as it smoothly integrates with Drown Together. Piano heavy again at the start with an almost electronic drum beat, the vocal having a melancholy edge which fits in with the whole atmosphere of the song, leaving a feeling of sadness in the air. This is a muted song, relying on the emotion generated by the vocals and toned down instruments to carry the listener along with the story.
There is no pause for thought as we move onto the next song, Caught (In the Pressure Cooker) and the way the album moves seamlessly from track to track works extremely well in keeping you hooked on the story line. This song moves decidedly back into the progressive metal aisle with coruscating guitars and classic keyboards, the quality drumming ever present in providing the rhythmic backdrop along with the quietly efficient bass playing. Whether Mind:Soul will like the comparison or not, this is pure early Dream Theater and I mean that entirely as a compliment, the music is tight and well played, the vocals are nigh on perfect, although I’m not sure if the growling adds or detracts from the experience but that’s a personal thing I think. Another catchy chorus just showcases the song writing prowess on show and you are drawn into 9 minutes of progressive metal that ticks all the relevant boxes with a gold pen.
Sequence #2 (Post Dystopian) sees our couple on the road to destruction and is, pretty much, more of the same as Sequence #1 but useful in setting the next stage of the story. This leads straight into the dynamic start of I Tried to Help, crushing guitar, urgent keyboards and frenetic drums powering this thunderous intro along. The more urgent feel continues with the vocals, strong and pleading. Here the growls do not seem out of place and are very relevant to the narrative, blending well with the smoother vocal that occasionally breaks free. The epic keyboard and guitar break in the middle just adds to the ambience and the clever jazz inspired interludes. As we come to the end of the song that heavier sound returns along with the growling vocal to work well around the clear vocal of the chorus.
The next track, Over, pretty much gives away the content of the song by the title and the melodramatic intro certainly lends that feeling of loss and ending to the proceedings, matched well by the crashing riff and well judged keyboards that follow. The overall, pervading feel of the song is of emotional drama and the poignant vocal performance ramps up this feeling tenfold. There is yet more of the quality musicianship on show as we move to the climax of the scene.
Sequence #3 (Embrace of Liberation) has an epic guitar tone that then leads to a much more up-tempo feel that the previous 2 sequences, much in keeping with the raised, argumentative voices that it overlays. It is a harsh and angry part of the story. This harsher and heavier feel is continued into Forever with a fast paced, thundering riff and staccato keyboards, a much more thrash metal feel to the song with the harsh growling vocals. The mood is lightened somewhat as the exceptional vocal intervenes but the chaotic, dark edge to the song is ever present. The way the song seamlessly merges into the involving storyline is brilliant and the fighting between the two antagonists is brought to life by the clever use of the instruments and the excellence of the songwriting.
Sequence #4 (Mind Reset) is another little interlude played out to the dulcet tones of the piano overlaying the narrative once again. The story and the album are brought to a close with One Night Alone, a much calmer introduction than on previous tracks, keyboard, guitar and drums starting off with a slower tempo before the guitar thunders in with a tough sounding riff and the whole pace of the track escalates. Little pockets of calm and solitude brought by the vocals are dotted amongst the all powerful guitar and intricate keyboards. The all pervading aura is of layers of music that contribute to a compelling whole, the story is not just being told by the vocals, the music adding just as much pathos and dynamism to the saga that has unfolded before you. There is a complexity to this final song that has, maybe, not been present throughout the rest of the album, giving this final episode of our tale of love and strife an additional edge. The thunderous drumming and scintillating guitar take centre stage and start to bring this tale to its conclusion, everything brought cohesively to an end with a fantastically harmonised vocal, almost theatrical in its composition and style.
Music is in the eye of the beholder, a cheesy saying but, at times, very apt. A lot of the supposed progressive metal releases of recent times have been, in my opinion, glorified metal albums that, in an effort to be considered different, throw in the odd progressive bone for our delectation. The Way it Should Be is a rare thing recently, an album that has truly taken us back to what can be considered classic progressive metal, the musicianship is first rate, the whole concept of the album and the song writing works very well and (this is a rare occurrence nowadays) it is an album that you will want to play from start to finish then go back to the beginning again just so you can enjoy the whole experience one more time. As debut albums go, an impressive one, I for one, will be keeping a close eye on these guys from now on.
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