Tom de Wit is one of those people who must have been cloned at some point. How he manages to complete every project he has on the go in a mere human’s timescale is bewildering. He must have a never-ending supply of energy (or a never-ending supply of something, if you get my gist lol).
I first came across Tom when I was asked to review some of the acts on his own label, Layered Reality Recordings, which concluded with a review of Tom’s own musical project, the excellent Mind:Soul. I got to know Tom fairly well, or as well as you can across the internet. He is eminently likeable, full of vitality and irrepressible, definitely a ‘glass half full’ kind of person. Whether it be writing, recording, producing, mixing, engineering or just running his own label, he is always on the go!
Imagine my surprise when I found out he had somehow managed to find the time to record a solo album, the man is a machine! After reviewing three of Tom’s signed acts and his own project, it only seemed fair that I would review his solo album too.
In Tom’s own words, “Music to Stand Around and Feel Awkward To is a project that I started on at the end of 2012. It was actually meant to be a small side-project next to my other work. (The Mind:Soul album for instance.) I felt that some of my old songs did not get the treatment they deserved. So I went into the studio and started jamming out to those tunes again. Songs such as Chameleon, Surface Scratching, Home and Jimmy came back to me and it just felt like great fun to revisit these songs again. I wasn’t planning on a big album release at all. I just wanted to see if I could improve on my ideas and give those ideas some extra shine here or there. However, during the process of re-recording these songs, things started to change. Apparently the muse had bitten me, because suddenly these “old songs” transformed into completely new compositions. I wrote new riffs, new lyrics, new drum parts… Some of these songs changed drastically! And if that wasn’t enough, I came up with brand new songs and rediscovered a song that never got a proper release before. So suddenly, this whole new framework of music came into being. You can say that this album has been a “happy little accident” in that respect.”
On this album Tom provides lead and backing vocals, guitars, bass, synths, orchestral and drum arrangements (told you, he is a one man music machine), the list of guest musicians is almost a cast of thousands and can be found on the website or on the CD booklet but, suffice to say, there are some progressive luminaries on there from the likes of Adeia, Sylvium, Dimaeon, Majesty and ReSolve.
Tom decided to stick with his original plan and made 8 tracks of the album freely available on the TDW website. It fits the original spirit of this project as he always wanted to make the songs available for everyone. But Tom also decided that he wanted to have a physical pressing of the album for those that want to get immersed in the total experience. This physical version features 11 songs with an extended artwork booklet and more surprises added in. The 3 added songs are all brand new and serve as an extra thanks to those that support by buying the album for real.
The album starts with Some Things I, the track that sparked the album in the first place and tries to introduce the idea of life’s journey, what it is for and why we are on it. We are introduced via a classy acoustic guitar and keyboards before Tom’s earnest vocal kicks in, urgent if subdued. The harmonies are subtle but nice and it is what I have come to expect from anything with Tom de Wit involved, intelligent. The use of the Laura ten Voorde’s violin and Elvya Dulcimer’s dulcimer is another excellent touch and adds gravitas to the track along with the delightfully tinkling piano. This song gets your mind turning over and thinking, which is what I’m sure Tom intended. The track segues straight into Chameleon, originally from the 2008 release ‘The Haunts’. The subject matter is a man who has been modelled to be the perfect citizen, who just blends into society, yet, beneath his clothes he has a plethora of scars and tattoos that mirror his true feelings. A harder, crunching riff and dynamic keyboard introduce the song as a guitar plays over the top. This powerful introduction is pared back by a smooth synth note before the vocal begins. Telling the story at hand, it is full of emotive force and matched by the great harmonies of the backing vocals. The chorus is
solid, direct and catchy. There is a hint of power metal to the song, not least in that keyboard note, if I had long hair (hell, if I had any hair at all!) I’d be moshing to this. The highlight of the song follows and this is an epic guitar solo from Lennert Kemper (ReSolve), almost becoming animate in its fluidity. The superb harmonised vocals then run to the end of the track backed by the imposing rhythm section and stirring guitar.
Surface Scratching, originally the opening track of 2006’s ‘Up Close and Personal’, is all about pretending about who we are. How we show a different person on the outside to the real one on the inside because society dictates it. A nicely judged introduction leads into a steady riff that opens out into something more profound. Tom’s vocals are again a focal point of the track. He has a very dynamic voice that works really well in any context. The backing vocals on this song are excellent, well harmonised as they lead into Tom belting out the chorus. Both solos on this song are performed by Sybren Boonstra (Dimaeon) and are short, sharp coruscating moments of intensity. This is a really profound track with superb lead and backing vocals and an excellent rhythm section, I really liked it. The first album exclusive track is Heading Back which is a track that connects the previous and following ones, pursuing the ideas first floated on the previous track. When you act your way through life and believe that you can be yourself at your safe haven of Home, what would happen if that ‘Home’ is not suddenly the place you knew it to be. Mellow and laid back with another superb guitar performance delivered by Lennert Kemper, this song is quite upbeat and uplifting, despite the subject matter. Tom’s vocal delivery is ardent and impassioned and the guitar swirls around your head in a mildly distorted fashion. Once again, there is no break and we move straight to Home, the second track from ‘The Haunts’. This song deals with life and learning new perspectives, sometimes life changes and things you love will lose their meaning. Guitar solo duties are taken by Michiel van der Werff (Weltschmerz) and Norbert Veenbrink (Mindshade). The start of this track has a rather funky bass line giving a bit of contrast to the drums and vocals. The riff that kicks in is quite dark and menacing and compliments the deeper vocal perfectly. The song has an overwhelming feeling of remorse and contrition, the vocals are deeply melancholic with the addition of some growls that add to the ruefulness. Michiel’s first solo is a slow burning, deliciously dark affair, doom progressive metal for the uninitiated, if you like. Then Norbert’s second solo is much more intense, like the ferociously burning centre of a dying Sun and strips away your skin, layer by layer and, by the end of the song, I have a hollowness in my inner being.
Tom says that the next track, Butterflies, is one where heavy emotion and recording equipment collide in a manner that actually works. It is a song that is genuine and very close to him and everything within the words is real. A sombre and forlorn piano leads in the track before Tom’s gentle yet anguished vocals begin. There is a feeling of sadness that leaves you bereft, it is incredibly emotional and heartbreaking. The harmonised vocal parts have a kind of haunting beauty to them, almost painful in their lament. Then the emotion is taken to poignant level by a delicate and exquisite violin solo from Hannah van Gorcum that speaks of infinite anguish and grief. It is an incredibly impassioned yet touching piece of music. Mourning After II is another track from ‘Up Close and Personal’ and deals with the afterlife, death and the mourning the passing of a loved one. This time it is seen from the perspective of the person that has actually passed away. A theatrical opening is followed by a monstrous riff and heroic keyboards and we fly straight into a quality piece of progressive metal. After the wall of sound that is the introduction we are treated to quite a funky piano and excellently worked duet between Tom and Rosita Reitsma. I find this interplay between the two vocalists, backed by that jazz style piano a really clever part of the song and, when it is used, it adds another dimension to the track. The choral style backing vocals that work with Tom around the chorus are another inspired introduction, working between technical sections and out and out power metal. Towards the end of the track the vocals become almost operatic and there is a brilliant, slightly distorted, violin solo from Laura ten Voorde that flows immediately into another notable guitar solo, this time from Sander Stegeman (Sense Vs Sanity), before the song runs out to an arresting ending.
Now onto another album only track and the one that Tom calls the ‘special album track’. Dreamwalk II -The Descent is written about nightmares and is the counterpoint to Dreamwalk I which featured on ‘First Re-Draft’ (2011) as that composition related to the subject of dreams themselves. Adding
their vocal talents to this maelstrom of madness are Maarten Gunsing (Animal Me), Sander Stegeman and Laura ten Voorde. The song actually has quite a laid back, ambient introduction of a gently strummed guitar and tinkling keyboards and amiable and mellow vocal performance. You feel lifted up on a gentle pillow to fly high in a world of peace and serenity. Tristan Visser (Majesty) delivers a guitar solo that feels slightly gnarled and awry, your first clue that all is not as it seems. The guitar takes on a visceral note, the keyboards take on a mask of madness and the insane trip continues. It is a song bereft of lightness and full of dark, dangerous nightmares. The deeply disturbing voice over in the middle of the track is exceedingly ominous, bringing to mind creatures of the night, dark avenging demons. Tom’s wild and off kilter synth solo drives through the middle, trying to break the infernal reverie. I am seriously blown away by this track and my enjoyment is cranked up yet another notch by Tristan Visser’s wickedly inventive guitar solo. A wild and wacky but seriously imaginative song that achieves Tom’s wish of being decidedly nightmare-worthy!
Another album exclusive track and, whilst it was originally intended to be the lead up to Jimmy, Shock Awakening is more than that. It is a song about waking up to realities and what you can sometimes cause without actually being there. Short, at only one and a half minutes long, but no less meaningful for that, it has a nu-metal vibe to this listener. Rapped vocals begin over a technical metal backdrop, corrosive and influential. The crunching riff and clashing vocals deliver menace in spades. It is short but most definitely not sweet, rather it is intensely brutal. There is no hesitation, the crossover into Jimmy being seamless. Originally featured on ‘Up Close and Personal’ and a much more political song on first release, this time it is not so much about politics but focuses on common sense and how ‘cause and effect’ works. The ardent vocal works well with that punching drum beat and crushing guitar riff. The cultured sections are a stark contrast to the potency of the heavier parts of the song. The short, sharp and strident synth solo of Joop de Rooij is forceful and vivid and FrankSchiphorst (MaYan) turns his guitar up to eleven and blinds you with its savagery. You don’t get away too easy as he hits you with another mercilessly delivered slice of guitar wizardry. The ruthlessness of the vocals pounds you into submission. It is superbly ruthless and brutal slice of the heaviest progressive metal.
A movement in three parts, Some Things II sets out to answer the questions posed in part 1, about our journey through life and what it all means. As the final track on the album it brings things full circle and to an emphatic close. The introduction and Movement 1 – I Wonder is some superb guitar ambience from Ben van Gastel (Sylvium), setting the scene for the rest of the story to unfold. A fast paced, corrosive guitar riff then takes the cue and the vocals begin, urgent and upbeat. At this point we are in power metal territory with the sweeping synth sound and harmonised backing vocals delivering the full experience. Movement II – I Question carries on the intensity, the vocals having even more bite and deliberation. The drums pound out the beat and that symphonic edge being added by the keyboards, Ben adding yet more of his superior guitar ambience. In Movement III – I Know Nothing, the initial counterpointed vocals are followed by an inspired instrumental section that adds a dose of traditional seventies style prog to the mix, as sharp and skilled as it is unexpected. The instrumental dexterity on show is expert and adept and is confirmed by a stunning solo from Lennert Kemper, another one to add to the growing collection of incandescent guitar magnificence. The hectic pace never ceases as Tom powers out his vocals and the music dominates your psyche totally. What you think is a pause from the maelstrom is only short lived as Lennert hits you in the solar plexus with another piece of technical guitar luminance. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and this fine track and eminent album come to a resounding close leaving a silence you could cut with a knife as you try to decipher what you have just heard.
Not your ordinary release this, more a graphic novel set to music and, even touching on the conceptual. Tom de Wit has looked into the past and deep into his own soul and, together with the addition of some outrageously talented musicians, delivered a musical composition that connects with you at every level. There are virtually no weaknesses in this record. It impresses more on every listen and your mind, body and soul deserve to be exposed to its’ radiance. I mean, come on, you can even download eight of the tracks for free, however, trust me, you will only be left wanting the other three anyway!