Anticipation has many levels of meaning. There is the “why the hell is the clock moving so slow?!?!?!” that occurs fifteen minutes to quitting time and there’s the “holy crap does that smell good” that goes with the snap and pop of bacon sizzling in a pan. Minor things for sure, but still they build the intensity and excitement for impending awesomeness. Now, let’s multiply that by say… a bazillion. Let’s first take a brilliant musician, Amadeus Awad, and the announcement of an upcoming concept album in production. Cool… very cool. Let’s give it an epic title hinting at a powerful story, like The Book of Gates. OK, I’m in… Now, he really goes for the throat, and announces legendary vocalists Russell Allen and Amanda Somerville will be playing lead roles on the album. Most of us were at the “JUST TAKE MY MONEY ALREADY!!!!!!!!” phase here. But then Mr. Awad gets real medieval on us, and makes us wait, pushing the release date back and back until we’re all ready to collectively fly to Lebanon and kick him around until he gives us the album. With plane tickets in one hand and baseball bats in the other as we head to the airport to “convince” him, he finally gives in, and gives a release date. Oh man, you sir are a master of the game.
Of course I jest here, though I’m sure Awad enjoys a good tease as anyone else, the delay was more due to his perfectionist nature, and the love of his craft, and after FINALLY hearing The Book of Gates, I am here to tell you that the wait was so worth it. For the album, Awad handles the guitar duties along with composition and production. Far from being a solo venture, The Book of Gates is a collaborative project with fellow composer Elia Monsef, who also does double duty with vocals as the part of the Necromancer.For the band, we have some tremendous talent in the form of Kevin Moore (Dream Theater, OSI) on keyboards, Elyes Bouchoucha (Myrath) on keyboards, John Macaluso (Yngwie Malsteem, Ark) on drums, and Dan Veall on bass. Then, just add the beastly one-two punch of Russell Allen (Symphony X) giving voice to the Pharaoh and Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Avantasia) as the Queen of the Nile (as she could be anything else) and we have a recipe for prog metal storytelling of the highest caliber.
Now let’s get to a little history first, to help understand the story better, and because I like nerding out on stuff like this. The Book of Gates is an ancient Egyptian funerary text that tells of a newly deceased soul’s journey to the afterlife. To reach the next world, the soul must pass through a series of gates, each gate corresponding to a different goddess whose intrinsic character the soul must recognize. The story contained within Awad’s album is that of a Pharaoh who is poisoned by his Queen, and must transcend the twelve gates to reach the thirteenth gate and break the spell, achieving immortality and ending her reign, or at least that’s my guess as to the story….
Now, let’s get to the good stuff, the music. The opening track is a simple yet utterly haunting intro. With its cryptic guitars, Visions takes all of five seconds to put the listener smack dab in the middle of ancient Egypt, there to bear witness to the epic struggle of men and gods. With the listener in place, and the band tuned up and ready to go, Awad and company spend the next three tracks laying down some serious ass kicking music, all the while telling a masterpiece of a story. The Crown’s Fate tells of the initial poisoning and the death of Pharaoh. It’s a wonderful interplay between Allen and Somerville, both who utterly shine on this album and fit the grand nature of their roles with ease and grace. As to the players, they are hitting on all cylinders, shaping an album that is rich and powerful progressive metal with a thick, ethnic edge that keeps the listener tightly within the story. Guitar work is truly stunning, especially towards the end of track 2 and in the title track The Book of Gates.
The title track opens with a harsh and aggressive edge, significant of the brutal journey that Pharaoh is about to embark upon. The band uses all their tools to build the intensity of this song to a breaking point. and the interplay of Allen and Monseff is the perfect paint to grace the band’s musical canvas. The song concludes with a parting shot from the Queen, and leads into the final track, Incarnation, where we see the king return from the afterlife with the humility in knowing that “all Ra’s breed are the same in death…”. OK, I got to get this off my chest; this song kicks so much ass, it hurts. All the brilliant talent is used to the fullest, becoming the music, the scene, the story. The ending vocal interplay of all three singers, the layered harmonies, is near musical perfection, and was well worth waiting for. Such a grand spectacle, such a wondrous performance all around.
Now what more could I ask for out of The Book of Gates? How about another five songs? I think it’s the ultimate credit to a band that I just didn’t want the album to end, and had no problem spinning it again and again. Mr. Awad and fellow musical geniuses… please… one more time for Eon…