Album Reviews

Harmony – Theatre of Redemption

After 6 years from their last album, Chapter II:  Aftermath, the Swedish melodic metal group Harmony is finally back with their third full-length album, entitled Theatre of Redemption. Again spearheaded by longtime members Markus Sigfridsson (Darkwater) on guitar and Tobias Enbert (Darkwater, Empire 21) on drums, they welcome John Svensson (Empire 21) on keyboards, Raphael Dafras (Almah) on bass, and returning guest Daniel Heiman (Lost Horizon, Heed) on lead vocals.  They provide 10 solid tracks that old and new Harmony fans will look forward to sinking their teeth, er, ears into.  And before diehard followers of the band show too much skepticism because of the introduction of three new members, there might be comfort in knowing that Harmony still retains their trademark sound and have come back with a vengeance.

The Window of My Soul is a robust prelude to the album (listen in the lyric video below), and begins with a prominently keyboard-dominated introduction with strong pulsating guitar and rhythm underneath.  The song alternates between more laid-back verses and bridges and a power metal chorus with double kick drum and 16th note runs and foundations by the keyboards and guitar, respectively, and fades out with a solo keyboard line.  This pattern remains consistent through the song for a fairly straightforward opener.

The second song, Inhale, is more consistent with its beat throughout the track, with solid rhythm, power chords, and keyboard accents throughout, and is a moderately-tempoed song with an encouraging message (listen to the song in the lyric video below).  Even though this song isn’t at breakneck speed, it carries along like a steady runner that paces himself to win the race.  It is a “safe” song but it remains engaging enough with catchy vocals and interesting instrumental lines and solos without being too flashy.

Crown Me King starts off differently with the sound of windchimes tinkling with the chatter of a crowd in public talking in the background.  It gets abruptly interrupted with the wail of sirens, which help to introduce the aggressive guitar entry to the song supported by pounding drums and bass that continue throughout the song, which definitely pick up the pace in comparison to the previous track.  The vocal harmonies expand on the chorus, which has a catchy hook to it.  At about 3 minutes into the song, the track shifts to a slower 6/8 time signature introduced by sing-along “ooh’s” and “ah’s,” a musical break which provides a nice change of pace in the song.  It segues seamlessly back to the 4/4 drive of the original melody for the chorus and appears to end…however, the 6/8 theme reprises with layered choral vocals led by an arpeggiated keyboard feature that fades out the real ending of the song.

I actually love the introduction of Son of the Morning quite a lot, with its Middle Eastern flair with a solo duduk and pulsating percussion.  This musical theme is revisited with the entry of the band, and is forefronted by quite a strong thumping bass presence.  This track is again more laid-back in tempo, but allows for quite a bit of layering of the various instruments and countermelodies, including strings, soaring but strong vocals, and neoclassical shredding solos as well as chugging power chords and foundational rhythm.  One of the many subtle aspects of the song that might be missed on first listen is the spoken reading of part of Ecclesiastes 8:1, “A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed,” adding to this piece’s many parts.

What If begins much more abruptly with the immediate entry of the vocals with staccato string accompaniment. The whole first verse carries on with this stark arrangement before the rest of the band enters on the second verse.  This pattern continues with subsequent verses and choruses, and remains a straightforward track.  This song isn’t quite a ballad, but it is less power-driven song exploring the question of what if what we do has eternal significance, and therefore what might be the advantages to pursue the righteous, spiritual path rather than the supposed successes of this world.

The sixth track leads us to the titular piece Theatre of Redemption.  This is a more dramatic track, as one might expect from the title, and starts with ominous keyboards and a plaintive violin to introduce the track with the main musical theme that runs throughout the song as a main riff and sometimes as an undergirding countermelody, particularly in the chorus.  This song is moderately tempoed, and though not frilly, contains many layers, including several key changes and choral countermelodies and lyrics sung against the main vocal line.  It ends with a recitation of a Chris Hedges quote over strings that talks about entities of various types that have ruined the main idea for which they had been intended: “We live now in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, government destroys freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy” – as it trails out to forlorn-sounding chimes and bells.

Bloodbound begins without a lengthy intro, just a keyboard chord to kick things off before the vocals come in with the unassuming first verse, supported with acoustic guitar and light rhythm.  The gear is turned up, however, by the time the bridges and chorus arrive.  This song takes a few more twists and turns in style, including quite the neoclassical shredding solo of 16th note arpeggios and 32nd note runs, and ending the song is the first verse reprised in a different style of a small choir complete with full parts and supported with lighter instrumentation of the acoustic guitar, drums, bass, and subtle underlying keys, which slowly fade out.

The eighth track, You Are, is a kind of sister song to What If in its sound and structure, and starts out with a solo piano introduction with the single vocal line joining soon after.  The rest of the band enters at the chorus, and though strong, keeps the slow ballad tempo.  There is also a beautiful classical piano solo about halfway that prefaces the guitar solo that is more soulful than shredding.  This track is a kind of breather in the album, with sentimental feel, and ends with the theme played out in a music box.

Hands of Time starts with a portentious melody by the keys while a soundbyte of the 1961 “Conspiracy Speech” to the press from President John Kennedy leads into the song: “…For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means…It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations…” As the rest of the band joins the song, the tone of the song turns to a more positive melodic line as the verse begins.  The chorus is catchy, though its vocal melodies and chord progressions are very similar to Theatre of Redemption, and I can almost interchange them in my head when I listen to both songs.  Another nice segue in the last minute of the song is a nearly Gregorian chant-style choral rendition of the chorus’ theme before a key change into the last chorus reprise and the singular guitar lick of a fanciful descending scale giving it a flourishing end, making it another one of my favorites on the album.

The last song, In Search Of, begins fairly straightforwardly with an instrumental introduction of the chorus theme, cutting back slightly for the advent of the first verse.  This song remains pretty steadfast throughout, maintaining a moderately chugging drive to it as well as nice background harmonies interspersed for added interest and depth.  However, it still has a little guitar and keyboard tradeoff shredding during the solo portion and throws in a couple of key changes toward the end.   This song isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it is a solid track as the album’s finale, and incorporates the band’s namesake into the lyrics as a nice touch to wrap-up.

Even though this album is only Harmony’s third album in 11 years, part of what contributes to the band’s overall consistency is the continued songwriting reins held by Sigfridsson and Enbert.  Their style has continued morphing over the last decade and in comparison, this album is less neoclassical-based than their previous albums, while still keeping the Harmony “sound” intact with powerful, melodic songs that are streamlined in nature. The tempos of the songs are generally more moderate on this album than some of the more fast-paced, power metal sounds from the previous albums.  Heiman’s vocals are already familiar because of his performance of “Inner Peace” on the last album, and his range and timbre are similar to former vocalist Henrik Båth, so his ascension to the lead vocals is a natural progression that still fits the band.  Svensson does an admirable job on keyboards in light of the departure of former keyboardist Magnus Holmberg.  His playing provides many different sounds and layers that are sometimes at the forefront and sometimes are in a more supportive role to the other instrumentation.  Dafras definitely holds down the bass fort as the new member, replacing guest bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw from the second album and Andreas Olsson from the first album.  Enbert continues to provide solid drumming that complements the instrumentation and works well in tandem with bassist Dafras in providing the foundations of the songs.  Theatre of Redemption is a solid album that is fairly straightforward across the board, but it does incorporate some bells and whistles that keep it interesting.  It is still without a doubt a continuation of Harmony’s evolution as a band, which may or may not please longtime fans of the group as they continue to explore their sound, especially with the addition of new members and their unique approaches to the execution of the music.  While I am not certain that groundbreaking strides were made in this third offering, I still found Theatre of Redemption to be a firm successor to the Harmony name.

Hear their first single, The Window of My Soul, in the lyric video here:

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