Most of us love a good murder mystery, I know I do, I have spent more than my share of time watching Law and Order and CSI, and do enjoy a good detective novel now and then too. It’s also not a theme unbeknownst to progressive metal; we need look no further than one of the strongest concept albums of the genre, Dream Theater’s Scenes From a Memory. Now, when I got the debut album from Belgian band Immanent Distance and took one look at the title, I started to get an all too familiar tingle. As I perused the track listings, and saw songs with titles like The Accused, Into the Courtroom, and Facing Facts, I heard that prog metal head that lives in my skull scream “CONCEPT ALBUM!!!!!” Yes, I am a sucker for them, always have been, always will be, and the fact that this was Part 1 only told me that at least a Part 2 was in my future.
In introducing the band, I am going to quote their webpage, “Immanent Distance is more than just a band. They are six friends, united by their love for music…” These friends consist of Maaike Maihieu on lead vocals, Fre Clement on guitar and vocals, Niek Vervaeke on guitar, Thomas Halsberghe on bass, Dries Claeys on drums, and Bjorn Vandenberghe on keyboards. The idea of Immanent Distance was in place before the band was completed. They formed out of the split in an obscure black/death metal band called Depravity over a desire to play the music they wanted to, which thankfully for us was residing in a big box labeled “prog metal bad assetry”. With the later addition of the powerful pipes of Maihieu, they were set to start recording their sordid tale of murder and mayhem that would become 649: Diary of a Murderer Pt. 1.
I’ll begin by saying that this is an incredibly deceptive album concept-wise. It starts off to seem a standard murder mystery, but with some subtle misdirection, and a few twist and turns, they take it to another realm of “WTF is going on…” In interest of the element of surprise, I will not divulge much of what happens; I think it’s better for the audience to find out how I did, by cranking it to 11 and having all the earsplitting metal drive it home. Now, let’s talk about that part, shall we? The musical side of this album takes on a basis of good prog rock, and layers the metal aspect on that, thickly. The dual guitars, bass, and drums do the power chord proper justice here, over and over, but in a way that never gets old. The part of it that really dug into me was the drum work of Claeys, his power strokes and fills were just mind-blowing, and carried throughout the album. The band really shines in the instrumental passages as well, especially in the epic Into the Courtroom, my personal favorite on the album. The only phrase I can think of to describe it is unpredictable predictability, they don’t really break any genre grounds, but they do bend them a lot, and give the ears a lot to enjoy.
One thing I picked up on was the increase in the intensity of both the music and vocal elements as the album progresses, which seemed befitting of the nature of the story. They do an admirable job of building the suspenseful vibe, especially in the early pieces such as The Lock Up and Narcosis. The methodic pace of the lyrical elements with the crashing explosions of the music really set the tone well, and leads into the epic piece nicely. Into the Courtroom is a straight up hard drama song, and is nothing short of brilliant. They nailed all the elements on this one. From there, well, that’s where the story starts to get weird. The state of amnesia carried by the main character in the first half of the album has a source and a reason, I’ll leave it up to you folks to draw your own conclusions to it though.
The vocals of Maihieu are good, power vocals with an operatic edge to them, though they’re held back at times from their potential it seems to me. In the latter songs, especially Into the Courtroom and Begging to the Skies, she really lets loose with the power, range, and emotion, and they sound incredible, whereas in other songs, she sounds more like she is in the role of a narrator, and not playing the first person viewpoint of a convicted murderer that the lyrics indicate she is,. The vocals also seem somewhat lost in the mixing, residing more in the music than on it, and with this being a first person concept album, vocals are key to the storytelling process. Also, any vocalist could get lost amidst all the powerful music these guys reap upon us. Keep in mind folks, this album has many thematic layers, and many surprises though, this all might just be a tool used to help manifest the thematic parts. Some really strange things come up in the story here, just saying….
As a whole, this album is a very promising debut. It is so strong from the writing standpoint, and musically it lives up to the writing for much of it. It also is some pretty kick ass metal that is just fun as hell to listen to. The actual story, on the other hand, still has me at a loss though. What started as a basic “guy gets killed, someone gets arrested, and gets thrown in the slammer” story with a tinge of convenient amnesia on the killers part takes a massive twist sometime shortly after the trial. Then they end the album, on an edge of a knife, leaving us wanting for Part 2. As is such, I will end this review in the sa…….
(to be continued…)