I have a special place in my heart for Redemption. I can still remember listening to “Snowfall on Judgment Day” for the first time. I was so blown away that I had to listen to it again right that moment. Over the next year, I bought all their albums, and became a fan that preordered everything I could thereafter. So, when Redemption’s new album “The Art of Loss” started getting comparisons to “Snowfall on Judgment Day”, I found my hype level rising.
Redemption is one of those bands that simply disappears for a while and then comes back for another splash in the prog metal pool. Much of this has to do with Nick van Dyk’s illnesses and high profile employment, as well as Ray Alder’s other gigs. Even more importantly, Bernie Versailles suffered an aneurysm that kept him from finishing the album. But it always seems like they’ll be back, no matter how few updates come out of their camp. They are a “classic” progressive metal band in the sense that there isn’t much in the way of evolution of sound through the years, but their musical expertise and ominous lyrics have always made up for that. I love their sound, I adore their lyrics and themes, and I totally expected another masterpiece.
I’m afraid that just isn’t the case.
The Redemption line-up is pretty much the same here. Ray Alder on vox, Nick on guitar and keys, Bernie Versailles on guitar (partially), Sean Andrews on bass, and Chris Quirarte on drums. This time around, there are also guests performances by Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, Chris Broderick, and Simone Mularoni; all of whom stepped in to help get this album finished. That’s quite a bit of technical fire there, and the album is full of it. Ray sounds better than he has in years! Nick and the guys are mind-blowingly good on their guitars, and I think this is one of the better showings for Sean and Chris in the rhythm section; maybe even their best.
There are a few other things I like about the album. The lyrics are once again incredibly personal and very, very relatable. Nick’s life experiences always seem to offer potent material for twisting our heart strings and making all those prog metal fans out there tear up just a little. Yet, Nick gives us hope as well as sorrow. I love that about him.
Additionally, I’m pretty hooked on a couple tracks here. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a song that takes time to appreciate, and it’s a bit slow through the middle and even a little random, but the immense ending is worth it all. The single “Damaged” is also really, really good. It reminds me of a better “Noonday Devil” in some ways, and I can’t get this song out of my head. I also appreciate “That Golden Light” with its gravy vox from Ray and its more spacious composition. “Thirty Silver” also has its moments, with a great chorus.
But there is just so much here I can’t appreciate. As much as I love those tracks, the rest of the album just doesn’t click for me entirely. “Snowfall on Judgment Day” felt like Jesus himself came down and put it together: It was incredibly inspired from beginning to end. Well, this album begins with a title track that is very lackluster, especially the vocal lines that just don’t fit the music. The album does pretty well for a few tracks from there, but time and again I just find myself wanting to listen to something else.
I think part of the problem is that the guest parts are distracting and often don’t mesh with Redemption’s sound. I totally appreciate that these guys stepped in to help Bernie, but their styles are very different and just too thrashy for my tastes. Additionally, as talented as these musicians are, the technical stuff is taken to the max, which just isn’t the side of Redemption I love the most, so an album full of it would straightway make me lose some interest. Even further than that, I’d say that there are very few memorable grooves here, and Ray’s vocal lines are a mixed bag. For instance, even “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” suffers from this, as the verses are laborious and even dull, but Ray’s emotional burst at the end is exactly what I was hoping to hear from this band.
So, when I come away from an album by one of my favorite bands, I usually am on a high of some sort. But “The Art of Loss” only offered me two really memorable tracks. I was somewhat partial to the 22 minute epic “At Day’s End” at points, but it simply just feels too long and even full of filler, though Ray shines. Yet, the cover “Love Reign O’er Me” is honestly terrible.
“The Art of Loss” is a solid album that probably bests “This Mortal Coil” and definitely is better than the redheaded stepchild, the self-titled debut. Especially all things considered, the album is great, and it’s worlds better than Dream Theater’s latest. However, despite the strong lyrics and some fantastic moments, the album is just too long and mixed in quality to think of ever rivaling “Snowfall on Judgment Day”, “The Origins of Ruin”, or “The Fullness of Time”. I bought myself a physical copy, and I’ll be listening to it going forward, for sure. Hopefully, it will grow on me (like “This Mortal Coil”), but only time will tell.