It’s quite an achievement to release two albums in the same year, but that is what Thomas Bergersen has done. I actually have a feeling that we will get three or more in 2021, but I digress. Bergersen’s new album “Humanity, Chapter II” released on November 11th, and it puts on full display his ability to create diverse and interesting musical ideas.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the first chapter of this “Humanity” series. There will be seven chapters in all, which is a massive and ambitious project. If you are waiting for a physical release, you will be waiting until all seven parts are released, as a physical version will release with all seven discs at the same time. That could be years away, I imagine.
If you aren’t familiar, Thomas Bergersen comes to us from Norway. He is the head of Two Steps from Hell, a company that makes epic music for films and trailers, such as for Interstellar, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, and X-Men. Yes, I imagine that he is doing quite well for himself financially, and he deserves the success. He is, like so many film composers, also interested in his own musical endeavors, and so he has released several albums. “Humanity” is his most aspiring project yet, however.
Bergersen makes epic music, yes, but his style is far more nuanced and diverse in genre than you might imagine. For “Humanity”, he is striving to make each chapter have its own flavor, and I would say that he has accomplished that thus far. He primarily uses cinematic, orchestral, folk, and piano-driven sounds, though you will hear plenty of rock, pop, and electronic, too. It’s a mixture of just about everything, and that is wildly appropriate for a project with such a name.
My general thoughts about this second chapter are this: Chapter II isn’t as strong as the first release, but it does contain the best song of the two albums. I know that is a bit strange. I feel like Chapter II is a little less focused and I daresay even a little cheesy at points. That is par for the course with such over-the-top music, but the cheese factor is definitely noticeable. That said, this new chapter is also a wonderful success.
One thing I could say, also, is that this chapter is far more diverse. It does not rely as much on the towering, monolithic climax that Bergersen so loves. There are songs that are almost completely quiet and pensive in nature, reflecting what I think this chapter is meant to portray: humanity’s story telling. Some of the lyrics deal with the human imagination, and we visit forests and glens full of fairy tales and epic battles. I think this album was designed to celebrate our stories, both real and fictional.
The ten primary tracks are all beautiful in a variety of ways. Songs like “Crystallize” and “Materialize” give us the orchestral power that is so associated with Bergersen’s name, while songs like “Your Imagination” and “Vaporize” are more folk driven or focus on vocals. “Take Me Back” and “Fairytale”, two of my favorites, are both mostly quiet and serene, with strong central hooks and a boatload of whimsy. The latter actually includes a mother reading a story to her daughter, and it is such a beautiful portion. “Innocence” is similar in this regard with a powerfully addictive melody and a children’s choir making the whole song feel global and human to the core.
Without a doubt, my favorite songs are “We Are Legends” and “The Stars Are Coming Home”. The latter is vocally-driven, lush, and ethereal in sound. The vocals are distorted behind an electronic beat, and it rises with fervor to feel both raw and prophetic, emotional and anticipatory. The title almost feels like a reference to “The Little Prince”. “We Are Legends”, however, almost leaves me speechless. This 13-minute track combines orchestra, folk melodies, and searing rock guitar from Claudio Pietronik of Ancient Bards. This song—this song is a stunning, jaw-dropping display of genius, atmosphere, and emotion. The opening notes actually remind me of a song from the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion soundtrack, but it soon moves into strings and a crescendo with mighty effect. Oh, the drama, the lofty riffs, the musing neo-classical elements, and the winding pipes: all of this comes together into a deeply moving piece of cinematic cunning.
Bergersen’s second “Humanity” chapter is thus a rousing, stirring experience. While I find it slightly behind the first chapter overall, there are songs and moments that surely best it, including one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. If you love music on this eminent level, you must hear this.
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