The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

I’ve been gathering my thoughts for months on this new album from The Midgard Project.  Some albums require that; some albums just need a few months to settle in my brain, or for me to gain the gumption to say exactly what I’m thinking.  The album is called The Great Divide, and it released on March 11th.

The Midgard Project comes to us from Ontario, Canada.  The band includes: Marty Midgard, who handles guitars, bass, lyrics, and orchestration; and Dennis Dumphy on drums.  This is a project, and so the duo always recruits a different singer for each album.  Their debut featured Rob Lundgren, and this sophomore effort features Stu Block (Into Eternity and Iced Earth).  I think it’s a good plan to involve singers of this caliber, as it makes the album feel world class from the beginning.

And this album does feel world class in various ways.  The music here is progressive metal, pure and simple.  I know that prog metal is a complex beast, yes, but this album offers a comforting and nostalgic dose of unadulterated progressive metal circa the year 2000.  This album feels very in tune with the metal scene of the late 90s and early 00s to me, especially to Symphony X, Sonata Arctica, and maybe even early Wintersun (minus the harsh vox). 

This means that The Great Divide is chock full of vicious riffing, expansive orchestrations, and high stakes vocals.  Marty is a fantastic guitarist and is obviously influenced deeply by Michael Romeo, as his complicated and dark riffing style betrays.  Add in thundering drums from Dennis and also Stu’s vocals straight out of the Ronnie James Dio or Russell Allen schools of metal, and you have an album that absolutely pumps with energy and power.  It does have a mighty big sound.

My question, though, was whether or not I liked it.  I love Symphony X and old school prog metal as much as anyone does, but I confess that this album left me cold for the first few months.  I love the guitar work, especially, but being a fan of Russell Allen’s melodic side, Stu’s rough-and-ready style of vocal leaves much to be desired for me.  I guess I don’t find that self-serious style attractive, as I tend to savor more sincere and emotional expression.  I can appreciate it for what it is, but that doesn’t mean I’ll love it.

Working past that, though, The Great Divide is a solid album, even if it serves primarily as a sightseeing tour of prog metal’s glory days.  There are some great choruses strewn throughout, and Marty outdoes himself on pretty much every instrument he plays. Dennis, too, blast beats us back to our younger years. It does make me feel young again to hear such a torrent.

The first three tracks are all great, with “At the Failing of Light” being heavy and hefty; “Winter Slumber” being even heavier, though it also features some dark, pensive segments that I really like; and “Torch of the Unbroken” being an attractive, galloping song with great drumming. I think “Winter Slumber” is my favorite of the three, having maybe the most memorable chorus on the record. It really sticks out for me.

The rest of the album is just as good.  I would point to the title track and the closer “Mimir’s Well” as strong contenders for the best songs overall. They sound, well, pretty much like the rest of the album, but the latter especially has a great atmosphere to it. The point, I guess, is that as much as I want to love this album, I find myself constantly comparing it to other albums I’ve listened to for decades.  Maybe that’s a good thing?  Or maybe it’s a distraction.  I’m still not sure.

If you love old school prog metal, this will be right up your alley.  The Midgard Project is obviously a talented duo, though they primarily emulate older ideas.  That’s fine with me, but I have to be in the right mood to appreciate it.  The Great Divide has plenty of huge moments and awe-inspiring performances, and so it is definitely worth a listen and purchase for prog metal fans. If you are looking for something a little more original, this might not be it.


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