I’ve never really discussed how I rate things; how I arrive at the magical number at the top of my reviews. Typically, it is a synthesis of how I feel the album rates with other releases of the same year with how I feel it rates with other albums of the band’s catalogue. The number just has to “feel right”. Sometimes I don’t even feel like including a number, though. I almost went that direction with the new Redemption album, I Am the Storm. It is truly a difficult album to rate for various reasons. It releases on March 17th through AFM Records.
Redemption were one of my first loves in progressive metal. Their 2000’s output still gets my blood pumping and my emotions overflowing. Ignoring the debut, the first three albums with Ray Alder are some of the best prog metal ever made, in my opinion. With 2011’s This Mortal Coil, my interest began to wane for a few reasons, not least of which was the domination of guitars over all else in their sound. Two thousand eighteen saw the band recruit Tom Englund of Evergrey as their new vocalist, and that album was pretty decent, but it’s been 5 long years since we heard anything from the band. The new album lineup includes Nick van Dyk on guitars, Tom S. Englund on vocals, Chris Quirarte on drums, Sean Andrews on bass, and Vikram Shanker on keys.
The band represents pureblooded progressive metal to me. They haven’t progressed that much in sound over the years, except in focusing more on aggressive riffing than on melody. I think this album scales that back somewhat, as melody has been injected into the sound again through Vikram’s outstanding keys. In fact, this is one of the most keyboard-centric Redemption albums in the band’s discography, with only Snowfall on Judgment Day beating it in that regard. However, there are a few things to note about this release that puzzle me—things that defeat this album’s quest to reclaim the glory days.
First, the mix is a mess. The guitars drown out everything else most of the time, and there are several climactic moments that are almost completely ruined by the brick wall of riffs and licks. There are other moments where you can tell that Vikram is playing some truly stunning keyboard details, but they are almost completely lost. I feel like this album could have sounded like pure class and balance, but the mix is decidedly focused on the guitars to the point where your ears get fatigued.
Second, the guitar work is impressively technical, as always. I often wonder how Nick, an executive at Activision Blizzard, had time to learn and practice such amazing skills. But the problem, as I mentioned before, is that it always feels like the guitar work is fighting the melody, sparring with it for dominance. The album ends up feeling busy and blurry. Details are usually a good thing; layers are, too. But when the mix is bad and so much is crammed into each second of guitar work, it feels like something is missing, despite the wealth of content. I think this plays into the titular single, too, which sounds like a retread of “Noonday Devil” from This Mortal Coil, and the ultra-aggression and maybe even the odd bit of hubris in the lyrics really turned me off from both of those songs. Overall, there is a lack of space here, akin to a child drawing a great picture, but then adding so many details that it becomes ruined.
Third, what is with Redemption’s love of doing covers? On past albums, they were usually included as bonus tracks, but here we get a Genesis cover right smack dab in the tracklist. Don’t get me wrong, “Turn It on Again” is a good song and this cover is actually not bad, or at least not as god awful as some of their past covers. But the question is why? There is a Peter Gabriel cover, too, which is a bonus track and I didn’t get to hear it. Additionally, there are two originals, complete with guest guitarists, that are bonus tracks, but you can only get them on the vinyl version of the album. I guess I’ll wait until someone uploads them to YouTube, I guess? I just don’t understand the reasoning here.
It’s not all bad, though. As much as it surprises me, I Am the Storm as a whole has grown on me over the last few weeks. There are a few reasons for this, as well. First, the performances here are excellent. Tom sounds great, though it often feels like he is trying to figure out how to insert himself into the hectic music. Sean and Chris both remind me of why their rhythm section abilities are still some of the best in the business. I especially love Chris’ drums. Vikram lays down some incredible keyboard atmospheres and climactic, cinematic portions. If only we could hear these performances more. Nick, too, consistently produces some stunning guitar work. and there are some great solos.
Second, this album is a clear attempt to reclaim the Snowfall sound. It seems pretty purposeful, too: “Remember the Dawn” clearly calls back to “Black and White World” and “Action at a Distance” seems like a “Love Kills Us All” style epic. You’ll even hear some of the identical guitar licks and keyboard strokes, so the nostalgia is strong with this release. I appreciate those touchstones in the middle of this album.
Third, there are some really strong songs here. I like the aforementioned “Remember the Dawn” for obvious reasons, and “Action at a Distance” is certainly a great epic that has some truly soaring moments; it feels like a journey and it is pretty satisfying. “The Emotional Depiction of Light” is, without a single doubt, the best song on the record. It is the sole song here that celebrates balance and melody to a deeper level, and the pure beauty of it is full of peace and wonder. I should note that there is a Vikram Shanker remix of this song, since he wrote it, that is included as a bonus track. It is the superior version in every way.
The other tracks on the record are mixed for me. “Seven Minutes from Sunset”, “Resilience” and “All This Time (and Not Enough)” have their moments, and some of them seem really familiar, too. The album really does have that recognizable charm to it. “Seven Minutes from Sunset” has some warm synth tones and a nice gallop that I like, especially with how the hovering keys play into the sound. “Resilience” has a darker bent to it, though I would put it with “I Am the Storm” in terms of how much I like it—not that much. They are pretty similar songs. “All This Time” is the closer, and it sounds pretty good, especially the last few minutes. I like how the keys create space for emotion.
This is one of my longest reviews in a very long time, and I think that is because of how conflicted I am. There are clear strengths to this new Redemption offering, but also drawbacks that ruin the experience somewhat. Honestly, I think it is made worse by the fact that these drawbacks are senseless and could be fixed, especially with some self-editing. Still, I Am the Storm is a decent Redemption album that I would put at the middle of their discography pack.
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