I grew up in Germany as an army brat and reveled in metal, mainstream and underground. I have no idea when or where or why I picked up Night On Bröcken but I vaguely remember nights of candles in my basement room, worshipping at the altar of Damnation and the others. That album was in regular rotation for me, along with others like Powerslave, Hail to England, Ride the Lightning, Battle Cry, Honour and Blood, among many others. I somehow missed the next two FWs and picked them up again at No Exit before college. I could write volumes on that stellar work alone, but how perfect were Silent Cries and Daylight Dreamers (along with unhealthy doses of Operation:Mindcrime) for your typical angst-ridden teenage metalhead? Thunderous riffing, pounding drums, intelligent lyrics, wailing singing, interludes of quiet grace… perfect recipes for a rebellious teen introvert who had no idea what he wanted to be.
I still don’t, but I know that FW replaced Maiden as my all-time favorites back in the early 90s and have remained there ever since.
(I left Spectre and Awaken alone until the late 80s/early 90s, consuming them like the delicious morsels I knew they would be…)
Perfect Symmetry became my favorite. After that, though I didn’t much care for the more commercial direction, I understood it, and eventually understood the mastery of Parallels. Inside Out is one that I did not like at all at the time, but grew to love, though I still rank it toward the bottom of their work.
A Pleasant Shade of Gray destroyed my expectations. Each time, it seemed, I heard one of my bands coming out with a concept album, I groaned. Mindcrime, Seventh Son, now this. Each time I was pleasantly surprised, even blown away. This time? Destroyed. In a good way. You need patience to realize how much of a masterpiece APSoG is, and if you don’t yet know it, I won’t be able to convince you.
Disconnected and FWX were by comparison disappointing, but how can you live up to APSoG? Again, both works have grown on me.
And now, Darkness in a Different Light. All in all, like every new FW I can remember, I was at first unimpressed, even disappointed. But like all of them, it grows if you give it a chance. The layers reveal themselves slowly, and you understand how they compose songs that are complicated and display meticulous musicianship without being flashy or sacrificing feel. The typical beautiful, understated flourishes, the celebration of melancholy peppered with lifelines of hope, the unexpected turns and twists, the unconventional melodies, all that’s here. The old nihilistic/fatalistic tendencies are tempered a bit by hopeful musings, but as I age and mellow, that doesn’t bother me as much as it once might have.
I still don’t think it’s a masterpiece. But I think it’s impressive. And I could change my mind.
One Thousand Fires. I like the acoustic going on under the heavy riffs. At first, I didn’t care much for the chorus; it was sort of… jarring.
There’s a lot of the same vibe that went into Arch/Matheos here, I think. What I love most about the song is the riff that starts at 5:18. It’s so Jim. A poster on the FW Google Group I subscribe to was dead-on about what Bobby brings to the mix. His bass drums are perfect; in fact they fit so perfectly they don’t jump out at you. Does that make sense? He’s a bit heavy on the cymbals, though.
Firefly. Though this song is growing on me, I still think it’s one of the weakest and most formulaic. The structure reminds me of Engine – not that I didn’t like Engine. I just found it to fit more into the straight-out “Hard Rock” category, as opposed to “Progressive Metal.”
Desire. I like this song. The echo or delay was annoying at first, but it works into the OSI-type riff nicely. 2:29 brings me back to Engine again, and then 2:48 gives me more of a Redemption flavor, then back to the FW/OSI thing.
Falling. I was totally nonplussed by this tune at first. But I started to like it, even though it’s so odd for them. Change and progression and experimentation are why their fans love these guys, no? That’s why I learned long ago to give new albums many listens. As opposed to a Godsmack album I listened to a couple of years ago. One listen and I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.
I Am. Again, a dissonant and incongruous chorus hurts an otherwise great song for me.
Lighthouse. I like the despairing tone of this, often belied by its lyrics. Again, back to the Google Group: someone was contrasting Aresti’s tendency of leaving a little hope in his themes, whilst Matheos is pretty dark. This is a nice mix of both. Dark and despairing, but built around a theme of hope.
Into the Black. I hate to say that this is my favorite on the album, since it was the first released and it’s the catchiest, and I don’t like getting drawn in by hooks. But this one sticks in my head the most and I find myself singing along to it instantly.
Kneel and Obey. When encountering something new, it’s natural for us to compare to things known. I used to rail against that, but it’s how we work as humans.First I thought of A/M and On the Fence, with the eastern-ish guitar tone (or whatever that is). The ponderous riff reminded me of Solitude Aeturnus, a doom metal band I’ve enjoyed from time to time. Ray comes off sounding like a bit like Layne Staley here, slow and dissonant and gloomy.
O Chloroform. I love this song except for, again, the refrain, which I feel is weakly worded. Glad Ray himself said he didn’t know what the hell Kevin Moore was writing about, because I can’t tell either…
And Yet It Moves. After the pretty intro, that part reminds me right away of A/M. I’m not sure about the comparisons to “Still Remains,” I have to go back and revisit it – it was never one of my favorites. Strikes me as odd that they’re using “Still Remains” it as an encore. Most bands would use their most popular tunes at the end; in FW’s case, I guess, “Point of View,” “Through Different Eyes,” and “Eye to Eye.” But, again, the hell with convention, who needs it?
I love this song, although I still don’t totally get the complete change in tone at 9:04. I mean, I like it, but it seems like a different song for a while, almost out of APSoG (pt. IX?).
Firefly (Extended). Better than the regular version, but generally the same opinion.
Falling Further. Like the version on the album proper, I was bemused by this one. It sounds like a (slightly more sophisticated) 80s hair metal tune. I had the same reaction when I listened to Dream Theater’s new one and heard “The Looking Glass.” But after a few listens, you know what? This song is fun! I admit that while cringing at Poison and Dokken and Extreme images that flash through my head. Well, another thing I’ve learned as I age – if you like something, fess up to it, even it seems not to fit into your persona or reputation. That’s why I shall now confess my love for the music of Bananarama.
All praises to Jim and Ray and the guys for a release worth the wait. I only wish they could get the acclaim they deserve!
(Update) I have since seen them on the tour for this album, and the show was ridiculous. In the best way possible.