For all its intellect and adrenaline, metal is not generally known for being music’s most emotionally moving genre. While many prog fans would certainly point to Anathema and Pain of Salvation as prime examples of bands who know how to balance the rapturous with the raucous, those with even a passing familiarity with their output would note that these two European ensembles do so while straying fairly far from their metal roots. Many metal devotees would, however, surely point to two unapologetically metal bands who reliably inspire both manic headbanging and cathartic weeping – Fates Warning and Redemption – and it doesn’t take a metal scholar to note that these two American bands have a very important trait in common.
Ray Alder did not launch either band, but he did unquestionably launch both to stratospheric levels of excellence, abandoning John Arch‘s fantasy tales in favor of philosophical musings and psycho-social observations with the former, and supplanting Rick Mythiasin‘s generic hollowness with that rich, robust voice with the latter. Both bands benefited immensely from Alder‘s delivery of their suddenly more urgent output, and both bands bolstered Alder‘s already considerable vocal prowess as if they were competing to claim his most powerful performance as their own; compare his deliveries on “Darkness in a Different Light” to “The Art of Loss” and “Theories of Flight” and try to tell yourself there wasn’t some sort of contest going on there.
Redemption honcho Nick van Dyk‘s surprise announcement at last year’s ProgPower USA that his longtime front-man and even longer-time bestie had parted ways with the band wrought shock and bewilderment unto an auditorium full of diehard fans and close friends. How would Alder fare without two of the most important bands in prog-metal coaxing ever-higher levels of awesomeness from him? Who on earth could possibly fill his shoes? The announcement that Evergrey singer and masterplanner Tom S. Englund would be that shoe filler came as an even bigger shock – I thought for sure it would be Sir Russel Allen. How would the guy who brought an entirely new level of torment to prog-metal affect a band whose motif is agony with (heh heh) redemption? This would be akin to rechristening Sentenced, the mighty Finnish suicide metal band of yore, Sentenced With Surprise Commutation. The answer, like Redemption‘s music, is complicated; both the band and the singer benefit, though the listener might not realize it at first. The brilliantly titled “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” might well be a victim of my own heightened expectations, but unlike much of Englund’s post-“In Search of Truth” output, it is an effort that benefits from repeated listens.
“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” opens with an eerie minor key sequence that quickly gives way to dropped-D fury that’s instantly recognizable as Redemption with just a dash of Megadeth rage thrown in for good measure; my guess is that Van Dyk is still on a giddy schoolboy high after having three Megadeth alumni guest on “The Art of Loss.” Even armed with the knowledge that the voice I would hear would be Englund‘s, I still literally twitched when the vocal that came in at 0:38 was not Alder‘s. (I actually missed a step as well, but I’ll retain my dignity by blaming Waffles, my dumb Rottweiler). Mercifully, “Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams” demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that Englund has what it takes to deliver Redemption‘s angrier material. In fact, I cannot help but wonder if the furor in Van Dyk‘s songs had actually surpassed what Alder can offer long before the amicable split. As powerful as Alder‘s performance was on the album, I try, and fail, to suppress a devious, shit-eating grin at the thought of Englund belting out “The Art of Loss” with that trademark menacing torment.
Which brings me to a greater point regarding Herr Englund, the depth of whose anguished delivery has been MIA for longer than I care to ponder, perhaps owing to Evergrey‘s mostly lackluster material over the past decade. His guest performance on Oceans of Slumber‘s “No Color, No Light” (from this year’s notable “The Banished Heart”) did offer a promising glimpse into what we might expect from “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” and I’m grateful to report a marked improvement over the monotony that plagued that last Evergrey album. Unburdened with the task of songwriting, Englund is free to explore the depths of Van Dyk‘s harrowing lyrics to reconstruct the excruciation that begat them. The liberty to do so might be exactly what Tommy Boy needed.
“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” also demonstrates unequivocally that for all his prowess, Alder was merely a conduit through which Van Dyk has reliably channeled his own prowess. If any naysayers still somehow believe that Alder was the glue that adhered Redemption‘s most powerful output of the past thirteen years, “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is certain to shut them right the fuck up. The album continues with “Someone Else’s Problem,” another instantly-recognizable cut that features guest soloist Simone Mularoni (DGM, Empyrios) tastefully shredding the listener’s face off with his fleet-fingered insanity before Englund rages about disentangling himself from a parasitic relationship. This song also deserves praise for drummer Chris Quirarte‘s urgent delivery in the interlude, which easily out-spanks a similar Mike Mangini passage on Dream Theater‘s “Outcry” (a passage that has nothing technically wrong with it other than the absence of oomph). “Someone Else’s Problem” subtly highlights Quirarte‘s dominance of his instrument; the man is fully capable of stealing the show here, but instead takes a back seat in order to let to composition shine, and only shows off when appropriate without ever sacrificing that manic drive. An unsung hero in drumming circles, Quirarte‘s skill approaches Portnoy levels of lunacy while maintaining strict adherence to the idea that the song is King.
Other songs maintain a similar fervor while keeping the proggy/techy stuff fairly listenable; “The Echo Chamber” examines the perils of partisan bickering in the social media age, while “Impermanent” ruminates on the inevitability of change while perhaps unconsciously touching on a theme in the Eugene O’Neill play from which this album takes its adulterated title. But it’s the fifth track, “Indulge in Color,” that deserves special mention for possibly having the first upbeat, major-key sections Englund has ever recorded. A continuation of “Black and White World” (from the monu-fucking-mental 2009 album “Snowfall on Judgment Day”), “Indulge in Color” bravely revisits Redemption‘s crown jewel while challenging Englund to not sound like he wants to kill himself. His trademark roar fully intact, he delicately – yes, delicately – layers harmonies over himself without crossing into saccharine territory, culminating with vocal counterpoint and Van Dyk‘s harmonized guitars to conclude with what is possibly the first happy ending of Englund‘s career. To say that hearing this from Mr. Englund isn’t disorienting would be a blatant lie, but the more listens “Indulge in Color” is given, the more the listener realizes that it actually works.
That said, “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” doesn’t mark the return of the young, hungry Tom Englund that turned so many heads with “The Dark Discovery” and the seminal “Solitude Dominance Tragedy.” There are no “cold is the air I breath” or “God, you were my Judas” moments here. But there don’t really need to be. The Tom Englund we get with Redemption has all the vocal abilities his younger self has, but with the wisdom that only twenty years of writing and recording can bring. To wit, being able to do it is not sufficient reason to do it. The song must call for it. If not, you risk just being dramatic.
The album’s latter half includes a gloomy piano-led companion to “Someone Else’s Problem” called “And Yet,” which vividly recalls both Evergrey‘s mellower moments as well as Redemption‘s own “The Origins of Ruin,” while “Little Men” and “The Last of Me” maintain the pace, standards, and attitude set earlier on the album without broadening the scope much. The pace picks up again with another bitching cover, this time of U2‘s “New Year’s Day,” all metalled up with frenetic performances by all involved. The album concludes with the ten-minute title track, which opens bleakly, gradually getting heavier until we end up with a dizzying, uneasy, atonal section that culminates with bassist Sean Andrews‘ throbbing undercurrent leading into thrashier, speedier territory. That particular moment is one of the album’s most satisfying, signifying the tension of a long night finally breaking with the day, while the optimistic refrain and conclusion, where Englund dares us to dream, allude to the sunrise finally conquering the darkness. If the very essence of everything this band represents could be extracted, we would be left with this one song.
While “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is certainly a dip that continues Redemption’s habit of alternating outstanding albums with releases that are merely great, it’s worth noting that this band has survived a personnel change that would have doomed a lesser band to failure. Indeed, with the recruitment of Englund and new keyboardist Vikram Shankar, whom Van Dyk calls the single most talented musician that’s ever been in the Redemption ranks, this unassuming act from Southern California now seem poised to deliver the true successor to “Snowfall on Judgment Day,” a record that ranks right up there with Fates Warning‘s “Parallels” as one of the centerpieces of not just progmetal, but heavy metal in general. This new record’s promise and quality also give hope that Redemption will affect Evergrey the way it affected Fates Warning: with an importunate pressure to exceed their own heightened expectations. The future looks bright for all three bands, and “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” could very well be the (heh heh) redemption Englund has sought since Evergrey strayed from its once-glorious path.
Released By: Metal Blade
Release Date: July 27th, 2018
- Nick van Dyk / guitars, keyboards
- Chris Quirarte / drums
- Sean Andrews / bass guitar
- Tom Englund / vocals
- Vikram Shankar / keyboards
“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” Track-Listing:
1. Eyes You Dare Not See in Dreams
2. Someone Else’s Problem
3. The Echo Chamber
5. Indulge in Color
6. Little Men
7. And Yet
8. The Last of Me
9. New Year’s Day
10. Long Night’s Journey Into Day
"Long Night's Journey Into Day" rewards listeners who offer it repeated listens with some of the most poignant, penetrating, and indeed human heavy metal they're likely to hear this year.