Review Summary: maudlin of the Well v. 2.0
The newly released maudlin of the Well album (or mini-album) Part the Second
, could be considered a covers album. This is a collection of songs interpreted by lead man Toby Driver in a different paradigm then at the time he began writing the songs. This is the Toby Driver of today covering the Toby Driver of yesteryear. The main problem with an album of covers is that no matter how well a band or artist interprets another work, there is the inherent glass ceiling. There will always be the comparison to the original piece holding the work back from greater things. What separates Part the Second
from this problem, and ultimately makes it an entirely different entity, is that this material is being recorded for the first time. What is presented creates an intriguing examination of the personal and musical growth of the main man, Toby Driver. To simply compare this to the works of the former maudlin of the Well (motW) is like digging into a mine until you find silver and then stopping. A few feet further and you would have discovered gold.
Perhaps the symbol of Driver’s musical growth is the inclusion of violinist Mia Matsumiya in a prominent role on Part the Second
. While strings were not a completely foreign instrument to motW in the past, they were used sparingly and mostly as a texture. Album opener, “An Excerpt From 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, The Revisitation of the Blue Ghost”, begins with a light interplay between guitars, keys, bass and drums before the violin slowly rises out of the mix. It rises into a soaring melody before the song shifts into its main theme. Similarly, the boundlessly beautiful, neo-classical opening of “Rose Quartz Turning to Glass” follows the piano and violin as they interplay between major and minor chords. The passage is reminiscent of Romantic era concertos, that is until the tribal percussions come in giving the song a decidedly mystic flair. After a heartbreaking violin solo, the song moves into a more tradition motW territory with a study in the contrast between the beautiful and the ugly.
Despite Drivers new perspective on music, he never loses sight of the fact that this stuff was written to be a part of the motW canon. Most of the old characteristics of the band are intrinsically placed within the compositions. The sudden, seemingly radical changes in dynamic, such as the sudden cut out and shift into percussive and tense territory after the shredding guitar solo in “Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying”, are still there. True to form, these shifts at first seem inorganic and forced but become more natural with repeated listens. Oh yes, those guitar solos are still there too. The ones that lifted past songs such as “Girl With a Watering Can” into a completely different place. Whereas the more experimental Toby Driver either used snippets (ie. “Wayfarer”, or “__On Limpid Form”) or ditched the blazing guitar solos altogether, Part the Second
tempers them into something less flashy and more necessary in terms of composition. Interspersing the solos within passages of neo-classical experimentation gives the songs an interesting sense of balance. It works in the same way as that contrast between beauty and ugliness.
As previously mentioned, motW were very good at mixing styles that ultimately portrayed a struggle between the light and the dark; the beautiful and the ugly. However whereas the former motW relied mainly on extreme metal to signify the ugly and dark, the more mature Driver has become more diverse. While short bursts of metal passages make appearances, especially on the double-kick frenzy at the end of closer “Laboratories of the Invisible World”, a lot more emphasis is placed on what is played, instead of how loud or distorted it is played. The build up in the middle of “Clover Garland Island” never explodes into a distorted fury, rather it uses chord progression to signify something darker. The vocals work in similar fashion to aid in this more nuanced approach to light and dark. As with the last Kayo Dot record, Driver is done with the growls and the screams. To portray ugliness, Driver instead uses vocal experimentation, such as the murky yelping in the middle section of “Rose Quartz Turning to Glass” or the Gregorian chants that sprawl out in “An Excerpt From....”.
While it is all too easy to describe Part the Second
as simply a mixture of old maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot, this summarization would be missing the bigger picture. This is a refinement of an older sound, adding and subtracting from the equation to ultimately achieve a similar, but slightly different goal. Whereas the Toby Driver of old wanted to make really excellent progressive metal, the Toby Driver of new seems more interested in simply making really excellent progressive music
. Not to discredit the Bath
era maudlin of the Well for the great music they produced, this is just something different. It is like writing a short story at the age of twenty, brimming with talent and invincibility. Then you return to that same story at the age of sixty, with a life of learning and experience behind you. Now you flesh that short story out into a novel, with deeper characters and a more studied plot. From the neo-classical violin and piano passages to the downright funky bass groove on “Clover Garland Island”, Part the Second
presents a new take on something already great as it was, and expanding on it. Sitting here, listening to the last piano lines flicker into the distance, it sinks it. Who cares if this is the best Toby Driver material ever released? This is just pure, fantastic music. Bon appetite.