Review Summary: A heavy, unforgiving struggle with fear, mortality, and mental and spiritual exhaustion eventually won through sheer willpower and strength of faith, This Mortal Coil testifies to the positive value and purpose of even the worst sufferings.
The existence and purpose of suffering have followed philosophers throughout recorded history. Many of the world’s religions offer responses to this cornerstone question of the human condition, burned into global consciousness by the Biblical character of Job. Why must we suffer? If God exists, why would He allow suffering? What good comes out of suffering? Is that good worth it? These are the types of questions one might ask while listening to This Mortal Coil
, the fifth album by Los Angeles progressive metal icons Redemption, and come to answer them by its close. Background information is vital to understanding the record's significance: in 2008, principal composer, guitarist and keyboardist Nick van Dyk was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a historically incurable blood cancer with a 34% chance of survival over five years. Through the expertise of Bart Barlogie, who is the only doctor in the world who attempts to treat it, a miracle, or both, van Dyk is approaching the point where there is almost no chance of relapse. Truly living in the face of mortality through self-confidence and the strength of our relationships, partially colored by personal experience, is the main theme of This Mortal Coil
; the musical style of Redemption, always the vanguard of such harshly realistic themes, powerfully enlivens the positive results of Nick’s experience.
From humble beginnings, Redemption has always fallen under the heavy shade of the prog metal spectrum: guitar crunch and aggression take precedence over complexity or excessive tonal breadth. It is a complex style of music that maintains intensity throughout, and success requires a certain sense of immediacy carried by musical and lyrical intensity. Opening track Path of the Whirlwind
progresses through series of heavy riffs, a shredding guitar solo and a new technique for Redemption, gang shouts. Ray Alder’s voice quality has turned darker and less melodic, even strained at the right moments, carrying the heavier, more personal themes of the album. Phrases open with the shouted words fear
, all apt words to symbolize the beginning of the dark, complex and subconsciously haunting journey of This Mortal Coil
. As frightening wind samples swirl through the riffing, gaining in strength until Neil Kernon’s gritty, hollow and (unlike what others will have you believe) dynamic mix overloads under pressure, Alder’s nervous vocals echo through chaos. Every last deep-seated fear of death, doom and destruction lies inside this whirlwind, and the various stops along the journey are equally raw, burdensome emotional experiences.
Track two Blink of an Eye
opens with hypnotic bass tapping that translates seamlessly onto guitar, marching with deadly deliberation until Alder enters, a narrator facing almost certain death; the chorus contains his highest note in the Redemption discography, triumphantly lifting over the trauma of a narrow escape. The first of two lengthy epics, Dreams From The Pit
is full of van Dyk’s and Bernie Versailles’ quaking, urgent guitar riffs, an infernal synthesizer backdrop and the lethal punch of bassist Sean Andrews. The contributions Andrews adds throughout This Mortal Coil
cement his place in the band; his tone and playing style sounds professional, imposing and purely metal. Only now, over 22 minutes into the album, does the intense assault even break at all, but the mood is anything but calm; bass melodies circle around and Alder’s weathered baritone register pleads for freedom from the nightmarish lyrical imagery. Past seven minutes, a guitar, bass and keyboard unison leads into a double kick and snare roll by drummer Chris Quirarte, and then builds towards two towering vocal climaxes. This song is based off real nightmares van Dyk experienced during chemotherapy, and its masterful dynamics and mood changes reflect every macabre minute.
The album's first climax is the devastating Noonday Devil
: Redemption’s heaviest song to date, it opens with a chilling quote from The Exorcist III
, leading into a forceful double-kick, guitar and bass barrage, and piling on distorted crackling, dissonant piano chords and Alder’s harsher singing. The album’s narrator finally gains the resolve to defeat the titular demon that symbolizes every deep-seated fear of failure, leading into the melodic, reflective Let It Rain
; Quirarte and Andrews craft delicate counterpoints, Alder chooses a bronzy low register for the uplifting chorus, and Versailles releases a beautiful guitar solo at 4:31. From here, the music traverses simpler, catchier and shorter territories that reflect intermediate personal events, and at this point, the quality wavers for once. The plaintive Focus
and the upbeat, lush choral harmonies of Perfect
lead into the album’s weakest song, Begin Again
; most of the vocal melodies are excellent and the drumming is typically stellar, but the song lacks a defining hook and central theme that stands out among the others.
The album quickly slides back into high gear for the defiant Stronger Than Death
: a marching riff, keyboard/guitar melody and furious drum fill drop out into a bass groove, transitioning onto an altogether more deliberate, harmonically tense main guitar riff. Ray’s voice is crackly but assured, stressed from long struggle but endowed with iron will to defeat death itself. The rallying chorus combines the first riff’s power with a lead and backing chorus that states, in no uncertain terms, Nick’s will to fight “until the final beat of blood.” The smoke clears to leave the hazy keyboard intro of Departure of the Pale Horse
, a reference to Death’s horse in the Book of Revelation. The music picks up after 100 seconds, featuring a pastoral keyboard melody in complement to a funereal chord progression; by all accounts, this funeral should have occurred, but having waited in vain for van Dyk, the pale horse “skulks away, its rider empty-handed.” The music develops calmly, with Andrews’ bass playing a significant role, as Alder conveys the aftermath of this ordeal. From yet another memorable chorus with both lead and backing vocals delivering lyrics, Redemption presses towards home base. All eleven song titles contribute to phrases that summarize the entire journey when strung together, and various vocal tracks and keyboard melodies seep together into one giant polyphonic finale, carried into a fadeout by Quirarte’s double bass. The last audible words on the album, even the last audible sounds, are “I’m stronger than death.”
As these last few seconds fade into nothingness, the listener assimilates this assertive statement of triumph. While all people must die, true triumph over this incontrovertible fact of life is to conquer the fears associated with death, such that it no longer holds any power. If any CD where the lyrics are indispensable exists, this is it, even more so than the lofty standards set by Redemption’s previous work; similarly to much of van Dyk’s composition, much of the music and message of This Mortal Coil
has carved itself into my very soul, bringing this still young man to complete peace with the empty threat of dying. Though this album is not an easy listen, 72 minutes long and full of battering in its rocky lyrical journey, militant opening and dense production, it is ultimately rewarding to a degree only appreciable by hearing. Nick van Dyk testifies loud and clear to the ultimately successful results of his tribulations on This Mortal Coil
, and while listening, new and old fans of the bands will experience both the fundamental trials and lessons of human existence.
"I’ve looked death in the eye,
turned and walked away.
There’s nothing left to fear..."