Review Summary: A spectacular prog-metal debut.
Progressive metal has fallen-off in recent times; what was once a boundary-pushing and at least moderately-exciting genre has become about as exhilarating as sitting and watching grass grow. It’s played out; boundaries have been pushed and most of the reasonable limits have been reached. The vast majority of prog metal bands today revel in the glory of wanking themselves into oblivion while offering little of substance to the listener. Finding a unique band that’s doing something fascinating is becoming more difficult with each passing year. Every once in a while though a rare band surfaces that injects some life and personality into the scene; seven-member group Beyond the Bridge is one such band.
An export of Germany, BtB do progressive metal the way it’s meant to be done- with an emphasis on songwriting while sporadically sucking their own dicks just enough for people to recognize the extraordinary talent they’re hearing. Absent are the dizzying, practically computer-generated time signatures, tempo shifts, and key changes often serving little-to-no musical or artistic purpose. As a result, the songs don’t feel forced which gives the album an aura of authenticity. It feels natural. Along with this more conservative approach, BtB have a male and female vocalist structure (Herbie Langhans and Dilenya Mar). Songs like “World of Wonders” (featuring Mar’s soothing, angelic voice) shine the spotlight on one of the vocalists while most other tracks have them both combining in brilliant harmony. This changing dynamic adds variety and identity to the album which helps prevent it from becoming stale.
One listen to BtB and the obvious comparison is to Dream Theater; luckily, Beyond the Bridge rarely cross the threshold into gaudiness and sounding like they’re trying too hard. Their virtuosic abilities are unmistakable, yet the story-like lyrical content, powerful chords and duel-vocal harmonies allow the group to do what most bands in the genre can’t- maintain interest throughout the duration of an entire album.
On the negative side, the album’s production is similar to Dream Theater’s Systematic Chaos
which leaves a lot to be desired; the drums are rather flat and poppy with little depth, while the record itself also lacks atmosphere. With that said, the bland production is easily overshadowed by the top-notch songwriting, unique duel-vocal system, and simple-but-effective melodies. Beyond the Bridge bring all the amenities we’ve come to expect in stellar fashion: unpredictable twists & turns in the songs, piano work, heavy tracks with driving riffs, softer tracks displaying vocal skill, melodic solos, and a taste of nearly everything else fused in along the way.
All in all, The Old Man And the Spirit
flows so smoothly that the song changes often aren’t noticeable if one isn’t paying attention to it. The eleven songs perfectly fit together like a puzzle. Beyond the Bridge’s debut is one of 2012’s best so far and should be regarded as a manual in properly-done progressive metal for our era. When it comes to prog metal, these classically-trained musicians get it.