Review Summary: Emotional and unique, A Fair Dream Gone Mad is among the best progressive records and best debut albums released in recent years.
It's fact now: 2012 was an awesome year for debut albums, and I dare say THE best year in a very long time. I was previously astonished by the level of excellence on display from Ne Obliviscaris, Oceans of Time, Wilderun, and Hail Spirit Noir. I stumbled upon A Fair Dream Gone Mad
shortly after the year eclipsed thanks to a recommendation, and it further proves how exceptional last year was.
In the Silence is like a nice smoothie made of Voyager, Pain of Salvation, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, and even hints of Anathema in terms of build up. The point is that this is a progressive metal record flourishing with soft, acoustic sections. That's the beauty of progressive music: it comes in so many varieties. This is hardly masturbatory Dream Theater-style progressive; it's intricate, haunting, emotive, and poignant. This emotional poignancy is used through a melancholic, depressive rock spin. In fact, the atmosphere in this album reminds me of a more progressive Katatonia. While I'm hardly a huge Katatonia fan, the way it's showcased here is much of the album's charm.
The technical proficiency of this album cannot be questioned, but I feel it comes off the greatest in structure rather than showmanship. Though many bands have been attempting to merge the "hard/soft" thing with varying degrees of success, I don't think I've yet heard any one of them manage to do it so seamlessly as In the Silence. Take, for example, the acoustic solo in "Serenity" that transitions flawlessly into a blazing electric solo, leading back into its somber, moody chorus - one of my favorite moments on the album. "Beneath These Falling Leaves" slowly builds up with an acoustic, haunting, almost melodramatic experience before bursting with heavy guitars and drum patterns at the end of its penultimate verse. Even the way the verses and choruses transition in opener "Ever Closer" and "Endless Sea" is so seamless I have a hard time noticing sometimes.
It's become mandatory for band members to be a professional with their instruments to even write a bad
album these days, so it goes without saying that the instruments are well performed. The drum work might be what's most surprisingly impressing, because it's rare that an album actually makes me pay attention to what the drums are doing the way A Fair Dream Gone Mad
does. The vocals here are the centerpiece of the work, though. Josh Burke has a harmonious baritone that is perhaps the primary reason this album sounds as dark and heartfelt as it does. Simply put, his vocal work is harrowingly excellent.
Ultimately, my only real complaint with A Fair Dream Gone Mad
is the fact it's rather front-loaded with excellence. Beginning around the point of instrumental segue "Close to Me," the album has a small dip in quality. Though the songs remain great (with special note to "Endless Sea," with its simultaneously melancholic and inspirational chorus), the band's creativity seems to have warn down just slightly by this point. It reaches its lowest point with closer "Your Reward." The saving grace to this track is the sections that actually contain vocals, because it is unnecessarily extended with instrumental sections that dominate the song, and its ideas are repeated so often they're stretched thin.
What amazes me most is, despite this being a debut, these guys write music like veterans. I can compare their style to a variety of acts, but they manage something unique and mesmerizing in its approach. I mentioned how 2012 already astounded me with its number of excellent debuts, but this one might be the "be-all and end-all." It's elegant, intricate, and well worth your time.