Review Summary: Rebuilding The Ruins is not perfect, but Images of Eden's mergence of toweringly heavy progressive metal with poetic, searingly inspirational lyrics and ominous otherworldliness almost feels like it.
There come times in my musical fandom when a new discovery practically shouts ”I am special”
, and that this speciality is simply unexplainable; I inevitably find that these discoveries change me in similarly unexplainable processes. After being alerted to American heavy progressive metal project Images of Eden by the members of its spearhead Gordon Tittsworth’s second major band, the Corpus Christi-based All Too Human
, I soon discovered on the band’s website a lyrical mural with grace, passion, and one of the deepest senses of spirituality and optimism found in any collective. That the band’s heavy, emotional and beyond inspiring music delivered is unsurprising; though almost too profound to adequately assimilate or even review, it is precisely this sense of dealing with the incomprehensible that makes Images of Eden’s heaviest, longest, most progressive, and most bombastic effort, Rebuilding The Ruins,
such an intangibly Herculean force.
The story behind the album’s writing, especially lyrical, adds further mystery and intrigue to its development: Tittsworth’s lyrics generally appear during erratic, trancelike episodes where words simply spill forth with him unconscious
of writing them, as if he was not actually writing the words but channeling
them. His pen’s residue tends to support this claim; the lyric sheet’s control over imagery, recurring themes, refusal to clutter itself with excessive esoteric word choice, and ability to paint evocative images of inner warfare and the encouragement offered by fellow warriors and guardian angels is a flawless masterpiece, capable of captivating a listener all by itself. Appropriately, there exist strong indications of a Christian worldview, and though written as a universally applicable concept album, a heartfelt and convicted spirituality is breathed into every second of the recording. During the introspective On Elevated Ground,
led by resonating arpeggio slices and a meditative strolling bass, majestic choirs vividly describe the heavenly utopia Tittsworth would create with such a capability, shaking my entire being with inexplicable chills. Regardless of the validity of his writing conduit, the album’s gigantesque musical cinema operates on such otherworldly levels that no listener can avoid being affected somehow.
As the Pennsylvanians’ heaviest recording, Rebuilding The Ruins
is stacked with pyramidic riffage, authoritative vocals, cinematic keyboard and piano, and the precise drum prowess of Chris Lucci (also of All Too Human), whose intricate cymbal patterns recall Neil Peart and busy when appropriate tom fills recall Mike Portnoy and Bobby Jarzombek; Tittsworth handles all rhythm guitars, bass, and some keyboards, while lead guitarist Dennis Mullin’s technical ability and versatility solidify him as an essential member of the band. Introductory track Crosses In The Sand
deploys all such stops and grabs the listener’s attention quickly with haunting piano and blowing wind combined with disturbing backward samples of crying babies; as Tittsworth whispers “Sorrow shall end,”
power chords and drum fills kick in and harness the song into a galloping, Iron Maiden
-on-chunk guitar riff, over which Tittsworth’s primary vocal style, a metalized classic progressive metal low tenor akin to Ray Alder and Mike Baker, sings about the dangers of playing God and the regrets, and need for understanding and forgiveness, of those who have made such fateful, even fatal, decisions. As Lucci’s crash cymbal contradicts the beat and the rhythm guitar rocks the boat further, the need to jettison ballast and let the waves wash it away becomes more urgent; Mullin’s solemn, ominous lead guitar playing at 4:50 draws from no other band, and yet he is equally capable of mercilessly shredding ears. Crazily off-kilter drumming, not just playing against the beat but against itself
, is layered underneath a cyclonic guitar solo, intensified further by the recurring main riff and Tittsworth’s guttural howl at the song’s piercing climax. It is the first hint that the story’s characters, and every listener of Rebuilding The Ruins,
are bound to realize the immense powers and principalities surrounding them, and that their guidance will allow them to see once unseen dimensions of existence.
The album’s midsection is its heaviest and most climactic region; though merely five minutes long, the foreboding Sorrow’s End
is a wild bantha chase, slowly slipping into disharmonic vocal patterns and choirs, swashbuckling bass expansions, and a frantic tremolo picked guitar solo underlain by the tense combination of repeating exotic chords and Lucci drumming ahead
of the beat within the first half of each bar. The biblically proportioned battle between inner angels and demons is itself enlivened in the title track, where synthesizer solar flares scorch the now seven-string guitar riffage, Tittsworth’s experimentation with basso chanting, whispering, and harsh choral vocals, and Mullin’s firestorm lead above one of multiple infernal riffs created by expansive chords; while the song maintains steady 4/4 time except for its gentle bluesy postlude in 6/8, excitement is afoot around every second, manufacturing a standing model for writing heavy progressive metal. The spectacular My Stigmata
delivers the progressive goods by combining Images of Eden’s all-out heaviness with smooth dynamic/meter changes and encouraging lyrical anecdotes. Its groove-oriented riffing approach and gritty vocals summon the Symphony X
ghost, but Tittsworth’s provocative religious imagery, proscenial dramaturgy, and ominous pacing are patented Images of Eden; Tittsworth and Lucci steamroll through a viperine 12/8 guitar riff, with Lucci displaying more than adequate technical competence at fills, cymbals, and even polyrhythms, and in signature style, the music carefully settles into a vulnerable piano for its emotional climax. L. Dean Harris’ skill on the ivories is reminiscent of Shadow Gallery
as he accents the protagonist’s humble plea for assistance from above with Gregorian choral patches; as Tittsworth’s delivery grows more desperately pleading, his voice nearly cracks, and along with the smooth recurrence of heavy guitar, guest vocalist Jackie Joyce’s angelic mezzo-soprano shines down from the sky, offering undying support until the very end of his journey, soon to come after one final mission. The call-and-response between the two voices finishes a song that has left me speechless, even with my eyes welling up, on multiple occasions.
While the following three tracks are significantly calmer, the graceful songwriting and thematic persist. The Native American-flavored trio of strings, marching drums, and emotive soloing combines seamlessly with the rustic galloping riff of Native To His Land,
and this primitive theme continues through the equally nostalgic Children of Autumn,
re-establishing the Shadow Gallery associations with an exquisite piano-led introduction and the album’s only keyboard lead; the joyful verses employ 7/4 time to evocative effect as the man returns to his homeland and works towards restoring nature to its created splendor. The solemn piano descent opening the 12-minute grand finale, Sunlight of the Spirit Part IV
(referencing a series on the band’s so-titled previous album), is cut open by diving riffs and wordless siren calls; the protagonist’s earthly mission has been completed, and the song details the preparation for his glorious journey into the afterlife. The emotional impact of this piece is incontrovertible; as determined galloping with unhinged drum fills falls into a guitar and drum trade-off, then slides into sinking chords which echo away into sounds of nature, Harris’ circling piano melody and conclusive synthesizers make it feel like the man is looking at the sky, satisfied with his accomplishments and ready to transcend to an eternity beyond wildest dreams. Tittsworth’s tenacious bass climb harmonizes perfectly with Mullin’s victorious guitar solo, which amazes by crescendoing its initial few notes into a blistering scale oscillation, driving the track towards its venerable climax. As the riffing accumulates harmonic tension towards the final moment of crossing over, Mullin and Tittsworth ascend to the very apex of their technical and emotional ranges and Lucci accelerates into a breathtaking double kick run. While Tittsworth sends his last hurrah to temporal existence, the riffs slow down and Lucci overlies the final resonating note with an Olympian drum solo, then drifts away beyond the horizon to spotlight a peaceful piano and clean guitar coda (also reprising the identically named epic). This is the type of musical journey which is “too good to be true” until actually heard, and it displays everything Images of Eden stands for, musically and conceptually.
Precious few shades of mere mortality shine through the cracks of Rebuilding The Ruins.
The production is slightly flawed, with the kick drum and snare lacking presence due to minor dynamic range clipping, but credit is given for the otherwise pristine mix; cranking the volume high will clarify the sonic intricacies and intensify the seraphic embrace of Images of Eden. After finishing an album such as Rebuilding The Ruins,
I’m never hesitant to believe Tittsworth’s inspiration is indeed beyond mortal minds. To take his words for it, this is his Lord of the Rings,
and one does not simply read a review of such an album without walking into Mordor, because what you find there will lift you above Middle-Earth and into an entirely different plane of musical existence.
“I have carried you in times when you knew not what to do
I have watched you from the day when you first opened your eyes
I let you make mistakes, learn so you would grow,
and I will carry you once again for your one last lesson learned…”
Originally written for Black Wind Metal