I'm not going to lie here, I've been impatiently waiting for this album. Redemption's work to date has been just about worshiped by myself, particularly since picking up The Origins of Ruin shortly after it's early 2007 release. Since then it's been a long, but justified wait. The band have climbed some notable mountains in that time - From the release of a live DVD, an incredible breakthrough supporting Dream Theater, to the personal struggles of the group's guitarist and songwriter Nick Van Dyk. I've played the hell out of the last two Redemption records and find them both to be among the top releases of the past 5 years, so it need not be said that my anticipations and expectations for this album were immensely high. When I found out the band would be unleashing it early to attendees of ProgPower USA X, I quickly did my best to secure a legitimate physical copy as early as I could. Fortunately, this came to fruition and about a week ago my very own advance copy of "Snowfall on Judgment Day" arrived. It has barely left my CD player since.
In sharp contrast to the previous record, this album starts off slowly and builds up a bit, as opposed to the aural assault in the intro to "The Suffocating Silence". "Peel
" starts off with some orchestration and epic atmosphere before fully kicking in to the band's trademark progressive metal sound. A keyboard solo and guitar harmony proceed the first verse, which shows Ray Alder in his lower register, sounding a bit scratchy, as if to indicate a bit of anger or intensity. This track definitely keeps up with the last record's style of the first track being more of an aggressive number, with the majority of this song being on the heavier side, save for the very melodic chorus. In sharp contrast to the Redemption album openers of old though, is the fact that I wouldn't consider this track to be among the album's better musical outings. Don't get me wrong, it's good... VERY good. However, it wasn't one of the tracks I found myself most coming back to after initial listens. Following the album's opener, we have "Walls
", which kicks off with a very bass-heavy intro with some interesting keyboard sound effects, before giving way to the typical guitar-driven lead backed by some wonderful orchestral keyboards. This song is pretty standard mid-tempo stuff, but really catchy, a bit in the vein of "Bleed Me Dry" off the last record. It is on this track that we see a little more of Nick Van Dyk's lyrical greatness, with some of these lines ringing particularly strongly with myself, as I'm sure they will with many others. A strong instrumental passage follows the second chorus, and shows that the band have maintained their great balance between guitar solos from both Nick and Bernie Versailes as well as new keyboard player Greg Hosharian. A third verse and prechorus lead us into the final chorus, and eventually the end of the track, which leaves me very happy. I'm not sure I'd call this one a favorite on the album either, but I think that's a very strong testament to how good this album is.
" is easily among the heaviest things on the album, following a bit in the vein of "The Death of Faith and Reason" off the last record. I feel I should stop with the comparisons to The Origins of Ruin, but in all honesty there are a lot of similarities. Don't be shaken by that, it's not a bad thing. Rather than seeming as though this is just a boring remake of the last album, the band seem to have merely taken an element of the blueprint to the last album and just used it to build something now. One big difference between this track and the one I previously compared it to would be the chorus, which here is quite strong and catchy. It actually may very well be my favorite chorus on the album. This song also has some pretty cool use of voice samples/spoken word segments which enhance the mood of the song, which drips of urgency and conflict. Following that awesome assault on the ears we have "Black and White World
", which really shifts the pace of the album, starting with a piano-driven section which eventually builds into a long instrumental intro before Alder steps into the mix. Here we have one of Ray's best vocal performances on the album, and one of Nick's best set of lyrics. In all honesty, I think Redemption are about the best band in the world for making this sort of "emotional progressive metal" as I call it. The combination of the vocals, writing, and instrumentation just come together to make something incredibly special, and this song is a big testament to that. The band had this track up on their MySpace for a bit, so I became pretty familiar with it, despite its long and pretty unconventional song structure. I'd probably say that at this point, this is my nomination for greatest song on the record, but that's really just picking between a handful of fantastic tracks. If I had to pick a track that has stuck with me the least up to this point, I'd probably go with "Unformed
", which has a riff which is a bit too similar to "Leviathan Rising", at least to my ears. This song is not bad in absolutely any way, I think it just merely has a little less personality than some of the other tracks. It still has me singing along though, so I guess I can't complain. The section after the second chorus is pretty cool.
It is now that we make it to the album's most emotional track, in my opinion away. "Keep Breathing
" is a song dedicated to Nick's daughter Parker. For anyone who has followed the band in the past, you should remember the song "Parker's Eyes" off of the second album, which was about seeing the world through the eyes of a child - the innocence and ignorance that comes with being too young to know the injustice and tragedy the world has to offer. In the worst case of irony ever, Parker was diagnosed with Cone Dystrophy and as a result will probably never have vision better than 20/200, even with corrective lenses. This song is about how her father, Nick, has been inspired by her struggle, and promises to always be there to support her and see her triumph in time. The song is downright beautiful, mainly the chorus. This was one of the two tracks on the album that gave me chills on my first proper listen, and hasn't really done anything but grow on me with successive listens. It's a difficult thing to write a song that can manage to be technically impressive and musically interesting but emotionally compelling at the same time, but the guys managed to do it with this one. "Another Day Dies
" is a song of particular interest to most being that it features guest vocals by Dream Theater's James Labrie. I had my doubts about this, considering even though I'm a Dream Theater fan, I wouldn't say I love James's voice. I feel he was put to good use here though, with he and Ray having about equal showings on the track. James takes the 3 verses, Ray takes the 3 prechoruses, and the two share the chorus which is made up of a pretty sweet two-part harmony. One of my biggest hang-ups with singers singing together is that they bury the voices and make it sound like just a choir of backing vocals rather than having each singer keep their identity. That is definitely not the case here. The two singers' voices compliment each other very well, both being quite different but working very well together, identity maintained. This is also one of the heavier outings on this record and another track that seems to continue to grow on me the more I listen to it.
"What Will You Say?
" has the distinction of being the other song here which gave me chills when I really took it in. This song's emotional content is again turned up to max capacity, with Ray giving a fitting vocal performance. There is something distinctively un-progressive about this song. It's a very a straight-forward number, no real tempo changes, not much outlandish instrumentation... it just sort of keeps things in check which I think actually works very well. I think one of the biggest keys to having success with excessive talents is knowing when NOT to use them, and the band used a dose of excellent restraint on this track. To say this track is one of the technically best would be inaccurate, but I feel it's one of the most enjoyable to listen to, and certainly one of the few which have reached me on a more emotional level. "Fistful of Sand
" probably comes in right alongside "Unformed" as far as being somewhat unmemorable, though good. Along with "Leviathan Rising", it's the heaviest track on the CD, but I don't think it works quite as well as the aforementioned track. Again, nothing in particular I don't like about it, it just doesn't quite hit me like most of the rest. Finally, we arrive at "Love Kills Us All
/ Life in One Day
", and needless to say, it's pretty epic. Easily the album's longest track, clocking in at around 11 minutes, the track features some of the best musicianship on the whole disc. Starting things off slowly with a keyboard/bass driven passage which shows Mr. Alder doing what he seems to do best these days - softer, emotional singing. After the intro, there is a very lengthy instrumental passage which eventually leads us into a more typical verse/prechorus/chorus-type of structure. The verses have a slower, more atmospheric feel, juxtaposed against the more urgent feel of the prechorus, and eventually the major-key essence of the melodic chorus. The section after the solos is very excellent, albeit a bit poppy, before kicking in to a pretty awesome building anthemic section before giving way to the final chorus. The outro is pretty sweet, showing Ray doing some excellent vocal improv, including an ode to "Memory" off of the last record. I feel the track my end a bit too abruptly, but everything leading up to that actual moment is pretty glorious, fairly similar to the way the band's second album, The Fullness of Time ended.
All in all, I think when the album ends, every listener will feel very justified. Unlike other albums of similar length (70 minutes), this album doesn't wander around and bore the listener. It is merely that long because the band has that much music and story within them and needed that amount of time to get it out. I feel this CD was well-worth the long wait, and is sure to please just about every fan of Redemption out there. It is similar enough to their previous work to not piss anyone off with style changes, yet fresh enough to not trigger people claiming it's merely a remake of previous work. Snowfall on Judgment Day is sure to be favored incredibly highly amongst all release I've heard this year, and is a worthy addition to a still relatively new, but already respected and accomplished band's catalog.