Beyond the Bridge - The Old Man and the Spirit
Frontiers Records
11 songs (69:13)
Release year: 2012
Frontiers Records
Reviewed by Cory
Album of the Year V2

By definition progressive music is about pushing boundaries, expanding on what has come before to create something new, etc… Granted that is difficult to do these days with originality being pushed to the side in favor of cloning someone else’s (or your own in some cases) successful formula, but I believe the term progressive has become somewhat a parody of itself, implying technicality and complexity rather than truly great songwriting. The standard bearer for this is of course Dream Theater, a band that I greatly admire and enjoy, yet one that continually falls victim to their own amazing talents. Even with the strong effort that was A Dramatic Turn of Events, you still had that balance of excellent hooks and jaw dropping technical moments with entire passages of musical meandering that has been a symptom since their second album (I consider Images and Words to be perfect). Is it truly progressive when they have been basically using the same formula for over two decades? Symphony X released possibly the album of the year in Iconoclast, and I do not dispute how great it is, but what is truly progressive about it? I hear the Power Metal, the Neo-Classical, the electronic effects in the background, but does any of that qualify it as an album that is truly pushing boundaries? In my opinion they moved beyond the progressive label with Paradise Lost, and further cemented that with Iconoclast. The point that I am trying to make is that our labeling of bands, especially when it comes to progressive, has become more about shoving Band X into a comfortable niche than adequately describing their music’s effect on us. The greatest progressive band of all time, Rush, is a shining example of truly progressive music. Over their stellar career, they have constantly re-invented themselves to push what is possible within their music. Never settling on one accepted style, each album is a snapshot in an ever evolving cycle of innovation. That is true progressive music in my opinion. By telling a band that hence forth they will be “progressive”, you essentially shackle them and defy what the word stands for. Progressive isn’t really a style or genre, but more a description of a singular event, or an album, that meets the criteria of the word. Very few bands can truly claim to be a progressive band for their entire career, and by labeling them as such we both contain the artist and defeat the true intent of the word.

The reason for this long winded opening paragraph is that I want to express to you my state of mind in reviewing Beyond the Bridge’s The Old Man and the Spirit, and the reason I feel as strongly as I do about it. I want you to understand how this album breaks free of musical limitations that surround artists today, and truly reaches a “progressive” status. I want you to understand that by calling it progressive I am not shoving Beyond the Bridge into some nice box and labeling them so that they will fit in alphabetically with a hundred other “progressive” bands. It transcends those, rising to another level occupied by albums such as 2112, Operation Mindcrime, The Odyssey, and Images and Words. This album blends melody, technicality, lyrical concepts, and composition in such a way that it creates a listening experience that dominates your perception and forces your attention. It is a masterpiece, achieved at the start of this band's young career. Finally, I want you to understand why I am naming this the Album of the Year only one day into 2012.

Let’s start with the concept. The Old Man and the Spirit is essentially one story broken down into individual songs that stand on their own, yet transition smoothly from one to the next to retain that conceptual flow. According to the bio that accompanied the promo the theme “is an ambitious concept album dealing with the polarity of human sensuousness and superhuman awareness. Two main characters interpret the music on this theatrical and challenging record: “The Spirit”, who is the personification of all wisdom and awareness that is unachievable to mankind but that lacks of the ability to feel, and her opponent “The Old Man”: a bon vivant who has lived through all highs and lows of human sensations.” Lyrically, the album is easy to digest but requires repeated listening to fully reveal its intricacies. I can tell you that emotionally it is a gauntlet, with moments of pure joy balanced with some truly sad moments as well. The architects behind this work are guitarist Peter Degenfeld and classically trained keyboardist Christopher Tarnow. Vocals for “The Old Man” are handled in a rather eclectic fashion by Herbie Langhans, and “The Spirit” is represented by the lovely tones of Dilenya Mar with a soulful vibe. The harmonies of these two serve as a wonderful layer on top of excellent instrumental passages which range in styles, not all of which are limited to metal. Production on the album is as professional and clean sounding as you can get, which makes sense because it was handled by Simon Oberender (keyboardist and guitarist) at Gate Studio, owned by none other than Sasha Paeth who also mastered the album. Remaining members are Dominik Stotzem (Bass) and Fabian Maier (Drums), providing the often underappreciated bottom end to the sound with excellent performances in their own right.

I will not go into too much detail on specific songs because they are all excellent upon repeat listens, but I will note some highlight moments that helped me discover just how much I love this album. The groove on opener The Call is an ass kicker, with just enough activity to be involving without becoming over saturated. The chorus on this track is also noteworthy, and remains a theme throughout the album that pops up now and again (especially in The Apparition, where it appears in a lovely acoustic entry). Triumph of Irriallity was the frontrunner for my favorite track early on due to its neo-classical influence (comparable to some of Michael Romeo’s work with Symphony X), but in the end I gave up trying to pick a favorite. Suffice it to say it is fantastic. The Spring of it All, despite its short length, is a great duet between the two vocalists that shines. This leads into World of Wonders, which is Dilenya at her most soulful, with a performance that melts the audience. The Struggle shows up like a dose of cold water to the face, with an abrupt style of vocals that leads into a technically fueled composition. It is certainly the oddball of the album, but in a way that breaks up what you have come to expect at that point and turns the album on its head. My last note is on Where the Earth and Sky Meet, a somber and emotionally charged tune that has my favorite chorus in recent memory. When a song brings a tear to your eye (only one, mind you) there is something special at work, and this song is exactly that.

By now I believe my feelings on this album are clear, but I will summarize with this: It will take a monumental effort to top this album in 2012. There are so many elements at work on The Old Man and the Spirit that I cannot begin to fully express them, and hope that you will heed my words and discover this yourself. This is certainly a progressive album in the truest since of the word, but it also goes further than that, stretching beyond simply being a great metal album and standing as a wonderful piece of art. Therefore I am giving it a perfect score, after considerable debate with myself, and I do not feel I will ever have cause to regret it. Perfect is the only word I have left to describe it.

Killing Songs :
Kill is not the right word, but the entire album.
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