|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Darkwater|
|Record Label: Ulterium||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 95%|
|Running Time: 57:48|
Crave critical consensus? Just check out the online reviews for Where Stories End, the 2010 sophomore release from Sweden’s Darkwater. The album received a perfect 5 star grade at Sea Of Tranquility and 98 out of a possible 100 points from PowerMetal.dk. The 85% Metal Observer review described Where Stores Ends as “(having) everything that it needs to be immensely successful (and that) the entire performance is delivered with conviction and passion” while White Throne (9 axes out of 10) states it is “a progressive cavalcade of melodies and musical exploration (that) soars with conviction and passion”. This is consistency in no uncertain terms and neatly illustrates what Darkwater is all about- namely, melodically driven progressive metal backed by proficient instrumentation and excellent production.
What stands out most about Where Stories end is how Darkwater, a group that released its debut Calling The Earth To Witness in 2007 and features four of the five members of the melodic metal band Harmony, has stepped it up a notch in terms of its songwriting. Specifically, the album finds Darkwater placing greater emphasis on melody while mixing in darker and atmospheric elements to create a work that comes across that much more immediately accessible. Several reviewers, as a result, have invited Shadow Gallery as a reference point, a particular I cannot help but agree, although Dream Theater, Evergrey and Symphony X also deserve mention.
The consistency of Where Stories End is such that no song stands out above the rest. Now, in now way am I implying that the compositions here sound the same or come across indistinguishable but rather that they are all equally good. Whether it is longer songs (“Why I Bleed”), shorter songs (“Breathe”) and everything in between – including heavier tracks (“Fields Of Sorrow” & “Walls Of Deception”), epic pieces (“Queen Of The Night” & “Into The Cold”) and those characterized by their time changes (“In The Blink Of An Eye” & “A Fools Utopia”) – Darkwater delivers the perfect balance of melody, hooks, riffs and harmonies to keep the project fresh with repeated listen.
Musicianship, as one would imagine, remains a Darkwater strength. It all starts with guitarist Markus Sigfridsson who, in this reviewers estimate, is one of the more prolific musicians in the metal community in that he plays a lead songwriting role in this two bands, Darkwater and Harmony, and side project 7 Days.
Where Stories End is full of his dramatic soloing in that he knows how to extend the length of a song with a tasteful lead break without overdoing it (he reminds me of Carl Johan Grimmark in this capacity). At this point it must be noted that Darkwater steps back from some of its jam-band proclivities on Calling The Earth To Witness in that, for the most part, the instrumental stretches here are not quite as extensive- with the corresponding length of each song reduced at the same time (observation and not critique either way).
But that does not mean that the bands creativity is any less instrumental wise, as can be found in the duels Sigfridsson engages with keyboardist Magnus Holmberg. Holmberg proves a terrific musician as a result of the manner he imbues the project with his keyboard work – ranging from the lushly done to the orchestral to the symphonic – while adding traces of piano whenever needed.
Henrik Båth, at the same time, with his smooth and clean but passionate delivery, can best be described as the consummate progressive metal vocalist. I find it rewarding the steps and strides he has made over the years with Darkwater and Harmony.
Production values are warm and textured in presenting a perfectly balanced guitar and keyboard mix while highlighting a rich drum sound.
“Breathe” brings the least progressiveness of the tracks here in presenting a verse-chorus-verse structure that has more in common with Harmony than the intricacies Darkwater is known for. But that does not mean it is any less of a work in that the melody proves unmistakable, giving rise to the type of accessibility and shorter length that will lend itself to potential radio play.
Ironically, the albums longest, “Why I Bleed” (8:15), follows. Guess you could say the band did not want to leave any doubt as to the musical leanings here. In other words, this is there way of saying “Oh and by the way, in case you were wondering, this IS a progressive metal album”. Irregardless of the length and changes in time and tempo, the song is far from cumbersome with its lushly done chorus and joining of airy keyboards and crunchy guitars that has much in common with Symphony X. “Why I Bleed” searches for hope in a lost world:
I can't believe I'm still alive
But this time is mine
Still I must dream just to get by
Slowly fade away
This is why I bleed for this world
Take on the pain as my own
See tears falling down, crash to the ground
This is who we are
I feel I cannot breathe anymore
Until this world comes alive
This is why I bleed
Lost in a world in between
Sorrow and pain is what I've seen
“Into The Cold” lightens the mood somewhat. This one finds keyboards playing a more pronounced role – not a bad thing in that they fail to interfere with the distinct guitar flavorings throughout – in giving rise to some symphonic touches. Chorus is again expertly done with an epic (almost grand) feel but it is the bands richly orchestrated vocal melodies that ultimately set the song apart.
A more laid back heading is taken on “A Fools Utopia”. Highlighting traces of piano make their presence felt in the backdrop while the rhythm guitar – in comparison to those that went ahead – does not play quite the same pronounced role. I am almost tempted to suggest this one borders on semi-ballad territory, but irregardless of classification it upholds the albums high standards of emphasis on melody and intricacy. Lyrics focus on shattered dreams:
When night and day unite
And dreams turn to dust
Another day to be
Consumed in tragedy
You’re standing on the edge
Beneath a troubled sky
Your faith was all you had
Now it's shattered on the ground
Know that, you're the one who follows
A fool's utopia
Leave this season in its color
“Queen Of The Night” brings a more aggressive touch. Returning are the symphonic keyboards and forward guitar enforcement to create a near epic environs. Chorus, likewise, is magnificently done with Båth exhibiting the full range to his voice. When the tempo slows, it is for an instrumental stretch carried by Sigfridsson’s distinct lead guitar.
“In The Blink Of An Eye” represents all that works on Where Stories End: A complex but flowing melody backed by symphonic keyboards and presence filled guitar. The only difference is that we have a bit more piano this time around. An airy keyboard solo closes things out. “In The Blink Of An Eye” deals with the death of a loved one:
Welcome sorrow, pain and dirt
Meet the emptiness we're made of
Walks just this one time
A fear something's wrong
A moment so desperate for an instant change she'll fly
Make her fly
All can change in the blink of an eye
You can hear the screams from inside of her mind
Leaves the scene in one beat of her heart
See how all can change in the blink of an eye
The mid-paced muscle of “Fields Of Sorrow” brings a darker feel. Characterized by its unremitting riffs, the song establishes a contrasting environs as the bands trademark vocal melodies step forward to interweave with its catchy chorus. Tobias Enbert, in particular, stands out with this technical drumming- plenty of creative drum roles and fills. Am I out of line to suggest a slight Veni Domine comparison? Lyrics align with the musical aura at hand:
I fear, that I'm losing it all
I hear, there's nothing I can do
On this, path where I've been so long
I seek, for now my soul is torn
I feel, that I'm losing it all
I bleed, for things I can't control
I've tried, to leave all my fears behind
I am joining the forsaken ones
An ever waking mind claims their might
And every day for them is a wait for night
“Without A Sound” smoothly advances its distance. What we have here is a melodically flowing piece, seven minutes of enticing progressiveness that drifts between quieter passages in which keyboards play the prevailing role and others upheld by forthright rhythm guitar. Nice instrumental proclivity in which Sigfridsson, once more, displays his distinct playing. This one encourages finding shelter from the storm:
All I need from this life is forgiveness, nothing else
But all I see all around me is madness, so what's it like to
To be seen, be loved, be touched, be safe and feel alive
Won't you just be kind enough to try
Every step of the way has been tearful, but I've done my best
To hold it in and not be fearful, like all the rest so
Leave me, where can I turn, be safe and not get burned
Why is life so painful
Won't you find me a place to call home
So I won't be alone, blind me with your lies
It's time to fly
“Walls Of Deception” takes an upbeat heading with its positive milieu. Another seven minutes of atmospheric progressive metal, the song aligns a lush vocal harmony driven chorus – great, great hook here – with a bottom heavy presence that speaks of a prime band at the literal top of its game. Rounding things out is one of the albums lengthier instrumental runs.
What we have in Where Stories End is potentially album of the year. When factoring in the accessible songwriting and superior production, we are left with a work that, for a lack of better words, sets the standard for melodic based progressive metal. I cannot help but feel that Darkwater will remain an influential force for years to come.
Track Listing: “Breathe” (4:39), “Why I Bleed” (8:17), “Into The Cold” (6:32), “A Fools Utopia” (5:46), “Queen Of The Night” (6:13), “In The Blink Of An Eye” (6:11), “Fields Of Sorrow” (6:41), “Without A Sound” (6:52), “Walls Of Deception” (6:51)
Henrik Båth – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Markus Sigfridsson – Guitars
Magnus Holmberg - Keyboards
Simon Andersson - Bass
Tobias Enbert - Drums