|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Gordon Tittsworth & Chris Lucci|
|Record Label: Nightmare||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website: Images Of Eden|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 73:58|
Sunlight Of The Spirit, the 2006 sophomore release from York, Pennsylvania based Images Of Eden, ranks with the better progressive metal albums this reviewer heard from the previous decade. As often inherit to progressive based music, Sunlight Of The Spirit placed emphasis on complex compositional structures, stop and start time signatures and intricate instrumental arrangements. The 95% Angelic Warlord review described it as “a work in which Images Of Eden puts the progressive in the progressive metal in no uncertain terms, delivering a technical and complex but creative sound that, for a lack of better words, is not your typical verse-chorus-verse variety”.
The same holds true for Rebuilding The Ruins, the spring of 2011 and third full length album from Images Of Eden. Despite the passage of five long years, the group has returned with a work every bit as relevant and dynamic - both musically and lyrically - while maintaining its penchant for inspired songwriting within a progressive format. Images Of Eden does, however, present with a bit of variety this time around.
“Crosses In The Sand” and “Sorrow’s End”, for instance, highlight occasional power metal touches while “Rebuilding The Ruins” brings some darker aspects and “Dreams Unbroken” an ethereal emphasis. The lengthier material here shines as well, with eight minute tracks “Human Angels” and “My Stigmata” delivering elements of the emotional and theatrical respectively and “Sunlight Of The Spirit: Part IV – Images Of Eden” twelve minutes of stop and start and back and forth again time changes. In between, the group has confidence to explore non-progressive territory, as it does on straightforward hard rocker “Tribal Scars”, melodically driven “Native To This Land” and ballad “On Elevated Ground”.
It all adds up to 70+ minutes of progressive consistency. Now, in the past I have been critical of progressive bands that make their albums unnecessarily lengthy by insisting on filling an eighty minute CD to near capacity. Not so here in that Rebuilding The Ruins presents with more than enough in terms of diversity and creativity to keep things fresh with repeated listen. In other words, Images Of Eden proves smart enough not to fall victim to many of the trappings inherit to the progressive genre - meandering jam session after meandering jam session, pointless long windedness and endless drivel - while playing to their strengths in the process.
Those strengths in question start with band performance, particularly that of vocalist Gordon Tittsworth. Bringing a mid-range to high pitched delivery, the artist has come into his own vocal wise with a style perfectly suited for the music at hand. He stays mostly in smooth sounding territory, although the albums title track finds him singing in a lower register (sort of like Chaz Bond of Jacobs Dream). Others reviewers have accurately compared him to Geoff Tate (Queensryche), James Labrie (Dream Theater), Ray Alder (Fates Warning) and the late Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery). Yes, very good company indeed, but one name I would like to mention that has been missed is John Elefante (Mastodon, ex-Kansas).
There are some changes to report in the Images Of Eden line-up. Gone is drummer Matt Kaiser, replaced by newcomer Chris Lucci (All Too Human). L. Dean Harris now handles piano and keyboards while Tittsworth fills in on rhythm guitar, bass and additional keyboards. Dennis Mullin continues to handle all lead guitar duties.
At this point it must be reinforced how Images Of Eden makes tasteful use of its instrumental sound - check out “Rebuilding The Ruins” and “Sorrow’s End” – without overdoing it. Credit goes to Mullin for enhancing the project with his intricate soloing abilities, ranging from the blazing (“Crosses In The Sand”), bluesy (“Human Angels”) to intense “Sunlight Of The Spirit IV”).
Do not confuse Images Of Eden with being a Christian band, but it must be noted the positive and spiritual nature of its lyrics. While not a concept album, Rebuilding The Ruins deals with overcoming obstacles in life, making the right decisions and gaining strength in the process.
The spiritual themes come to light on tracks such as “My Stigmata”, with the line “Now I am wearing the crown of thorns so invisible to me/I bleed the wounds from my hands and feet for you”, and “Rebuilding The Ruins” and its line “Prayer brought another hero/With strength beyond our years/Putting faith in his name/Will end the tyranny today”. Of course, more detail in the track by track…
Track By Track
Things get underway to “Crosses In The Sand”, six minutes of technical metal starting to an ambient keyboard based opening that gives way to crescendos of heavy hitting guitars and pounding drums. The song maintains the purposeful momentum the rest of the way, only letting up for a quieter acoustic based passage and instrumental moments reflecting a fusion-like touch. Lyric snippet:
Playing God today, giving life a second chance
Why do you pity what was never born to be?
Living in shame is not what he would wish to see
“Tis better to give than to take away”
Forgive yourself today
Let’s embrace tomorrow hand in hand
No lives ere ever taken, they’re all crosses in the sand
Let the waves wash them away
“Human Angels” also delivers its share of variety. The song highlights calmer piano and keyboard based moments and others driven by a catchy guitar riff interwoven with an expertly executed bass line. Adding to the emotional scene is a smooth sounding chorus sustained by layered vocal melodies. Soloing takes on a fitting bluesy tone. Lyric snippet:
Holding on with no will to fight
Tomorrow is just a dream away
Praying for that guiding light (no will to fight)
Rising above and to lift them away
Human angels, reflections from above
Bringing new life to those long gone
Remember you are never alone
I am here to carry you when you fall
For we have seen the errors in our ways
Rewarded with tomorrow and another day
Initiative picks up for “Tribal Scars”. This one contains some of the albums heavier moments, as a decisive rhythm guitar plays a prominent role, but at a moments notice can taper to a near standstill for the acoustic lacing that is its melodic based chorus. Not as progressive as some here but solid nonetheless.
The ballad “Dreams Unbroken” starts calmly to some bluesy guitar and piano backed by accenting keyboards. Breaking out exponentially, the song achieves an emotionally tinged chorus in which a pronounced rhythm guitar makes a decisive statement. Mullin’s soloing, in contrasts, almost reflects an angry feel.
“Sorrow’s End” represents a return to progressive territory. More time changes here, consisting of frenetic guitar assaults and technical drum fills, occasional symphonic touches, haunting backing vocals and extended instrumental excursions. So many left and right turns on this one it is difficult to provide adequate detail.
The albums title track brings a dark and weighty feel. This one finds the artist singing in a lower register, which helps lend to the foreboding atmosphere, while the bottom heavy emphasis almost adds a touch of groove. Some harshly done backing vocals are thrown in along with nothing less than inspired lyrics:
Tell me who will wear my crown of thorns today?
Will we ever be saved or…
Are we destined to drown in our own misery?
Don’t let go, never let go
I’m not sorry for dying
Prayer brought another hero
With strength beyond our years
Putting faith in his name
Will end the tyranny today
“My Stigmata” is a masterpiece that breaks down into two even parts. The first starts to a stretch of riffs that border on the thrash-like but can also switch to some surprisingly melodic moments in which smooth vocal melodies prevail. A passage prior to the chorus almost seems written from the standpoint of Christ:
Now I am wearing the crown of thorns so invisible to me
I bleed the wounds from my hands and feet for you
Open every day of my life
The ensuing chorus breaks down with an instrumental interlude at the halfway point and maintains the lyrical focus:
My stigmata – wounds I’ve never bled
Scars of humility that yearn
My stigmata – chasing the dragon
Just to watch him burn
My stigmata – tears I’ve never shed
Cries of serenity have won
My stigmata – trinity blood red, another hero unsung
Part two presents with a discourse between a man (reflecting upon the struggles of life) and his guardian angel (who offers support in turn):
Voice of man
When will I bear my cross or
Is that something I haven’t deserved?
Humility so subdued- my imperfections show through
It seems the day has come for you
To carry me once again
Now one set of footprints now appear in the sand
Voice of Angel
It will not be long before I see you again
It will not be long before you will carry another
Now return to the place you once knew
Today there are 2 sets of footprints in the sand
Welcome home again…
Musically, it blends piano and orchestration (during the parts spoken by the man) and hard rocking guitars for the guardian angel moments (expertly done by the female vocals of Jackie Joyce). It adds up to one of the more emotional musical experiences this reviewer has heard, particularly as the angel proclaims, “Today there are two sets of footprints in the sand…”
The polished “Native To This Land” highlights a strong melody. The song makes effective use of keyboards throughout while bringing some AOR touches, as can be found in its lushly done chorus. This might be one of the least progressive pieces here but holds up all the same.
The first couple minutes to “Childen Of Autumn” hint at Kansas with its use of piano and violin. An aggressive direction is taken the songs remaining distance, as a full on rhythm guitar hits and forces things forward at the more decisive tempo. An every bit as abrupt transition is taken as “Children Of Autumn” descends into its light and airy chorus.
“On Elevated Ground” is the albums slowest. Flowing and ethereal, the song reflects a ballad-like presence with its light touches of guitar and sublimely done keyboards. Interestingly, things pick up in pace for a hard rocking instrumental covering the final minute and a half.
“Sunlight Of The Spirit: Part IV – Images Of Eden”, the albums “magnum opus”, clocks in at a satisfying twelve minutes. Where to start? Well, as with many epics, this one consists of several songs strung together to form a complementary whole.
The first three minutes are straightforward with mid-paced guitar heavy verses and a catchy chorus taking an eternal perspective of things:
I believe the end is never really the end
I believe this life is not the only one
I believe there is another world for me
(I’ve been there before)
I have seen eternity
Impetus settles down to a melding of piano and keyboards in which an almost worshipful feel is reflected. As the pace picks back up, things return to a hard rocking direction as the theme is expanded upon:
This is goodbye but not farewell
For the end is never really “the end”
We will one day meet again
And fly together hand in hand
After the show when we take a bow
And walk away from the world
Without a tear, regret or fight
We’ll exit this grand stage we call “LIFE”
An extended instrumental interlude running the gamut from all out metal to atmospheric moments takes things to a voice of an angel:
I watched you from the day that you were born
Now it is time to see you again
From the first emerald rain
To the embrace of our spirits
Your message there is done
Your time at last has come
The instrumental emphasis continues as Mullin steps forward with some intense soloing. A crescendo of emotion returns as the song reaches its sublime conclusion:
I hear my angels from Heaven calling me
Ready to take me away to their islands in the sky
I once feared this moment as a child
But eternal life is before me…
On Rebuilding The Ruins, Images Of Eden proves itself a force to be reckoned with in the progressive metal genre- fans of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Fates Warning, Shadow Gallery and Queensryche will do themselves a favor by checking this out. Quality musicianship and production when combined with spiritually themed lyrics will help make the album rank with the finest of 2011. I see Images Of Eden staying relevant for years to come.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Crosses In The Sand” (6:11), “Human Angels” (7:34), “Tribal Scars” (4:28), “Dreams Unbroken” (6:21), “Sorrow’s End” (5:03), “Rebuilding The Ruins” (6:06), “My Stigmata” (7:47), “Native To This Land” (5:11), “Children Of Autumn” (6:21), “On Elevated Ground” (6:36), “Sunlight Of The Spirit: Part IV – Images Of Eden” (12:14)
Gordon Tittsworth – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass & Keyboards
Dennis Mullin – Guitars
L. Dean Harris – Piano & Keyboards
Chris Lucci – Drums
Jackie Joyce – Vocals
Bryan Wierman - Bass