|Musical Style: Melodic Power Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website: Jacobs Dream|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 95%|
|Running Time: 50:14|
Why are many of the better metal albums concept related? What is it that often inspires a group to create its most notable work when it has a message to convey or story to tell? Perhaps it is the added motivation that comes with knowing you have the opportunity to not only impact your environment musically but to make a relevant lyrical statement as well.
Critically acclaimed concept albums from Queensryche (Operation Mindcrime), Blind Guardian (Nightfall In Middle Earth), Shadow Gallery (Tyranny) and Pyramaze (Legend Of The Bone Carver) mirror this best. The Christian metal scene has produced its share of quality concept releases as well, as is demonstrated by Saint (The Mark), Seventh Avenue (Terium), Thieves And Liars (When Dreams Become Reality) and the Legend series from Saviour Machine.
Columbus, Ohio based Jacobs Dream is the latest act to record its “magnum opus” from a conceptual standpoint. Beneath The Shadows, the group’s fall of 2009 release on Retroactive Records, details the life of a man who falls into drugs and loses everything he loves in the process. The subsequent emotional roller coaster leads him to look beyond himself to find meaning in life, with the end result a story based not just upon addiction but also loss, consequence and ultimate redemption.
Musically, Beneath The Shadows finds Jacobs Dream continuing to head in power metal territory but with a bit more emphasis on melody this time around. Melody is the key word here in that this is perhaps the most “song orientated” album from the group to date. Now, what I mean by song orientated is that each of the albums tracks brings the type of gripping presence – in the form of a pronounced chorus hook or notable melody - that would allow it to hold up under repeated play. The end result is a work that is nothing less than stellar in showcasing a front to back musical (and lyrical) journey of excellence and inspiration.
To understand my point, check out the joining of catchy hooks and heaviness characterizing the three opening tracks, “Welcome To My World, “Minds Will Burn” and “Stain”. The two that follow, “Illusive Dream” and “Hand Full Of Dust”, reflect a more technical/progressive edge and “The Hell That I Breathe” a melodic based feel.
It also must be noted the amount of acoustic guitar making its presence felt on Beneath The Shadows. You will find two very well done acoustic pieces in “The Darkest Hour” and “Reborn In Fire” while an acoustic guitar laces up the haunting “All Of My Fears”, the albums anthem-like title track and stately “Blessing And The Curse”.
Again, from front to back there is not a weak moment on Beneath The Shadows; every song is great, an accolade I rarely (if ever) give out. It is obvious Jacobs Dream spent a significant amount of time perfecting its material before entering the studio, with all the hard work paying off in that this is destined to be a classic.
Vocalist Chaz Bond represents the glue that holds everything together. Bringing a low key but versatile vocal delivery often described as a joining of Jimmy P. Brown II (Deliverance), Eric Clayton (Savior Machine) and Geoff Tate (Queensryche), Chaz finds himself in his natural element on a concept releases. He instinctively knows, for instance, when to add to the emotional scene with his trademark resonant touch but can reach down low for an element of aggression when need calls for it.
Backing Chaz is the capable guitar team of John Berry and Jon Noble. The two impart to the project just the right amount of catchy melodies, riffs and harmonies but can delivery a more hard hitting touch at a moments notice. Lead guitar is done with taste and tact (and skill) but not to overabundance so as to avoid taking away from the song orientated environment.
Production wise, this is Jacobs Dream’s best effort since Theater Of War (2001). The guitars are raw and in your face and the drum sound spot on. The only complaint is that there is a slight hint of thinness permeating the project, the only particular standing in the way of a perfect final score.
Album opener “Welcome To My World” is a three and a half minute scorcher. Driven by a crunch heavy guitar sound but put over the top by its big hook chorus, the song proves signature Jacobs Dream and would sound right at home on previous releases Drama Of The Ages and Dominion Of Darkness. Chaz closes things with one of his trademark growls.
One has to appreciate the contrasts presented on “Minds Will Burn”. This one jumps out of the gate fast and heavy, crashing through its verses in aggressive fashion only to gently smooth out upon obtaining its catchy – almost mesmerizing – chorus. A transition from the driven to the melodic is made in the process.
“Stain” is testament to the maturity of Jacob Dream’s songwriting. A song played with so much emotion it will send shivers down your spine, “Stain” finds Chaz at his low key best while the intricate chorus, for a lack of better words, is done to perfection. Is this the best track ever from Jacobs Dream? If not it certainly comes close.
“Illusive Dream” brings some understated but tastefully done time changes. The songs verses, weighty, tough as nails and bordering on the prodigious, are perfectly set apart by a flowing chorus with a subtle persuasiveness you will struggle to get rid of. Impetus abruptly picks up for an instrumental interlude carried by a fiery lead guitar.
“Hand Full Of Dust” rates with the albums heaviest. With a face first rhythm guitar dominating the mix, this might not be the catchiest of pieces but the all out power to the songs delivery and gut-level feel is more than enough to put it over the top. A brief but punchy chorus blends well with the gritty milieu here.
A touch of the melodic is delivered on “The Hell That I Breathe”. A lush setting is put into place as accentuating keyboards and piano lighten things during the songs verses, the heartfelt leanings sustained as a chorus of a near sweeping capacity – once more, the hook here is quite pronounced – is obtained. Topping things off is a stretch of razor edged lead guitar.
The first of two acoustic pieces, “The Darkest Hour” might be the albums shortest (2:58) but proves essential with its melodic flavorings and Chaz hinting at Geoff Tate with his pure delivery. If anything, “The Darkest Hour” plays an essential role in separating the albums first six tracks from its brilliant final four.
Pyramaze comes to mind on “All My Fears”. Why? It has to be the superlative chorus that stops nearly dead in its tracks for an amalgamating of pounding drums and crisp acoustic guitar (the overall effect reminds me of something you might hear off Legend Of The Bone Carver). The songs verses, as one might expect, carry a bit more weight but flow well with the graceful setting.
“Reborn In Fire”, the second acoustic track, brings some of the same elements as Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind”. Yes, the emotion and heart are there but so is an abundant hook – I can see this being successful if given the chance on FM radio – while the mandolin solo is unexpected but complementary.
The pace picks up for the albums title track. “Beneath The Shadows” is certain to command your attention with its poignant sensibilities and anthem-like presence- all the while exuding quite the bountiful melody. Driven by runs of tight as it gets riffing backed by pounding drums, the song culminates past its halfway point to a run of torrid lead guitar that gives way to a quieter acoustic based passage.
“The Blessing And The Curse” proves a fitting album closer. Keyboards make their presence felt throughout the song, particularly for its commercial driven chorus, while a lacing of acoustic guitar occasionally rounds out the mix. A piece that flows perfectly from start to finish, “The Blessing And The Curse” challenges “Stain” for the best track on an album overflowing with great material.
What else can you say except that Beneath The Shadows is destined to become a classic. Its material breathes of inspiration while the emotional elements throughout align themselves with the concept at hand. My experience is that every song here brings just the right riff, hook or melody that would allow it too stand out above the rest, with the outcome a work that will allow Jacobs Dream to reach a lot of people.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Welcome To My World” (3:36), “Minds Will Burn” (4:22), “Stain” (4:45), “Illusive Dream” (5:14), “Hand Full Of Dust” (4:58), “The Hell That I Breathe” (5:33), “The Darkest Hour” (2:58), “All My Fears” (4:21), “Reborn In Fire” (3:49), “Beneath The Shadows” (5:00), “The Blessing And The Curse” (5:39)
Chaz Bond – Lead Vocals
John Berry – Guitars
Jon Noble – Guitars
James Evans – Bass
Gary Holtzman – Drums