Before I devoted a lot of listening time to this disc, I was warned that the back half of it wasn’t as good as the front. But the odd thing is that as I got to know the album better, it was actually the back half of it that I liked the best! The songs that made the best early impression on me began with “Embrace the Limitless” (track 6) and went on to the end (“Seasons of Age”, track 13).
The dopey repetition in the chorus of the first track (I instantly hated the repetition of the word “Hyperventilating”) and the almost-grating second track annoyed me in the beginning (“Breaking Down” seemed too slogan-ey as a chorus phrase to me: an undeveloped idea, not a full lyric). Only as I warmed to the whole album did I eventually come to enjoy the first five tracks maximally. It just took awhile. After all, the guitar solo break in “Hyperventilating” is awesome and the musicianship was stellar, as it is everywhere on this disc.
I came to think of the album in three sections: the first five tracks (which it took the longest for me to warm up to, due to their seemingly too-commercial sound); the middle three tracks; and the last five tracks.
“Embrace the Limitless” (track 6) is a refreshing burst of loopy synth metal energy. Where none of the first five tracks grabbed me, this one actually made me sit up and take notice. Then track 7 (“Orpheus”) gets all dark and cool and interesting with even a bit of guttural vocals to match its mythological underworld theme. And finally track 8 was able to get me totally enthused with its cool riffing action and intelligent lyrics (“The Domination Game”). For a while, I would just skip the first five tracks and begin listening at track 6 to the album — with the first five appended to my playlist at the end (to hear if I had time). Eventually, I came to love the whole album and I now just listen to it sequentially as released, with no more playlist shenanigans.
Despite the advance word on the album, for me the finest moments come in the last block of five songs. Track 8 (“Peacekeeper”) is borderline dopey with its almost too-cute lyrical conceit, but it actually maintains its perfect metal balance and never crosses the line for me. In fact, it became one of my early favorites (and remains so) because the music is so darn good. Okay, confession: I love the guitar work on this album. The guitar sounds are just so excellent and well produced. And this track is a prime example.
But the best is yet to come: Track 9 (“It’s a Wonder”) has a strong claim for totally favorite track, especially because of its out-of-left-field uber-cool outro, which I absolutely love; it makes me want to listen to the track on repeat, every time!
But then, instead of hitting the replay button, we get the treat of the epic-scale last three tracks. “The Morning Light” (track 11) is a glorious sonic marvel. It clocks in as the longest track (5:58) with metal riffs and keyboards taking us to the prog places we all want to go. Whew! What a ride! Can it get any better? Well, we actually get to catch our breath with track 12 (“Summer Always Comes Again”), a stunningly beautiful song that is completely unexpected as a ballad-ey break. It’s only 2:21 long, but we end up wishing the beauty could go on forever.
The album could have ended there, leaving us with a sweet sense of infinite beauty and infinite longing. Instead, we get total appetitive gratification with the amazing album-closer: Track 13, “Seasons of Age”. This song has a magical sound and it totally rocks its way out to a jaw-dropping, drum-whacking finale.
This is proggy metal at its most melodic and accessible. Don’t be a hater; embrace the excellence. Superb musicianship, luminous production, and superstar vocal stylings; this disc is the second one of my “Four for the Fourth of July“, star-spangled five-star album picks at the midpoint of 2014. (Or should I say… “V” stars?)
Voyager — V
Progarchist Rating: ★★★★★