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Lake of Tears: A Crimson Cosmos

Whenever the topic of music reviews comes up in conversation, I find myself suddenly put on the spot; invariably, I'm in a room full of people who don't understand the kind of music I cover. For instance, a typical conversation might go something like this:

Friend: So, you write album reviews, eh?
Me: Yeah.
F: Cool. Like, what are some albums you've reviewed recently?
M: Well, hmm, let's see...there's Therion, Psychotic Waltz, Gouds Thumb, Mayadome, Darkseed...that sort of thing.
F: (Silent, eyes fixed on me with the blankest of stares.)
M: What, you've never heard of any of those?
F: Uh, no.
M: Hmm. Okay, what about Enchant?
F:
M: Magellan?
F:
M: Satyricon?
F:
M: Hypocrisy?

...anyway, it goes on like this for quite a while, until finally...

F: No, no, no...what kind of music is that anyway?
M: Well, most of it is what you might call "heavy metal."
F: (Giggles, makes dismissing gestures) Oh, well, that explains it. I thought you wrote reviews of real music.
M: But you don't understand! Metal is real music. When you think of the phrase "heavy metal", you're clearly thinking of a cliche that has long since expired. Today's metal is intelligent, diverse and mature...today's metal incorporates everything from symphony orchestras and lush female vocals to gothic keyboards and spoken-word narratives. And a lot of modern metal is the most complex, well-written stuff you can imagine...on par with anything that came from the classical or baroque periods! You just have to allow yourself to get beyond the preconceived notions to ever discover this!
F: (Laughs even more at my visible excitement for the topic, all the more convinced that I'm just being silly.) But heavy metal people can't even play their instruments - they just make a lot of noise and scream.
M: Well, some of them, sure - and as in anything else, it's the worst of the bunch who get all the attention. But let me point out to you that some of Beethoven's lesser-known works are boring and repetitive, and Paganini is downright cacophonous at times. But you wouldn't do well to judge their whole breed on those lesser moments - and the same is true for metal. Disregard what you hear on the radio and see on MTV - that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the real stuff, the stuff that is too passionate and bright to ever get commercial fame.
F: (Laughs again, and now I just want to smack him) Let me get this straight: you're comparing heavy metal with classical music? (Laughs one more time, and I thank God that I am such a patient and loving person.)
M: Yes, I am! They have much more in common than many people think, or are willing to accept. Both music forms have a tendency toward long, complex compositions; both are likely to use overtures and preludes to build theme and momentum; both use a wide variety of instruments, some of them successful, some not; both are understood and embraced by a relatively small percentage of people; and both are largely misunderstood during the times in which they are written. I firmly believe that if Mozart were alive today, he'd be working with guitarists, drummers and keyboard players every bit as much as violinists and cellos.
F: (Hungrily eyeing the doorway, wondering if there are any other fruitcakes he can talk to instead of me.) Hey, um, listen, that's great, but, uh, hey, I gotta go...Michael Bolton's on VH1 tonight, and I hear he's got two or three songs that he actually wrote himself. Good talking to you!

As you can see, I've put myself in an interesting position; a veritable C.S. Lewis of metal apologetics, I'm faced with the task of trying to explain something that most people will never open their minds to.

I'm a smart fellow; I understand that people don't change their minds all that often, and that metal will never really be accepted for what it is: music for intelligent people that can't stand the snobbery of the classical music community, for people who understand the emotional value of musical aggression and the theatrical value of sound. It is to our age what the iconoclastic music of countless composers was to theirs, and just as misunderstood.

But if I was determined to change minds, if I was set on proselytizing the world with the good news of distortion and 7/12 time, I'd build a library of indispensable metal albums for ammunition, and among them would surely be the brilliant A Crimson Cosmos by Lake of Tears.

There's an indescribable joy that comes from finding a band like this: like King's X, Thought Industry and Amorphis, these fellows have a sound all their own. They don't sound like anybody else, and that is saying a lot.

A Crimson Cosmos is the album that Lake of Tears fans have always known they had in them; their previous efforts, Greater Art and Headstones, were both exceptional, challenging metal that stood out from their peers at the time. But Cosmos takes the band a quantum leap forward.

Their signature sound changes a lot over the course of this album, which goes through countless moods. The first two tracks, "Boogie Bubble" and "Cosmic Weed", are fairly straightforward metal grooves, each of which is brimming with memorable melody lines and thumping instrumentation.

But next comes "When My Sun Comes Down", a heart-stoppingly beautiful song that retains its heaviness; indeed, it's such a pretty song precisely because it has such a motivation in its sound as it tells a sad story of self discovery. The lyrics are as beautiful as the melodies, and are written with flair and imagination ("dream it is autumn outside, an evening to hide").

Next is "Devil's Diner", a fast and fun tune with a double-time polka feel. (That's not as strange as it may sound...for some reason, polka beats and heavy guitars go together well.) Like many of the songs on this album, there is a decidedly medieval feel to this tune, both in melody and lyrical content.

The clever "The Four Strings of Mourning" is next, using a metaphor of the four strings of a lyre to represent the four seasons. That's followed by the instrumental "To Die Is To Wake."

Next, however, is the song that made me stop everything and stare at the speakers in wonder: "Lady Rosenred" is an indescribable piece of imagination, an unconventional tune in every way. Vocalist Jennie Tebler lends her talents here, weaving a brilliant tapestry that tells of the wonders - and limits - of the imagination. It's worth buying the whole album just for this song.

The album ends up with the title track, another example of a metal band proving that they are better at mellow, beautiful songs than the people who do such songs for a living.

A Crimson Cosmos is a priceless album, a finely crafted example of the potential of this genre. If you are not familiar with today's metal music, this is a great place to start, and if you are, you'll not want to be without it.

Added: January 1st 2004
Reviewer: SoT Archives
Score:
Hits: 1573
Language: english

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