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Redemption: This Mortal Coil

This Mortal Coil is Redemption's fifth studio album and the follow-up to their amazing Snowfall on Judgment Day. My guess is that most Redemption fans will pick up this disc for similar reasons: corrosive riffing, melodic vocal parts that can only be sung by Ray Alder, a powerful and intricate rhythmic tandem, sparingly used keys for atmosphere, introspective lyrics, etc.

However, the album falls short in one important department: production. It is interesting because years ago when Redemption released their debut album which was marred by a subpar mixing job, which totally killed Rick Mythiasin's career-defining vocal performance, I posted my thoughts on a message board which was also frequented by guitarist Nick van Dyk. I argued that Redemption should get Neil Kernon (Queensryche, Spiral Architect) for the next album (The Fullness of Time) because Kernon was easily the best producer on the planet that would achieve the perfect balance between such heavy riffs, mood-reflective atmospheres, and indelible vocals. Nick van Dyk was cool enough to email me personally and discuss the sound he had on mind for the new album. He said he had talked to Kernon, but a co-operation wasn't possible at the time due to conflicting schedules and they were definitely going to make it happen sometime in the future. He had decided to go for another great producer, Tommy Newton (who did the amazing Ark records), because he wanted to explore a warmer sound with more resonance. Every Redemption fan knows the result: The Fullness of Time is still the band's high-water mark, both musically and lyrically.

Years passed, and Redemption continued to release solid albums, with The Origins of Ruin (also by Tommy Newton) being their finest work sonically but a step behind its predecessor in compositional quality; and Snowfall on Judgment Day (with Tommy Hansen) being a rawer yet more intense statement that, at times, matched the perfection of The Fullness of Time. I thought the work with Neil Kernon was never going to happen until one day it was announced that the duo had got together in order to create the "21st century Rage for Order." Obviously, I was ecstatic, but also slightly concerned to hear they were back in the studio so soon, given Nick van Dyk's medical condition.

Nick van Dyk was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer a few years ago, but thankfully he is well now. Obviously, the lyrical subject matter is deeply inspired by his battle as well as coming to terms with mortality, to which the song titles also attest. Each Redemption album has been a personal release for van Dyk so far, but This Mortal Coil is definitely more intense for obvious reasons. The lyrics are dark and reflective and they are worked beautifully into the music with lots of recurring themes throughout the course of the album. Actually, the final track "Departure of the Pale Horse" revisits these themes and ties them together for a unified thematic statement. At over 10 minutes, it is also representative of the overall sound of the album.

Back to the production, maybe Kernon's mix is not the problem. Maybe the album got butchered during the mastering stage, but whatever it is, the production is definitely imperfect. Ray Alder's vocals are on the quiet side and they get buried during the heavier, more riff-oriented passages to the point that you can't hear him! This is unacceptable. Also, the mastering is very loud, unbearably compressed and distorted. There are moments in the songs when everything comes out of the speakers like a huge, grey smear with little sonic distinction. This formula might have worked with an extreme metal release where the ultimate goal is full-on aggression, but for a Redemption album, it falls flat. The riffs drown out everything when they are centre-stage, and there is no dynamic range to speak of. Everything is compressed to the max, which is a shame. Also, this might work well in the car or as background music, but for someone like me, who loves enjoying his music on headphones cherishing each and every detail in the mix and production, it is simply overkill.

Musically, there are also some shortcomings. Ray Alder is easily among the greatest singers of all times, but on this album, he sounds like he is almost straining to add melody to the passages. His vocals simply don't gel with the music. His voice cracks terribly at exactly the 5:00 mark on "Blink of an Eye." I can't believe no one in the studio heard and decided to correct it because it's not just a single moment. He continues to struggle with the verse until the finale. The vocals in the intro of "No Tickets to the Funeral," also, sound weak and uninspired. The transitions are not as smooth as on prior releases. Because of this, Alder has a hard time applying melody, and when he does, it doesn't cohere.

The best thing about the album is Sean Andrews' bass. His work on This Mortal Coil has parachuted him into the league of best bassists for me. He applies a unique sense of low end to each passage, punctuating van Dyk and Versailles' guitars and accentuating the themes. "Path of the Whirlwind" is entirely built around his bass foundation as is the clustered drone of "Dreams from the Pit" during the tense breakdown. The experimental "Noonday Devil" recalls a lost Engine song: it is informed by a haunting key intro, effect-laden guitar chords, and a bass-centric design which pushes it back into Redemption territory. Chris Quirarte is also fantastic behind the drum kit. His style is never pattern based and he grooves within the most unorthodox meters effortlessly. The ethnic percussion on "Let It Rain" suggests he could also fit into more experimental music, as this song is the band's approach to light/dark evolution. Crunch-filled riffs are evened out by tense, nerve-racking silences before it all picks up with the heavier riff work.

As it stands, some of the riffs seem bland and puny, if not recycled from earlier albums. Until this disc, every Redemption song had moments with very memorable melodic refrains. This one sort of plods along; the instrumental parts with shred guitars overstay their welcome because each time they are over, you are left with nothing. There are no hooks. The use of keys was fantastic on Snowfall on Judgment Day; Greg Hosharian added subtle nuances to each song. Here, it seems everything was handled by Nick van Dyk without Hosharian having the chance to add his own voice, and the keys are once again relegated to a background element to the guitars, which detracts from the depth of the compositions. That's why the unison solo on "Begin Again" sounds flat and forced. Hence, the problem doesn't only lie in the poor production; it is also the somewhat rushed songwriting that holds back the band.

Redemption's sound definitely owes a lot to Symphony X and Dream Theater. What makes them great is that they apply these influences within a more riff-centric framework. So far, I'll have to say This Mortal Coil does not match either the new Symphony X or Dream Theater album, and we'll have to wait for their new work with recharged energy and inspiration.

Track Listing

  1. Path of the Whirlwind (5:26)
  2. Blink of an Eye (5:57)
  3. No Tickets to the Funeral (6:26)
  4. Dreams from the Pit (9:11)
  5. Noonday Devil (5:03)
  6. Let It Rain (7:21)
  7. Focus (5:43)
  8. Perfect (4:48)
  9. Begin Again (6:11)
  10. Stronger Than Death (5:29)
  11. Departure of the Pale Horse (10:15)

Added: December 18th 2011
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Band website
Hits: 5639
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-10-16 22:09:36
My Score:

Every new album from Redemption is something to celebrate in the progressive metal community, especially considering that this American powerhouse has been on quite a winning streak lately. Hot off the heels of the killer Snowfall on Judgment Day is This Mortal Coil, the fifth full-length album from Redemption. Everything that we've come to expect from Redemption is here in full force - powerful and technical guitar riffs, lush keyboard palettes, outstanding musicianship, and powerful vocal lines that can only be delivered by Ray Alder. This Mortal Coil is ultimately a successful entry into their discography, yet I can't help but feel a bit let down by a few key aspects of this release. Although this is musically an outstanding album, the production flaws and uneven mix leave my enthusiasm for This Mortal Coil a bit more restrained than it should be. Fans of Redemption should be sure to check it out, but this isn't the best starting point for those new to the band.

Those familiar with Redemption should immediately recognize the sound on This Mortal Coil. Expect a strong influence from Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and Symphony X within the sound, even though Redemption does have their own distinct brand of progressive metal. The songs are generally pretty conventional and accessible (in a good way), and always contain unforgettable choruses and killer riffs. The technical acrobatics of the band are as impressive as ever, and plenty of furious guitar and keyboard duals always keep things interesting. This Mortal Coil's most appealing factor, for me at least, is the vocal performance from Ray Alder of Fates Warning. Even though he may not hit those same notes he used to sing in the late eighties, he proves that he's still one of the most powerful and emotional vocalists in the prog metal world. The melodic sensibilities of his singing style parred with the extremely memorable songwriting structures make for plenty of unforgettable moments contained within This Mortal Coil.

In most regards, This Mortal Coil is a near-flawless album. Actually, the quality of musicianship and songwriting are so high that I may even consider it one of Redemption's best albums to date. So what is the hold-up that restrains my full enjoyment of this album? Unfortunately, it's the iffy production and uneven mix. Even though the album doesn't sound horrible, the sound here is hardly excusable for a band with this much reputation and popularity within their respective genre. The sound comes across as overly compressed and distorted, and the mix seems to emphasize all of the wrong things. The vocals are awfully low in the mix, often being drowned out by a flood of loudly-mastered riffs and drums. The loud and compressed production certainly doesn't do a prog metal album any justice, and I really wish that Redemption would re-produce this album sometime in the future. The current sound quality ends up nearly crippling all of the album's other assets - something that I will rarely say, especially in this day and age.

In spite of its glaring production flaws, This Mortal Coil is still a very successful observation from Redemption that most fans of the band should check out. I've had a really good time experiencing this album, and there are enough killer tunes here to keep me revisiting again in the future from time to time. With songwriting and musicianship this strong, it's hard not to at least be left somewhat impressed by This Mortal Coil. The album is dragged down by a poor production, but the redeeming qualities are still enough to warrant a 3.5 star rating.

» Reader Comments:

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Jack Parker on 2011-12-11 00:09:20
My Score:

Sorry my first submission here. I rate it zero because the mix is so bad. They should offer replacements with a better mix.

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Jack Parker on 2011-12-11 00:07:24
My Score:

I agree with the review. The production is jumbled mess. I cannot listen to this further.

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Mark Shapiro on 2011-10-24 12:19:05
My Score:

Agree with the reviews. Production is horrible. The mix kills Alder's vocals. After albums like Origins and Snowfall, this one is a disappointment.

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by The Truth on 2011-10-24 11:57:24
My Score:

While the sound quality may not be the best, in terms of the quality of the music, I would say this is an incredible album. I find This Mortal Coil to be more immediately accessible than Snowfall on Judgement Day, which took me quite a while to digest, contrary to Redemption's previous 2 efforts. Whoever says this album lacks melody must be listening to a different album than what I've heard, because this album has great melodies, much catchier than SOJD. Musicianship is top notch, and Ray does a magnificent job. Yes, you sometimes feel he's pushing himself to reach the higher notes, but that doesn't take away from his excellent performance. I think this album definitely ranks amongst Redemption's best. It's baffling for me to read the negative reviews based only on the sound quality, which IMO is nowhere near unlistenable. The sound quality should not be an excuse to slam such a great album.

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Anonymous on 2011-10-20 08:44:56
My Score:

Definitely dont agree. I listened to the steeaming files online first and was convinced there was a mistake in the recording and mixing but when i heard the cd version at full volume the songs sound great. This is a fascinating disc. While the guys dont cover much new ground the tones are great. Alder sounds just fine. I think they had to go with a raw more organic sound on this one in light of the subject matter. Considering the processed and predictable .nature of so much metal these days this disc is amazing. Not as amazing as the new symphony x but for me its right up there with iconoclast and the arch/matheos disc.

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Phil Williams on 2011-10-18 16:06:26
My Score:

Very difficult album for me. Even sounds awful in the car. Bad production takes away from anything that the music has to offer. If the flaws are post recording, Redemption would do themselves justice by correcting some of flaws then remixing.

Redemption: This Mortal Coil
Posted by Martin Kennedy on 2011-10-05 08:16:27
My Score:

I have to agree wholeheartedly with the above review. The production, balance and mix on this album is completely unacceptable for a band of Redemption's calibre; it almost sounds like a rough mix got released into manufacture by mistake. This impression is reinforced if you listen to the Second Disc of cover versions supplied with the Ltd. Edition, where the production, though not perfect, is far superior.

I'm gutted - Ray Alder is one of my favourite vocalists, and I really enjoyed SOJD.

Maybe the band can 'redeem' themselves by showing how the material should sound in the forthcoming live dates?

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