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Frameshift: An Absence of Empathy

Multi-instrumentalist Henning Pauly's second Frameshift album An Absence of Empathy is a very strong successor to his debut disc which featured James Labrie on vocals. This time around, the vocal duties are handled by another amazing Canadian vocalist: the mighty Sebastian Bach! Needless to say, hearing Bach on a progressive metal album isn't a very common thing, so I was very excited to hear when Pauly and Bach had joined forces to create the second Frameshift album. Henning Pauly, besides playing all instruments except the drums, has done pretty much all the songwriting with the exception of two tracks to which Bach made some lyrical changes. Pauly has also mixed, engineered and produced the album himself with some assistance from his friends Matt Cash and Adam Evers.

The subject matter explored on An Absence of Empathy is extremely intriguing! As its cover art suggests, the album is dark and very heavy lyrically. Basically it's a deep study on different forms of violence, be it the story of a serial killer in "Just One More"; a mother crying for her raped daughter in "In An Empty Room"; a soldier shooting people without knowing if they're soldiers or innocents on "Push the Button"; or simply a school shooting by rebelling students on "Outcast". I am thoroughly impressed by the depth of the lyrics on this album - the metaphors, wordplays and twisted imagery created are stunning. Each song depicts a different situation - not just sick-minded people taking the lives of innocents, but also normal people committing murder as on "I Killed You", which is about a man killing his wife for her act of betrayal in a moment of rage. However, the most moving songs lyrically are the 'torture' songs, "This is Gonna Hurt" and "How Long Can I Resist". Whilst the former tells a sick torturing story in a dark room from the torturer's point of view, the latter is told from the protagonist's eyes. Sebastian Bach portrays a wide spectrum of moods singing each song and takes you into the psyche of all these different people.

Musically the album is equally challenging. Although I've never heard Henning Pauly's solo album, out of all the Chain and Frameshift stuff, An Absence of Empathy is his most progressive creation to date. Also, it is slightly heavier than Unweaving the Rainbow. Though 74 minutes, the album is an incredibly quick listen. All songs flow into each other seamlessly, giving you no other option but hit play again after the last track. Pauly's songwriting skills are top notch. He gives each song character, style and passion. "Just One More", reminding me of Porcupine Tree's In Absentia due to its lyrical content, kicks in with a slightly electronic vibe that quickly transforms into a guitar-driven song with a fantastic chorus sung by Bach. "Miseducation" merges classic Hard'N Heavy grooves of bands like Skid Row with symphonic prog rock and has a modern "Youth Gone Wild"-like overall vibe.

The album's centrepieces are the two 9-minute monster tracks "I Killed You" with its ever-present changes of tempo and melody, going from ballad-like passages to experimental stuff to unbelievably complex harmonies that put Bach's brutal screams under the spotlight. Analog keys and fantastic synth solos permeat the song that are eventually complemented by a terrific guitar run that gives me goosebumps every time. "Blade", the other long number, is the hidden gem of the album. I thought it an average track after the first couple of listens, but now, I consider it one of the best on the album. It's a huge, epic track with masterfully crafted symphonic touches that evoke the movie Braveheart for some reason, and contains a killer Barbarian choir consisting of Bach himself, Henning Pauly, Matt Cash, Adam Evers and Jody Asworth from Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Not only does the choir lay down fantastic harmonies, but the chorus of this track is quite possibly the most beautiful and haunting vocal melody Bach has ever sung. Hearing that "In the end they may take all I love away, but not today!" line will send shivers down many a listener's spine. What a fantastic melody, what a fantastic song, what a fantastic vocal performance!

"In An Empty Room" and the closing track "What Kind of Animal" are the slower tracks on the disc, but they're far from cliche ballads. Actually I've never heard Bach sing the way he sings on "What Kind of Animal"; his vocals are so fragile on this track and he sings the lyrics with tons of emotion and conviction that will easily translate to the audience. From packaging to lyrics to overall concept, this is one of the best releases of the year so far. I can't recommend it enough. Now my only wish is that Henning Pauly teams up with Devin Townsend, another godly vocalist, for a future Frameshift release. Wouldn't that rule the world?

Track Listing

  1. Human Grain
  2. Just One More
  3. Miseducation
  4. I Killed You
  5. This Is Gonna Hurt
  6. Push The Button
  7. In An Empty Room
  8. Outcast
  9. Blade
  10. How Long Can I Resist
  11. When I Look Into My Eyes
  12. What Kind Of Animal

Added: June 29th 2005
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Frameshift
Hits: 11319
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Frameshift: An Absence of Empathy
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-06-28 22:19:36
My Score:

It's hard to tell who's more impressive on this record: Henning Pauly, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, or Sebastian Bach - the ballsy metal vocalist who you might now think has been under-utilized and under-appreciated for most of his career.

After James Labrie's singing on the first Frameshift CD, Pauly wanted someone with a rough, almost 'dirty' delivery, the exact antithesis to Labrie's schooled, clean style. The two names that immediately cropped up were Devin Townsend and Bach. Townsend was busy, and Henning found Bach to be an agreeable, professional performer with an excellent work ethic. So with Bach singing and Eddie Marvin drumming and Pauly doing literally everything else including engineering and mixing you'd expect this to sound like one of those typical one-man-band efforts. But it doesn't. This music is easily in the same league as progressive metal's premier bands - in fact parts of "When I Look Into My Eyes" could have come from a Dream Theater CD. And make no mistake - this aint prog - this is progressive Metal - with a capital 'M'.

Like Frameshift's first CD Unweaving the Rainbow, the new An Absence Of Empathy is a thought-provoking, strongly themed piece. It examines violence from the mind of both the perpetrator and the victim. Two songs describe each form of violence - one from each point of view. Pauly doesn't espouse violence - think of it as an analytical examination and exposure of one of humankind's inherent weaknesses. We won't spend too much time going into the details behind the theme. Suffice it to say that this record is the well-executed product of a good deal of deep meditation on an unsavory topic usually avoided in music.

"Miseducation" sounds like classic 1980s hair metal - made all the more credible by Bach's made-to-fit singing style. "In An Empty Room" and "What Kind Of Animal" are emotional, self-searching power ballads. the 12 tracks on An Absence Of Empathy are 74 minutes of well varied, constantly changing songs with rich compositional elements that ensure no two songs are the same.

Highly recommended.

Frameshift: An Absence of Empathy
Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-06-06 22:39:24
My Score:

Those of us who last heard Sebastian Bach on Forever Wild, 2004's horrific train wreck of a DVD, will be surprised at just how powerful the former Skid Row vocalist can belt out the lyrics to the challenging material on this devastatingly powerful concept album by multi-instrumentalist Henning Pauly's project Frameshift. Bach actually sounds as vital and conquering as Russell Allen, Jorn Lande and James LaBrie, who sang on the previous Frameshift record, Unweaving the Rainbow (a series of songs based on the writings of neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins). In the liner notes for An Absence of Empathy, Bach even thanks Pauly, who "showed me parts of my voice I never knew existed."

Based on a concept by ProgRock Records honcho Shawn Gordon, An Absence of Empathy acknowledges that violence is inherent in all human beings and explores the factors that determine why and how individuals let violence manifest itself within them. It's dark and compelling stuff. But while such lyrics as "Me and you alone now/Are you frightened are you scared/Let my little toy show you how/To scream so loud no one can hear" take a bite out of your imagination, the music is unexpectedly exuberant. Granted, this is an aggressive album that's not for the weak of heart or mind, but the arena rock thrill of "Just One More," which takes listeners into the mind of a serial killer, and the progressive-metal grandiosity of its counterpart, the nine-minute "I Killed You," which tells the tale of a stable person pushed over the edge, come off as, um, fun songs masked by disturbing undercurrents. "This Is Gonna Hurt," in which the song's main character tortures a victim, hypnotizes with a bludgeoning rhythm section, and "When I Look Into My Eyes" allows the torturer to examine his conscience to engrossing industrial-metal beats. Other themes include war (the sleaze-metal anthem "Push the Button" and the tribal "Blade"), school violence (the alt-metal racket of "Miseducation" and the mid-tempo rock of "Outcast"), rape ("In An Empty Room," a heart-rending saga of shame and one of the album's two ballads, and the manic "How Long Can I Resist," about a man trying to resist the urge to violate a woman). An Absence of Empathy closes with an element of hope with "What Kind of An Animal," in which the song's protagonist realizes that the children of today are either the peacemakers or the killers of tomorrow: "The answer's somewhere on this globe/It's not in politics/Religion cannot fix/Should we turn towards our young."

If this album fails to awaken emotions both primal and personal within you, your soul might as well be as black as those of the characters who lurk deep within these brutal and frighteningly real songs.

» Reader Comments:

Frameshift: An Absence of Empathy
Posted by Max Fontaine on 2007-02-06 20:27:24
My Score:

AoE has a strange quality, it isn't like anything Ive heard. It some extremely powerful moments and some awesome playing/singing/collaborating and yet it also has some parts thats are quite redundant. However, the sum of its parts are such that its the greatest musical pity of 2005. It never got a chance - it should have. It's a relevant release for its genre.

Frameshift: An Absence of Empathy
Posted by Paul Little on 2005-09-01 04:45:57
My Score:

This disc is indeed everything I had expected and then some. As a fan of Bach's vocals over the years, I'm very pleased to see that he could really excel in a project such as this.

As for the next Frameshift CD (if Pauley decides to go that route), Townsend would be awesome, however he seems to be a producer even over singer or musician, so I'm not sure if that would fit well. Devin hasn't been a "hired hand" in years (since Steve Vai) and, though I'd like to see it happen, I'm not sure how well it would work.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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