This wins the prize for being the darkest album of the year. Time To End is a smorgasbord of adjectives: somber, contemplative, claustrophobic, aggressive, oppressive … the list goes on. But the adjectives that rise to the top are bitter, sarcastic, and dark. So dark!
Dutch group S.O.T.E. (Songs Of The Exile) tell of a travel into the emotions of the 3 personalities living in one man's consciousness, and how one of the characters decides it is Time To End it by killing himself. The CD's booklet prints the lyrics in 3 different fonts depicting the 3 different personalities. More important, the style of the vocals and the music track the mood swings that characterize those 3 personalities. It's a very interesting concept.
The deep gut wrenching emotions are very reminiscent of Peter Hammill at Van Der Graaff Generator's sarcastic best but sung with a slight accent, and the lyrics are way better than the sub-standard poetry found in most progressive rock. But the booklet does not make the 3-personality distinction clear – you have to guess that yourself. The printed lyrics are not separated by track, so if you lose your place part-way through you're really lost. And worst – those 3 tiny fonts are just awful. One of the characters' lyrics simply could not be read even when wearing two pairs of reading glasses at once. (Don't let your wife catch you doing that – the ribbing never ends!)
The Gilmouresque guitar work is very effective. Usually played slowly – now melodic, now aggressive, short licks, brief riffs, drawn out solos – allowing the guitar's voice and the amp effects to carry the emotion of each piece. The sound is usually minimalistic – some passages comprise just a slow drum beat and the occasional bass note, while others are simply soft acoustic guitar over the rumble of bass pedals. It is complex music, unconventionally structured, using an extended-range instruments and recurring themes that track the storyline.
Don't make the mistake of playing this music in the background. It doesn't work. After the first 2 listens Time To End was headed for a lowly 2-star rating, but this is the kind of music that takes dedication and many listens to fully appreciate. The rewards are worth the effort and those 2 stars quickly grew into 4.5 stars. It would have been 5 stars if the concept had been easier to follow, but the insert booklet let it down.