Beyond the Bridge
The Old Man And The Spirit
posted on 1/2012 By:
Warning: if you have an aversion to soulful, artsy, and uplifting prog metal, you are hereby kindly asked to leave the room. No really, you’ll have to wait outside; we don’t serve your kind here.
Now that that’s out of the way, time to dig in. The concept album is a tricky yak to tackle, and many bands have found glory and/or damnation attempting to utilize the format. On one hand are the classics (Operation: Mindcrime), but on the other are the stinkpots (ugh… Operation: Mindcrime II). This is why it is all the more impressive that Germany’s Beyond the Bridge has gone all in on their debut. The long-in-the-works The Old Man and the Spirit is a sprawling, nuanced, and quite beautiful foray into prog metal and rock that calls to mind many of the genre’s greats but manages to sound original in its own right, all while telling a cohesive story.
Upon first listen, Beyond the Bridge seems to frame their sound around a heavy Dream Theater influence, and the album’s opening three-song suite is certainly akin to the extra introspective feel that the “Six Degrees” cycle possessed. They also have a tendency to introduce melodic themes and return to them with small variations, but closer inspection reveals this to be far more than simple hero worship. To start, Beyond the Bridge never indulges in long jam sessions, which serves to give them a classier, focused presence. Secondly, as first heard in “The Apparition,” they employ both male and female vocals, with the latter being delivered by the insanely talented Dilenya Mar. Finally, where Dream Theater would make it instantly obvious where the technicalities and time signature changes are, Beyond the Bridge seems intent on masking the complexities. Many of the riff, melodic, and dynamic approaches are certainly reminiscent of their heroes’ great works, but our German friends just seem less focused on the LOOK AT ME approach and more passionate about letting the songs speak for themselves.
Following the opening suite, Beyond the Bridge wisely reveals more flavors, initially in the form of balladry. First is the brief “The Spring of it All,” which gives off a decidedly Porcupine Tree vibe (think “Lazarus”), followed by the Dilenya showcase “World of Wonders.” The latter brings a soulfulness rarely heard in prog rock, with a chorus that feels lifted from a lost King’s X track. It isn’t metal, and some will question that it even rocks, but it’s utterly gorgeous, and a great way to glue together the heavier parts of this album.
The entirety of The Old Man and the Spirit is packed with these memorable twists and passages, and only a couple of small faults affect its overall stature. “The Struggle” kicks off with an awkward introduction of aggro half-raps from male vocalist Herbie Langhans, which works when repeated over some heft, but sounds unfortunate and naked when starting a song. Penultimate track “Where the Earth and Sky” seemingly only exists to announce that the story is nearing an end, and does little to grip the listener. Neither of these two fairly minor errors would seem as bad (or even exist) without the concept structure, and therein is the caveat of the concept album: nothing can exist in a silo, and poor decisions will affect the whole. (It is the reason I skip “Through Her Eyes” to this day. Scenes From a Memory is too good to let that turd infect my ears.)
Luckily, there is a flip side to this coin. Because nothing exists in a silo, the stellar material – which is the vast majority – is greatly enhanced. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Doorway To Salvation.” A deeply dynamic track that shows off the skills of both singers, the song’s chorus makes maximum use of a melody first introduced early during “Triumph of Irreality.” Variations to said chorus, a touch of thrash for the guitar solo, and wonderfully B3-tinged keyboard solo all add up to make this song the album’s true centerpiece. And if there were any doubt, the fact that massive closer “All A Man Can Do” eschews its oft-repeated melody to call back the notes of “Doorway…” hammers the point home. It is also the final piece of the puzzle on an album loaded with detail and well-executed self-reference, and shows that even if the concept format creates and expounds the album’s few faults, it also makes the highs all that much higher.
So yeah, it isn’t perfect, but very little is. And the fact is, these days we’re getting so little of this style performed, composed, and produced at this expert level that prog fans should relish every gem that comes their way. The Old Man and the Spirit is an extremely bold first statement from Beyond the Bridge, one that will hopefully be built upon to find even greater glories in the future. The staircase on the album art may end abruptly, but the sky is the limit for these folks.
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