|Review: Beyond Twilight - Section X|
Label: Massacre Records
Year released: 2005
Genre: Progressive Metal
Review online: May 31, 2008
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Rated 3.9/5 (78%) (10 Votes)
It isn't every day that I come across a band with both endless creative nuance and powerful songwriting command, still managing to be compulsively listenable and cool while remaining an artistic statement of the highest degree, but here we have something that breaks the mold. Beyond Twilight are a Danish Progressive Metal band formed by keyboardist and songwriting genius Finn Zierler, and while they may never be able to keep a solid lineup, they will at least have this album on their pedigree for great fucking music.
Section X is not your average Prog album. Not in the least. They start off with a fairly simple melodic base to lay the ground-work of their musical foundations (not that different from more vanilla Prog bands like Dream Theater, for instance), but then they add in a heaping helping of cool, sleek, mechanical riffs, a dash of softer, morbid piano romanticism and lush, haunted house synth runs sprinkled lightly atop the whole stew. The vocals are really something else, too, provided by the fantastic Kelly "Sundown" Carpenter, who some of you may know more recently from Outworld's punishing debut record. He has a high pitched, edgy voice reminiscent of what you'd get if you gave James LaBrie in his prime the range and dynamic power of King Diamond, and he uses his pipes to a frighteningly insane effect. The whole thing is quite formidable, a towering monolith of progressive accomplishments wrapped up in a devilishly blackened aesthetic that will instantly please those so inclined to such frayed pastures as myself. It isn't simply the variety of instrumentation that makes Section X an interesting and unique album, though...
...but the songwriting techniques utilized. The first song "The Path of Darkness" is a sprawling, sorrowful stomp that teeters between two emotional spectrums in its 6 minute duration - a morose sort of cry for help and a screaming, frothing insanity that seems almost contagious - quite a masterfully executed effect, and one I wish more bands would try, instead of just sticking to one mood for the whole song. Sundown spits and blasphemes all over the place, but he also shows his ability to slow down and croon, and he sounds great in both modes, honestly. This is a song that would be a high point on a Pyramaze or Ayreon album, but it's just the tip of the fucking iceberg here. The next song is "Shadow Self," and it only marginally sounds like the one before it; a creeping, lurching, uncoiling serpent of a song, boasting the most King Diamond-influenced vocal performance here. "Sleeping Beauty" is a more classically oriented song, with lots of pianos and some synths overlapping into the heaviness, and "Dark Side" is a lurching, schizophrenic song that you won't want to listen to with the lights off. After a short piano interlude, "Ecstasy Arise" kicks in, with its riveting, careening theme guitar riff, and it's the best song on here, despite also being the least progressive (that isn't saying much; this song is still light years beyond what most bands of their ilk were doing around the time this was released). The title track ends the album, and it is a long, dense epic with style and class to spare, sporting the same creative bite that the rest of the album already had in spades.
This kind of maniacal songwriting power is almost unheard of, as while it is a bit uneven, and while some songs drag on a bit with sections that just don't quite click, it is still an enthralling listen all the way through, and it is completely insane. Absolutely insane. Foaming-at-the-mouth, bouncing-off-the-walls, shithouse mouse insane, the kind of insane that goes beyond charming and witty and into realms that you wouldn't normally associate with music, perhaps even making the listener feel uncomfortable upon hearing Sundown's maniacal shrieks of "Smell the gaaaaasoliiiiiiine!," and proud of it. Section X is an album that thrives and feasts upon the darkness and intrigue which surrounds it, fully embracing its voracious intensity and maddening disdain with open arms. This is a concept album of some kind, but you wouldn't be able to tell if the band didn't notify you themselves - the songs here really don't have much to tie them together, each taking a central idea and building upon it, until it is able to grow and writhe and bite all on its own; a brand new beast. Zierler's compositions are twisted and morbid, unfolding themselves in contorted, pained fashions alien to what we are accustomed to, and if not for the unifying force of the production values and the vocal work, none of them would even sound remotely alike. Zierler is not insane, but the fact that he can write music that leans so persuasively in that direction is quite admirable indeed.
For unbound brilliance and dark morbidity in Prog, you can't get much better than this one. The instrumentation is unparalleled, the vocals are fantastic, the songwriting is ace, and the whole package exudes an air of passion and sincerity not found in many other releases these days. Get it.
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