As Light Dies – A Step Through The Reflection

As Light Dies’ debut album ‘A Step Through The Reflection’ is a stunningly ambitious one. I can’t think of a debut album that has been as overwhelmingly layered and multifaceted as this, and especially not one that’s pulled its attempts off so well. The music on ‘A Step Through The Reflection’ easily trounces Opeth, Dream Theater, and other so-called ‘progressive metal’ bands, not through the technicality of the instrumentation, but simply through the enormous volume and variety of ideas that they can lay out one by one in such exquisite fashion.

As Light Dies plays a rather indistinct combination of metal genres, the most obvious being progressive, gothic, and a bit of power. But there’s also a very high influence from ambient and even some Cynic-style jazz fusion elements. Ordinarily, this set of ingredients is something I would find very distasteful, but As Light Dies manages to maintain coherency and craftsmanship throughout. The music is technical, but never extremely so, and combines non-metal instruments such as violin and cello in a tasteful and non-intrusive way. ‘A Step Through The Reflection’ is structured much like the album ‘Frail Visions’ by French funeral doom band Remembrance; that is, lengthy metal tracks interlocked with short ambient/neoclassical intermissions. At 70 minutes, you would think that such layered music would be excessively taxing on the listener, but this is not so: the streaming, cleverly dovetailed structure of this record makes consuming it as a whole not only necessary but highly enjoyable.

Alone, the songs are good. But when woven in with each other track, an entirely new life is sparked within them, with the massive, overreaching story of the album blooming beautifully. The music here is generally on the softer end of metal, with its heavy prog rock and classical influence, but there are some surprisingly brutal parts with blasting and black metal tremolo riffing; it’s just that these portions typically have a cello maneuvering over them to make things interesting. As Light Dies are sonic carpenters of the highest degree, combining seemingly incongruous parts into a whole that is pleasantly multifaceted and unique. ‘The Temple’, for example, cycles through black metal (with genuinely cold Norwegian style) with violin accompaniment before abruptly sliding into choir-fronted prog metal, and later sliding through jazz-influenced portions and all points in between these three. Yet it never feels that the band is merely doing this to express sophistication: all the melodies are quality and placed carefully among the others, with very little filler material at all.

Typically, interlude tracks are fodder to increase track numbers in the face of a lack of material. However, the interlude tracks on ‘A Step Through The Reflection’, typically composed of violin, cello, and/or ambient sounds, are extremely well executed in the scheme of the release. They are genuinely well crafted on their own terms, and they link the more substantial tracks together in exquisite fashion. There’s very little in the way of sharp delineation between tracks on this LP; most of the transfers are indistinct matters of sustained notes and sound effects, making the album even more unified than it was before. I’ve rarely heard a release that’s so easy to listen to completely. I would say that this album is a joy to those who love to listen to a release through headphones in the dark: the simple number of layers in atmosphere, instrumentation, and songwriting could be subject to many hours of exploration.

As Light Dies has surprised me tremendously with their debut LP and its display of extremely mature, multifaceted songwriting. I can only hope that future releases will match the quality of music represented on this CD. This is the band that should be occupying the spot that Opeth currently resides in; they are much more deserving of such extreme praise and recognition.

(Originally written for http://www.vampire-magazine.com)

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~ by noktorn on August 6, 2007.

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