Album Title: I Am The Storm
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 17 March 2023
It wasn’t love at first listen when I first heard Redemption. In fact, it wasn’t until album number four, ‘Snowfall On Judgement Day’, released some six years after their self-titled debut saw the light of day, that I finally fell for their progressive metal charms. I have since gone back and listened to albums such as ‘The Fullness Of Time’ and now wonder quite why I didn’t see the light earlier. It is a love affair that has stood the test of time, too, as I was positively dribbling at the prospect of hearing new material from the band.
Over the years, band mastermind, guitarist and primary songwriter Nick van Dyk has not had things easy where this band are concerned. Firstly, guitarist Bernie Versailles suffered an aneurysm in 2014 meaning that he has had to take a prolonged hiatus from the band in order to recover. It remains to be seen whether he will ever return but, for the time being, remains in the band. Then, in 2017, the band lost their second vocalist, the talismanic Ray Alder of Fates Warning, who replaced Rick Mythiasin in 2005 before going on to feature on five studio albums within that time.
For a band that has always explored the challenges that life can bring within their lyrics, it seems fitting that Nick and Redemption carried on in the face of adversity. This perseverance resulted in the release of ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’ in 2018 with none other than Tom S. Englund of Evergrey behind the mic. It is an album that I really enjoy, easily deserving of its place within the Redemption discography.
Fast forward the better part of five years and we are presented with album number eight, ‘I Am The Storm’. Alongside a new label in the form of AFM Records, Redemption also boasts keyboardist Vikram Shankar as a full-time member. He joins van Dyk and Englund, alongside stalwarts Chris Quirarte (Drums), and Sean Andrews (Bass), not to mention DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni, who provides the majority of the lead guitar work that features across this record.
I want to start this review, perhaps unusually, with the negatives, of which I’m afraid there are a few. Firstly, I’m not a fan of the chosen artwork. In a similar way to ‘Art Of Loss’ a few years ago, the cover doesn’t feel like it’s in keeping with the music. It’s very comic book-like and I’m just not a fan. It isn’t a dealbreaker, clearly, but I do believe it is an important part of the overall package.
Secondly, I do honestly believe that the production could have been a little better. I’m no audiophile, but the compositions feel a little busy and overwhelming at times, with some of the instrumentation not sufficiently showcased, in favour of a more front-and-centre guitar-driven production. I love guitars and Nick’s playing immensely, but when you have a guy like Shankar providing the keys, I want him to be even more prominent some of the time. Again, this isn’t a fatal flaw, but a part of the overall package, with others more prone to disagreement based on subjective taste.
Then, finally, in terms of negatives, there’s the decision to include no less than two cover versions on ‘I Am The Storm’. I’m not a fan of cover songs at all, but if it’s done well, I can accept the occasional one at the end of the album. But here, Redemption give us two, ‘Red Rain’ by Peter Gabriel, and ‘Turn It On Again’ by Genesis. ‘Red Rain’ is, to its credit, highly enjoyable and correctly placed at the end. But the Genesis song is placed at number seven. I just don’t want it at all, let alone buried in the heart of the album. That leaves us with eight original tracks, of which one is a remix. So essentially, ‘I Am The Storm’ delivers only seven new, original compositions.
With these gripes off my chest, it is about time I focus on the many positives of the album and there, I know exactly where to begin. Songs two, three, and four.
As a trio of songs, ‘Seven Minutes From Sunset’, ‘Remember The Dawn’, and ‘The Emotional Depiction Of Light’ represent three of the best compositions that this band has ever penned. The former begins with dramatic swathes of synths before a typically cool Sean Andrews bass line intervenes. It’s a short intro that sees wailing guitars enter the fray alongside urgent riffs. With keyboard solos too, it’s a high-energy intro before settling down into a verse dominated by Tom Englund’s rich vocals, punctuated by skipping riffs that drive the song forward. The chorus, drenched in more keys is brilliant; so memorable, melodic, and powerful. As is the Redemption way, the mid-latter stages are overflowing with individual musical flamboyance from guitars and keys alike, whilst the unsung heroes of the rhythm section provide a significant and tight framework.
‘Remember The Dawn’ is an equally stunning song, possibly even better than its predecessor in some ways. More overtly progressive, the early stages have an hypnotic stop-start quality, before one of the album’s stand-out melodies punches us hard in the gut. Drummer Chris Quirarte comes into his own here, demonstrating why I believe him to be one of the most under-estimated sticksmen in modern progressive metal. I love his style; his easy, smooth technicality and expressive delivery is a real treat to listen to on this song in particular. It is also a song that, for all its riff-hungry appetite, offers Englund just a little more room in which to operate. It therefore sounds like a song much more naturally tailored to his vocal style and this helps to elevate the song further in my estimations. The keys are sublime and really engaging, the riffs are strong and urgent, and the whole thing reeks of utter prog metal class.
In the case of ‘The Emotional Depiction Of Light’, however, the best has been saved for last within this trio. Originally written by Vikram Shankar, it is everything and more that the title suggests it might be. As close as the band get to delivering a ballad, the song begins so beautifully and delicately. Guitars notes are subtly plucked, whilst piano notes offer the main atmospheric framework upon which Tom Englund sings with genuine emotion. The song gently builds to introduce the bass and layers of fragile synths before we’re hit with some higher-pitched vocals and eventually those familiar crunching guitar notes. A bittersweet song, it touches a raw nerve or two, giving me chills and goosebumps in equal measure until it reaches its sumptuous closure after six or so minutes. Equally good is the ‘Vikram remix’ version too, apparently a more sensitive rendition of Vikram’s original vision for the composition.
Elsewhere, the heavier side of Redemption is released via the opening title track and ‘Resilience’ later on in proceedings. In the case of the former, I did wonder initially whether I was listening to a lost song from Evergrey’s ‘The Atlantic’ writing sessions such is the dark tone and bulldozing heaviness from beginning to end. The latter, with its more overt thrash influences and considerable metallic muscle is a short, sharp stab of power, that reminds us just how heavy Redemption can be when the mood takes them. I’ve always liked this aspect of their sound too, not shying away from the metal core that has remained so integral to their overall sound.
This review wouldn’t be complete either without a word or more about ‘Action At A Distance’, a fourteen-minute behemoth of a song that covers just about every facet of Redemption’s repertoire. As such, we’re treated to powerful thrash-infused progressive metal intent, right through to their more opulent and lavish cinematic side, via plenty of well-placed light and shade, smooth transitions, and incredibly tight and flamboyant technical skills. To be fair, ‘All This Time (And Not Enough)’ is no slouch either, using all twelve minutes of its life wisely and engagingly, albeit exploring a generally more relaxed pace throughout. If I had to choose between the two, my heart belongs to ‘Action At A Distance’, but it is a closer run race as the listens rack up I must admit.
I started this review with a few negatives but, as I listen more and more, these negatives begin to have less and less impact upon my enjoyment of the record. When all is said and done, I come back to ‘I Am The Storm’ time and time again, noticing something new each and every time, or appreciating something different. To me, that’s the hallmark of quality, and Redemption demonstrate this quality for the vast majority of the record. I would have loved one more original song instead of the Genesis cover but I can forgive the band this small misstep when the rest of the record is so overwhelmingly strong. Given the high benchmark set by their previous releases, it is hard to say that ‘I Am The Storm’ is their best yet. What I will say is that ‘I Am The Storm’ made me consider this prospect once or twice, meaning that it must be up there with their best. Either way, this is a very welcome addition to their already impressive back catalogue.
The Score of Much Metal: 94%