Album Title: Fountains
Label: Layered Reality Productions
Date of Release: 26 November 2021
Tom De Wit is a machine, a progressive music machine. It was only January of this year when I was presented with ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’, the first album recorded by Tom under the simplified ‘TDW’ moniker. A more personal affair than ever before, ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ was a raw, emotional affair that I really enjoyed, and still do when I can fit in a quick listen between the hundreds of promos that deluge my inbox on a weekly basis. Woe is me, hey?
A mere ten or eleven months later and here I am penning my thoughts on the follow-up, the sophomore studio album under the TDW banner, simply titled ‘Fountains’. And do you know what? He’s only gone and bettered his previous effort. You might think that with such a short period of time between releases, the quality may have suffered. In reality, the very opposite has happened. Whereas ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ was something of a grower, ‘Fountains’ made a positive impact on me from the first spin. And it’s a positive impact that continues to exist some time later after an umpteenth blast.
One of the criticisms I levelled at ‘The Days…’ was the fact that it tried to pack in so much music within its borders that it flirted with being a little lacking in focus and identity. Plus, at over 70 minutes, it was arguably a little too long. ‘Fountains’, by contrast, is shorter, clocking in at under the hour mark. And, whilst there are a ton of different influences and genres still at play within the ten songs, it feels like ‘Fountains’ feels a little more succinct. It carries more of an identity and is more immediate and understandable as a result.
This is rather unexpected though, as ‘Fountains’ is more of a collection of individual songs, six of which were written based on the suggestions of fans, with the remainder written by Tom to tie everything together loosely. It’s a great idea, very refreshing, and it has definitely worked as far as I’m concerned.
Then there’s the production of ‘Fountains’ which is another improvement on what has gone before. With every passing release, Tom De Wit appears to become more accomplished and experienced at twiddling knobs and pulling levers, leading to this being his best-sounding release to date. In particular, I like the balance and separation between each of the component instruments, allowing each to shine at points. I also have to say that the guitars and drums both sound punchier and chunkier than before – at least, that’s the impression that I get in any case.
As before, Tom has been joined by bassist Rich Gray (Aeon Zen, Annihilator), drummer Fabio Alessandrini (Annihilator) to form the core trio. And, as before, the key protagonists are then joined by guests aplenty who offer their unique skills to make ‘Fountains’ the rich experience that is truly is. From Erik Hazebroek (Vetrar Draugurinn – guitar solo), to Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies – synth solo), and from Michael Mills (Toehider – guitar solo) to Cathinca Porsius who provides her flute skills on ‘Hunters Eyes’, the impressive list goes on. Added to which there’s once again a choir comprised of nine or so vocalists, demonstrating just how high the esteem in which Tom is held by his fellow musicians.
Delving into the songs themselves, you couldn’t wish for a better opening track in the shape of the title track. It immediately punches you in the chops with a bruising, yet melodic opening burst of energy, full-on melodic prog grandiosity. From there, the song ebbs and flows wonderfully, encompassing everything from gentle prog rock, to extreme symphonic metal, complete with growls, blast beats and bold orchestration. But at its heart, it’s arguably one of Tom’s greatest individual compositions, almost anthemic at points.
Mind you, the rest of the record is littered with insidious earworms, furious intent, and lashings of experimentation, meaning that this is easily my favourite of all Tom De Wit’s releases. Far and away his best.
‘Inner Enemy’ experiments with some quirky electronics, but delivers a gorgeous melody at the midway, as well as rousing choral sections, and a killer extended lead guitar solo towards the end. ‘Hope Song I’ is a different animal altogether, a three-minute exercise in restraint, atmosphere, and vocal melodies that has a magnetic pull.
The energetic, intense ‘Gratitude Song’ follows, upping the pace and drama nicely. It is laced with a Middle Eastern flavour, with some of the lyrics sung in a different language. I’m English, so all other languages sound the same to me, but I’m guessing it’s either Dutch or Arabic. But it’s probably Japanese. Either way, it’s a welcome ingredient, and draws a fleeting resemblance to Orphaned Land at times.
The great songs keep on coming, with ‘Hunters Eyes’ another strong composition, featuring rich piano notes and the flute of guest Cathinca Porsius. I particularly love the piano and guitar solo section, that leads to a frenetic, but powerful and addictive crescendo of wailing guitars, flute, piano, and the howling of wolves. The extended intro to ‘Anthracite’ is utterly compelling too; the drums create the heartbeat upon which the atmosphere is built expertly, leading to one of the strongest earworms on the album. “And it’s all the same, all the same, as before” – hear it once and you’ll be singing it to yourself too. The remainder of the song features some of the heaviest riffing on the album, full of power and groove, with a return of the growls for good measure.
Ok, so I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Graveyard Boogie’, but that’s because I’m a humourless soul, but live, I’d expect it to be a big hit and lots of fun. I much prefer what follows, namely ‘Traveller’, a song that’s again bursting with ideas and energy. Electronics, chunky stop-start riffs, and a melodies to stop you in your tracks, that grow stronger with every listen, to the point where the central melody becomes incredibly addictive.
It’s left to ‘Hope Song II’ to close out ‘Fountains’ and it does so in marvellous fashion. At nearly nine minutes, it is the longest song on the album, but it doesn’t feel that way. It is grandiose, majestic, varied, with even a glorious descent into Gothic doom territory complete with plainsong that sends shivers down my spine. And the fact that it reprises the melodies from ‘Hope Song I’ is a touch of real class, that ties everything together perfectly.
I’m kicking myself because if I’d listened to ‘Fountains’ earlier, it may have sneaked into my final top 30 for the year. At the very least, it would have received a slot in the ‘honourable mentions’ post that preceded my countdown. Yes, it’s genuinely that good. No sugar-coating, no rose-tinted opinions due to my friendship with Tom – ‘Fountains’ is his very best work and, if there’s any of that much-needed justice in the world, it should catapult Tom De Wit, a.k.a. TDW into the higher echelons of the progressive metal genre. Hell, I’ve now finished my review, but I’m still listening to ‘Fountains’ because I want to. I highly recommend that you all do the same.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: