Album Title: The Days The Clock Stopped
Label: Layered Reality Productions
Date of Release: 15 January 2021
Once again, I am faced with that thorny issue, reviewing the album of a friend. I have known Tom De Wit for several years through our mutual love of progressive music and our attendance at ProgPower Europe over the years. I want to return to the Netherlands for the next instalment of the festival, so I cannot afford to give this a bad review can I? I mean, Tom is significantly bigger than me and I value my facial features as they are. Well, someone’s got to!
Of course I’m being silly, but I never really enjoy being in this position because my integrity is important to me, as much as my friendships and acquaintances. But I also want to give time and attention to music that isn’t in the spotlight, especially when it has the potential to be good. As such, I press play, close my eyes and cross my fingers.
Before I offer any kind of opinion or narrative about the music, it is well worth providing some background and context, because I believe it is necessary in this instance. Over the year, Tom has written lots of music under the moniker of ‘TDW & The Dreamwalkers’, but this album goes under the simple name of ‘TDW’. This is important, as it underlines the fact that this is definitely the most personal recording of Tom’s life. Stepping out of the shadows of fictional characters or metaphor, Tom lays himself bare, using ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ as the vehicle to tell the story of his medical struggles as a teenager. In the words of the press release:
“The story chronicles the hospital experiences, being trapped inside a body & brain that are giving up, the medical mistakes made and what it can lead to when one is confronted by death not once, but twice.”
Powerful stuff I’m sure you’ll agree. The principle songwriter, lead vocalist, guitarist, and synth player is then joined by a great long list of guest musicians to assist with this recording. There’s a nine-strong choir, as well as soloists aplenty from Teramaze, Soul Secret, and PreHistoric Animals to name a few. But in terms of primary musicians, Tom is joined by bassist Rich Gray (Aeon Zen, Annihilator), drummer Fabio Alessandrini (Annihilator), and cellist Remco Woutersen.
But, the key thing is: do I like the final product? Happily, yes I do. However, I feel compelled to begin with the observation that ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ is way too long. Without the bonus CD track, it’s 76 minutes or so in length. Add on the bonus track and we top 81 minutes. That’s double-album territory, or not far off. Given the personal nature of the music and that variety of styles at play across the 12 tracks, it can be a little daunting to listen to all in one go, from start to finish. And I do wonder how many others will do the same upon purchase.
The other small criticism I have, hinted at in the previous paragraph, is the way in which this record tries to cover so many different styles and genres of music within it. We get the classic progressive framework, but then there are gruff vocals and aggressive riffs that verge into extreme metal territory; we get symphonic metal, thrash, 70s-inspired prog rock, occasional hints of ambient music, smatterings of Latin-inspired music, and many other things besides. It is incredibly adventurous and ambitious, but occasionally, I get a little lost and so does the true identity of the music.
However, these are small criticisms because overall, ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ is an incredibly positive experience, one that I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to, getting to grips with, and exploring the lyrical content.
Compared to other previous albums, the production has been stepped up considerably. Given the budget and equipment available to Tom, I am very impressed with how this album sounds. The drums have a lovely sharp clarity, the bass steps out of the music with authority, whilst the guitars are chunky and commanding. And, as important as the synth-led symphonics are, they never swamp the compositions, or dilute the other instruments. ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ is progressive metal and you never forget this.
I also like the way that the album allows the narrative to flow in both lyrical form and musically, with the songs closely reflecting the attitude, as well as the thoughts and feelings of Tom. This helps to explain the occasional Jeckyl and Hyde nature of some of the music that I earlier criticised, and the more you listen, the more it begins to make better sense.
On to the songs themselves and there are plenty of highlights to pick. I am immediately drawn to the centrepiece of the album, the 18-minute ‘No Can Do’. The brooding intro is really nice; you really feel the emotion coming through the lyrics and the lead guitar notes, as the bass provides a pulsating bedrock. The slow build-up is great too, as it increases the intensity perfectly. Eventually it releases into a suitably sprawling epic track complete with choir vocals for added gravitas, really cool double-pedal drumming, and extended instrumental noodling, which is necessary, but tastefully done. The quieter piano-led mid-section is stunning; it feels like Tom is holding nothing back here and we’re seeing an arresting honesty from him that’s fragile but strong at the same time. Then there’s another slow build up which features wonderfully expressive drumming and a cracking guitar tone to accompany the chugging riffs. Essentially, if you like prog epics, you’ll find plenty to lap up here, including a few interesting guitar effects, aggressive vocals, choirs and the kitchen sink!
Elsewhere, the opening salvo, ‘Crashscape’ really lives up to its name. It might only be two minutes but after a rather sombre cinematic-style opening, it explodes into a thousand directions of barely-contained power, with riffs and drums everywhere, not to mention rich, vaguely early Haken-synth orchestration surrounding the tumult.
‘Clockstop – Insight X’ is pure theatre, as Tom whispers his thoughts and feelings, I assume laying in a hospital bed based on the backing effects. The bass within this track is immediately noticeable, as the crunchy guitars start to march in on all sides. The use of acoustic guitars within ‘Code Of Conduct’ is a nice touch, and act as an antidote to the death/thrash blasts of attack that interject Tom’s quieter musings.
‘The Pulse’ is easily one of the most aggressive tracks on the album, and so naturally it becomes one of my favourites. That said, I’m also drawn like a moth to flame, to ‘Death And Her Brother Greg’. It’s not as heavy, but it is blessed with one of the best melodies on the entire record. That being said, ‘Clockstop – Insight 2’ pushes it close with some catchy vocal hooks, whilst being one of the most frantic, schizophrenic songs on the album, with blasts of gruff vocals and more blast-beat drumming juxtaposed by sections bordering on ambient. And then, there’s the utterly glorious ‘Sleepless Angels’, a softer, more introspective track, bathed in rich orchestration and blessed with a ripping solo near the end courtesy of Daniel Magdič (Prehistoric Animals, Ex-Pain of Salvation)
I could go on, but instead, I just want to breathe a sigh of relief in recognition of the fact that my friendship and integrity have (hopefully) remained intact. Thank you Tom for creating a record that, despite a couple of small misgivings, is a genuine triumph. Writing such a personal album is always a risk, especially when you then bring in so many other musicians to help bring your creative vision to life. But with ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’, Tom De Wit has managed to pull it off, and in some style too. It’s a raw, emotional body of work, where you can hear how much effort and heart has gone into creating it. Don’t be put off by the sheer volume of music on offer – if you’re a fan of adventurous progressive music, you need to experience ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ for yourself and discover some great new prog in the process.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: