Concept albums. Tell me, who doesn't love a good concept album? The Who's "Tommy"&.. Pink Floyd's "The Wall"&..Queensryche's "Operation: Mindcrime"&..all delicious slabs of musical wonderment. And, with Queensryche's disappointing release of "Operation: Mindcrime II" earlier this year, this album fits the vacant glass slipper better than any Cinderella you could possibly imagine.
How's this for a concept? Norwegian native, Mattis Sorum, starts constructing this masterpiece by himself back in 2003. He decides to call his project Pictorial Wand, and hires in musicians to play everything except guitars, synthesizers, and organ, which he decides to play himself. Upon hearing this unorthodox method of creating recorded music, I was skeptical as to how tight these musicians would sound as a unit. But, with Sorum bringing in a cast of over 15 performers - including a cellist, flutist, and three different female voices to compliment lead vocalist Petter Selliseth - his conceptual vision is vividly brought to life. This is the best concept album I've heard since Queensryche's "Operation: Mindcrime." This is a perfect record in every way.
The concept deals with someone who wakes up to realize that he is ashamed of how he has been living his life, and starts on a journey of retribution. The seven deadly sins are incorporated into the song titles, and some wonderful spoken word passages add an eeriness that really binds it all together. To lump this into the stack of cheap "Operation: Mindcrime" rip-offs, or into the landfill of overly dramatic prog rockers would be a travesty. This is a record that has many of the great qualities that "Mindcrime" had, and it is a prog masterpiece, no question; but this is a record that lives and breathes without the life support of any outside influence.
From the very beginning of this two-disc journey, we get great melodies, some spoken word, and classic rock hooks with "The King & His Land - Pt.I." We also get a deeply passionate and yearning vocal exhibition from Selliseth and three female voices, along with a brilliant orchestral arrangement and stunning guitar work on "The Gate Of Lost Souls." The album has a musical flow equivalent to the fluid motion of a lava lamp. The tempos rise slowly and dramatically, linger in a few dark areas, and start to descend with a gripping ardor that really is something to behold. The sound ranges from the classic rock heaviness of Queensryche to the atmospheric artistry of Pink Floyd, with a little Jethro Tull folk, ELP and Kansas-like classic rock, and traditional classical influences thrown in for good measure. And no matter how many diverse influences invade these songs, they still remain structured, systematic, and thoroughly interesting. The fervent and dramatic guitar solos &the complex keyboard sequences &the surmounting intensity of the orchestration &the passionate vocals - all intertwined and woven together like an elegant quilt that makes your body tingle when you wrap yourself in it. Besides being a perfectly choreographed album of music, this is a record that makes the album's artwork come alive. Take one look at the foreboding cover art and you immediately start hearing the music. This is a well thought out, complete package all the way around.
While listening to both discs straight through, I felt like I was cast out upon an ocean of sound and melody; transported to another place. I have not heard an album this solid in a very long time. To take so many elements of sound and fit them together seamlessly would seem to be a dauntless task; one that has been fulfilled perfectly by Mattis Sorum and his talented cast.
OVERALL RATING: 10 PERFECT!!
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