Out of personal interest, and as an expanding of my writing horizons, I am now branching out to doing album and music reviews. The first of these will be my favorite album of all time, the masterpiece from German band Disillusion, known as “Back to Times of Splendor.”
As a preface, I wanted to point out that my music reviews will be done here on my personal blog for the most part, though certain, particularly geeky or sci-fi themed music articles, may make their way onto The Uncommon Geek blog.
I have spent the past decade exploring the musical world of heavy metal, and while I have also diversified my taste into other genres during that time, metal is always what I come back to. It was early in the turn of the century that I discovered my first European metal bands, such as Arch Enemy, and then my mind was blown beyond comprehension by the Swedish masters of progressive metal, Opeth. I had never heard anything even remotely like it, and their fifth and sixth albums, Blackwater Park and Deliverance, respectively, were my favorite albums of the time, and remain very high on my list.
However, a few years ago I was introduced to a German band, that had a similar dynamic and similar musical style to Opeth, but with a little more of an epic, grandiose sound. They struck me as more operatic, but also with riffs and arrangements that tended to have a more direct drive to them. This group was Disillusion. I of course liked this particular album of theirs, “Back to Times of Splendor,” right away, but only in the last year have I more thoroughly digested its contents, and it has been catapulted to the position of my favorite album of all time. The person who introduced this band to me was in fact my ex-girlfriend, the person who, as you may have read about in my previous posts, destroyed me. However, I choose not to let that fact deter me from enjoying this masterwork of metal.
Track 1: …and the Mirror Cracked
The first track of the album hits hard right out of the gate, delivering a brooding, raw set of riffs that quickly escalate into a ferocious death metal attack which isn’t far removed from that of bands like Dismember or In Flames. The rattling bass in the verses is particularly nasty and heavy without overdoing it. The song breaks into a driving chorus, which put frontman Vurtox’s clean singing into your ears for the first time. His clean voice somewhat resembles that of Serj Tankian’s, but I find that he is considerably more emotive and affecting. “Mirror” doesn’t take any extremely bizarre detours as far as its arrangement is concerned, but it does have a staggeringly beautiful, acoustic guitar-driven bridge that wonderfully contrasts the heaviness in the rest of the song.
Track 2: Fall
“Fall” is the most traditionally structured song on the album, and doesn’t detour too heavily from a “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge” arrangement. The arrangement may be simple, but the riffs are hardly so, and they form a tangled weave that twines in and out of the slippery yet catchy lyrics.
Track 3: Alone I Stand In Fires
This is the track that introduced me to Disillusion, and it is hard to ask for a better first impression. The opening riff, which is the song’s main hook, is an absolutely killer, driving, stuck-in-your-head all day riff that demands to be headbanged to. The hook gives way to a sinister set of verses, which in turn bleed into a tragic, beautiful, operatic chorus. This track starts to get really proggy and weird in its middle stretch, as blast beats, raw guitars, and strained singing play out over a backdrop of haunting keyboards. All of the tension crescendos into one final chorus, and one last pass at the main hook, leaving you gasping for air.
Track 4: Back to Times of Splendor
The title track, and one of the two songs on the album that break the ten minute mark (in the vein of Opeth). A gorgeous arrangement of violins and strings washes over you, as the guitars slowly fade into the first chorus riff. It is a fairly uncomplicated part, but the guitars and drums hit with such thickness and such raw emotion, that I can never help but be washed away by them. The verses are a ridiculously catchy compound time signature arrangement, that is kept fresh on each new pass with brilliant change-ups by drummer Jens Maluschka.
I really can’t do any justice to the sheer beauty of this song, as it takes on a life of its own and takes off into an epic, unpredictable, and unconventional ride of proggy, twists and turns. When the song ups the heaviness and intensity to its breaking point, in flowing with Vurtox’s album-long story, it then boils itself down to a deliciously infectious drum and bass section backed by samplings of thunder and driving rain. It is delightfully atmospheric and enthralling.
This song is so raw, has so much passion, and conveys such senses of despair, agony, pining, and reflection, to such a degree as to be absolutely staggering. It is my favorite song of all time.
These are the lyrics from the chorus, words that affect me deeply:
“There is a road I must travel, let it be paved or unseen
May I be hindered by a thousand stones
Still onward I crawl
Down on my knees”
Track 5: A Day By the Lake
This is another short, relatively simple song, written in a beautifully brooding, slow 12/8 time signature. Fretless bass and atmospheric leads glide over and under a layer of slick drumming and sweeping acoustic guitar passages. The whole track washes over you just as waves on a gentle beach might, and it serves as a quiet, somber interlude between the masterful title track, and the grand finale.
Track 6: Sleep of Restless Hours
A damned catchy acoustic guitar passage opens the most bizarre, most unhinged track on the album. I say that is the most prog song on the record by far, but its unconventionality reinforces the lyrics perfectly, emphasizing the storyteller’s delirium and his desperate need for a place to fall. It’s not at all about something as simple as being sleepy, but rather it is echoing the sentiment of a person whose soul is wandering the earth in agony, and all it wants is just a place to be at peace. The final riffs of the track that fade in after the faux-ending serve as a grand, mournful finale, not just for this song, but the entire album.
“Back to Times of Splendor” is an album that is very demanding of the listener’s attention, and it is truly something that deserves to be absorbed from start to finish. I know that not everyone can get into bands such as Disillusion because they find heavy vocals to be distasteful, but I find that they are a necessary and vital component in emotive, brutal, and honest songwriting such as this. This album is a musical masterpiece and in my opinion, it rightfully belongs in any metal lover’s collection.