Redemption’s strength has always lain in the band’s willingness to embrace all the wonders of the prog metal palette without ever fully succumbing to the subgenre’s insatiable appetite for wonkiness. Their focus has always been on songcraft over showmanship. Of course, this isn’t to say Redemption is all work and no play, but when they allow fingers to fly, it’s with clear purpose – to forward a melody, to run fully through transition, to expose or resolve a theme – and things are no different here.
Except that things are different here, insofar as this time around Nick Van Dyk’s evocative and emotionally laden songs revolve around his own real world corollary. His band’s name reflects in a very real way his recent struggle with and conquering of a particularly nasty blood-borne cancer. In fact, today there may be no more fitting name for a man’s artistic pursuit than Redemption, the labor of love that has driven Van Dyk for more than a decade. This Mortal Coil is the band’s fifth studio effort, and it carries with great grace the words and musical ideas inspired by Van Dyk’s travails. It’s a record that benefits from a clarity of perspective that only deathly battle can bring.
This Mortal Coil is composed of pretty clearly delineated halves. The first five songs are of anger and despair and frustration and fucking why?! These tracks are heavy and urgent and directive, aimed at assailing a shitty situation with no obvious point of vulnerability. Clenched teeth bitterness drives the search for answers to suddenly salient existential questions feared by all and understood by few. But even as the rhythm section forwards the mighty weight of Death’s confrontation and keyboards color the air with desperation, it’s Ray Alder’s poignant vocals that make clear the pure humanity at the heart of mortal conflict, particularly on “Perfect.” In this first chapter, Alder’s affect is frequently answered with cold reality by way of sharp soloing from Van Dyk and Bernie Versailles. It’s an exciting interplay that gets better as these conflicting forces coalesce by album’s end.
Following from the transitional introspective beauty of “Let it Rain,” the album’s second half pulls its momentum from the dynamic synergism of hope and acceptance to lift and impel the final five songs. This is where Redemption’s sound becomes a little more familiar as the tempo is slowed, mood is relaxed, and melody takes on a faintly optimistic glow. Anxious aggression has given way to a firmness of purpose keenly focused on seizing the day, especially in the resoluteness of “Stronger Than Death” and the ascendant beauty of the closing track, “Departure of the Pale Horse” through which a comfortable peace is finally realized.
Van Dyk tells us that these songs are not about him; that they reflect a universal appeal to the preciousness of life’s every fleeting moment. Nevertheless, knowing the back-story makes it nearly impossible to experience This Mortal Coil without realizing a genuine and strong connection with the man. Sure this kind of creator-beholder communion is bound to impose some higher degree of subjectivity in the album’s assessment but this is probably true of any work of art with an interesting developmental history. Regardless, This Mortal Coil is a fine progressive metal album that adds credence to Redemption’s already solid status as one of the genre’s most consistently rewarding acts.