Seems music buffs are always looking for better, especially when we’re having new albums tossed at us like the old man’s bread crumbs to the ducks (fuck off, pigeons). And metal music is oh-so-happy to oblige, constantly feeding the myth that better means bigger, faster, more. A great recent example was Dream Theater’s The Astonishing which, as a Petrucci-Rudess vanity project, ended up an unmitigated mess of apparently blind ambition (live show notwithstanding). Funny thing though, when you’re up to your neck in all the greatest of the latest at the cutting edge: you just might find yourself hankerin’ for what you already know well, the tried and true, the perfect cheeseburger in a downpour of Wagyu beef and Grolière foie gras.
And once again on their seventh album Long Night’s Journey into Day, Redemption offers what they’ve always done, instantly recognizable as prog metal, played by the rules with well-honed skill, and coloring brightly but always within the lines. As such, this record takes a while to appreciate as something new. It’s a grower. A listener’s first impression will likely be that it’s good if unremarkable because it doesn’t seem to be doing anything different. While that’s nominally true, repeated listens reveal the shine.
The clearest point of reference is new vocalist Tom Englund, formerly of Evergrey. Yes, he is new to the band, yet he is very clearly singing songs written by Redemption founder Nick van Dyk. In other words, Englund’s physical presence is new, but his vocal contribution feels every bit Redemption as did Ray Alder’s and Rick Mythiasin’s before him. At the same time, Englund is very obviously not Alder, so at first this album feels as foreign as it does familiar, especially if you’re not an Evergrey fan. The result is an initial dissonance that makes it hard to see the forest for trees. A step back and a narrower aperture that allow the listener to simply listen without focusing on the vocals reveals Englund to be a fine fit and a sensible replacement for Alder. His sung words are smooth, even, and strong without overwhelming, making for an emotive, alternately melancholy and uplifting delivery that brings compelling contrast and complement to van Dyk’s music.
Also new to the band is Vikram Shankar, taking over the keyboards from van Dyk. Where van Dyk has tended to keep the keys relatively restrained, Shankar’s a little more playful, looser with the accents, flourishes, and the occasional solo or energetic interplay with van Dyk’s guitar leads. In keeping with Redemption’s formula, Shankar plays from behind the guitars and vocals most of the time, but while his contributions aren’t always front and center, they do feel important, integral to their songs. They also fit snugly with the rhythm section of Sean Andrews on bass and Chris Quirarte on drums, who together build a strong foundation to support and pace the melody-makers.
Beyond that, Long Night’s Journey into Day is pretty much what a fan could expect based on previous efforts. Not new. Not at all bigger, faster, more. On the other hand, it is certainly better in so many ways than so much prog metal in recent years, including their own. This album is Redemption’s strongest, most complete and well-executed since 2009’s much-celebrated Snowfall on Judgment Day. Again, at first blush it sounds an awful lot like any Redemption record; that is, prog metal that checks all the boxes without trying to shoehorn in some spectacularly glistening never-been-done-before that seems to forget that people (even prog metal nerds) really enjoy songs. And again, time and patience bring to light superior songwriting and thoughtful composition within and across tracks.
The truth is that Long Night’s greatest strength is how well it all comes together as an album of songs. Another truth is that each of its 10 songs is a win in itself, deserving of its own mountain of superlatives. Opener “Eyes You Dare Not Meet In Dreams” hits hard from the gate; heavy, powerful and driven, and a little dark, with just a hint of that obsidian melodic shine Nevermore did so well. “Impermanent” is a great example of Englund picking up the mantle of Alder with all the grace of ascending royalty, running with it as if it was his from the start, pensive and melancholy and yet spiritually resolute. Long Night’s brightest light emanates from “The Last of Me,” Redemption’s best combination of hook and power since 2011’s “No Tickets to the Funeral” and the highlight of the album. Even the cover of U2’s “New Year’s Day,” which looked at first like a colossal miscalculation, turns out to be a thoughtful rendition of a classic song that Redemption absolutely owns, perhaps as a way of reminding us that we’ve kind of seen the world drowning itself in shit before and managed to pull through (let’s hope they’re right).
Coursing through it all is some of the finest riffcrafting of van Dyk’s long career. He’s created riffs that push, pull, twist, and turn, and that in combination form a song structure that seems constantly to embrace the melody, anticipate and celebrate the guitar solo. And wow. So many guitar solos, each awesome and energized and vital to the music around it. Which is a pretty good reflection of what makes this record so strong: each piece, remarkable in its own right, seems to have been designed of a piece with its larger whole, resulting in a deeply engaging record.
Now that’s a lot of words going pretty apey for what the opening paragraph up there essentially called a cheeseburger. But if a cheeseburger can be finely crafted, impressively executed, and simply enjoyable (and it can), and better than an $80 goose liver cracker spread, then the analogy holds. And Long Night’s Journey into Day is all of those things.