Beyond The Bridge – The Old Man And The Spirit

January 31, 2012 in Reviews by blackwindmetal

Beyond the Bridge
The Old Man And The Spirit

I have a complicated relationship with progressive metal.  Some of it I just don’t get (Dream Theater) and some of it I totally dig (Wuthering Heights, Manticora).  Oftentimes, I find it confusing, but at other times I can really revel in the complexity – if I can wrap my head around the material.

Also, I love concept albums – if they’re done well.  There are some egregiously bad ones (that highly forgettable After Forever one, for instance) and there are some excellent ones (Manticora’s Black Circus Part I is one of my favourites).

Germany’s Beyond The Bridge, a septet of professionally-trained musicians and vocalists, just released The Old Man And The Spirit January 20th, and upon first listen a few days ago, I was completely blown away by their sound, their maturity, and the fact that it was prog metal I got and liked the first time ’round!

Beyond The Bridge has two vocalists, a male and a female.  Singing the part of the Old Man is Herbie Langhans, and singing the part of The Spirit is Dilenya Mar, a trained jazz singer.  In the band’s own words the story is about this:

The album ‘The Old Man and the Spirit’ deals with the polarity of human sensousness and superhuman awareness. The latter is embodied by the character of the Spirit. She is the personification of all wisdom and awareness that is unachievable to mankind, however, lacks of the ability to feel. Her opponent, the character of the Old Man, is presented as a bon vivant who has lived through all highs and lows of human sensation. Steadied by his old age, he searches for a sense, for a coherence, for the meaning of his life in the maelstrom of transciency [sic].  As the story unfolds, the Spirit convinces the Old Man that there is no way for Man to overcome the limits of human perception. They can only be transgressed with the help of the Spirit’s wisdom. Aware of human curiosity, the Spirit offers to answer all of the Old Man’s questions – in exchange for his experiences and feelings. A high price, as they are inseperably connected to the Old Man’s memories.

Musically, The Old Man and the Spirit is an excellent tour de force.  Sporting crisp, crunchy riffs paired with long, complex guitar solos, masterfully executed by lead guitarist Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg and second guitarist Simon Oberender, and whole lot of funky synth parts that sound reminiscent of the 80s, there is a lot going on in this album.  And that’s not including the frequent tempo changes prog is know for, the interplay of the two characters, and some voice over narration. Individually, the songs are very complex and well-composed, with some dramatic choruses featuring choirs, and a lot of building of emotion that sent shivers down my spine. This is a highly atmospheric album, too, as is appropriate for the genre, with different instruments and effects creating layers of emotional experience.

Vocally, this album is a treat.  Herbie has an aggressively-edged clean vocal that is very emotional, and Dilyena as The Spirit, though not singing in a soprano range as I’m used to and that would create more of a vocal contrast, sounds great and makes a great foil for The Old Man.  Their voices mesh incredibly well together.

Highlights for me were aplenty.  I loved the first song, “The Call.”  It has a catchy chorus and the melody of it is repeated through the second track, “The Apparition”, where The Spirit is first introduced.  Another stand-out for me was “Doorway to Salvation” which starts off fast as hell and induced a lot of headbanging.  It then gets gentle and quiet with Dilyena singing without any accompaniment, before some more aggressive build-up begins again.  And it has a killer guitar solo and a synth solo that sounds like an organ.  The final song, “All A Man Can Do” is an amazing finale.  This song is so well crafted, almost like a five act play.  It builds and builds to an emotional climax, using Herbie’s vocal ability and layers of sounds, and then has a well-defined denouement.  The use of the choirs in this song is brilliant and I think this is Herbie’s best vocal performance on the album.  This song is just so good I can’t say enough good things about it.

The Old Man And The Spirit was apparently six years in the making. Finalizing their line-up took a while, and then there were everyone’s university studies, but the band was all along committed to this project, and it really shows with how well thought out the album is.  I know it’s just the early days of 2012, but I have a very strong feeling this is going to be one of my stand-out albums when the year-end round-ups begin.

Allyson’s Rating: 5.0 out of 5