Written by Xavier Cattarinich
A High Price To Pay
Test Subject 1047
Juliet’s Potion... Romeo’s Poison
Love Is Skin Deep
One Last Kiss
The Unfaithful One
A Guilty Conscience
Digging Up The Past
The House That Sorrow Built
Damsel In Distress
A Song For The Weary
On My Own
Pushing Through The Darkness
The Sad Tale Of John Doe
Apple Of My Eye
Rest In Peace
Ever come across an album where you think, “Wow! Love the music! Too bad I can’t stand the vocals...”? That seems to happen to me quite a bit. No, I’m not going to name names. As Phil Daw rightly indicates in the title of his sophomore studio release, Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder... or, for that matter, in the ear of the listener. Yet his new album gives those among us who yearn for a chance to enjoy exceptional metal music sans vocals an opportunity to do just that.
Beauty is a beast of a conceptual album, loaded with twenty tracks clocking in at 1 hour and 49 minutes. Daw, a 22 year-old music tech student out of Southport, U.K., wrote and recorded everything on this entirely instrumental offering. A version with lyrics and vocals is planned for release later this year.
Release Date: January 19, 2018
Buy the album: CD Baby / iTunes / Google Play
Album also available on Spotify and Deezer
“Coat Hanger” builds on the foundations of the previous number. Subtle atmospheric passages punctuated by swift jabs from a full metal rhythm section hint at the protagonist’s internal conflict, with pain and anger threatening to overwhelm the defenses of a fragile subconscious. The introduction of a sublime acoustic guitar lead at the end intensifies the emotional weight and cognitive dissonance of “Coat Hanger,” which blends sadness with hope, or maybe with a dream of another place far away from the violence perpetrated on “Test Subject 1047” in the third song’s grim thrash assault.
The lumbering rhythm section and string bending of “Tourniquet” suggests a broken person shuffling around an asylum, trying to keep themselves together. Trying to staunch their bleeding wounds. Jerking, jerking uncontrollably. Not knowing where they are, what is happening to them, or why they feel as they do.
Atmosphere and composition remain top notch from the dark epic “Juliet’s Potion... Romeo’s Poison” on through “One Last Kiss,” where the keys and a distant, mournful end solo truly capture the sense of yearning after letting go. “Love Is Skin Deep” and “The Unfaithful One” inject some industrial vibes to the dominant gothic prog metal mix.
By the time I reach track eight, “The Unfaithful One,” and on through track twelve, “Suicide Note,” my focus usually drifts. Individually, these songs remain solid and thematically consistent, with standout parts that still convey plenty of atmosphere. Yet when taken within the context of a twenty-song, 109-minute instrumental album, they lose their distinctiveness. And sadly, by this point, my imagination no longer conjures the vivid imagery the way it did during the first third of Beauty. Judging by the titles—“A Guilty Conscience”, “Digging Up The Past”, “The House That Sorrow Built”—the songs overlap a fair bit in conceptual terms, as well. Those three pieces might work well as a montage or brief scenes in a movie, but at a collective eighteen-plus minutes of music on an instrumental album, they drag a little and arguably would have benefited from consolidation.
My attention usually perks up again come “Damsel In Distress” and “A Song For The Weary,” the climax of the album. These tracks really shine, ebbing and flowing along their circuitous paths, taking the listener from gloomy lows to glorious highs, from loss and despair to triumph and redemption. “A Song For The Weary” in particular has a defeated-underdog-who-won’t-give-up feel to it, which carries on into “On My Own”. We’re back into awesome, dynamic, prog metal motion picture score territory.
Momentum is then lost again in an unnecessarily long five track epilogue. While by no means bad, “Pushing Through The Darkness” and “The Sad Tale Of John Doe” are probably my least favourite on the album, if only because they offer nothing that the previous fifteen tracks—and the previous three in particular—haven’t already done better. The simultaneously frail and powerful “Unforgotten Memories” would have made a strong closing piece (roll end credits), but Daw stretches his oeuvre another two songs with “Apple Of My Eye” and “Rest In Peace.”
All in all, Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder is an ambitious and impressive instrumental concept album. At only 22 years old, Phil Daw has proven himself an accomplished musician, as well as an artist with a bold creative vision focused on dynamic and atmospheric composition. No excessive lead guitar wanking here—a welcome rarity among instrumental solo artists in metal.
That said, Beauty Is Tn The Eye Of The Beholder would be an even stronger release if the number of tracks were trimmed down from twenty to thirteen or so. As it stands, the listener may find themselves losing focus around the halfway point of the album, and again closer to the end, not because any of the songs are bad, but because some tend to blur into one another given the recording’s long runtime and occasionally repetitive rhythmic and auditory palette. As they say in creative circles, one must be prepared to ‘kill their darlings’ (trust me, I sympathize!). While I think that Beauty makes an excellent instrumental album, perhaps the lyrics and vocals on the forthcoming alternate version might be all that is needed to give those ‘lost songs’ their own distinct identity, and to inject more feeling into Daw’s atmospheric work. I sincerely hope the lyrics and story will be as good as the evocative song titles suggest, and that whoever ends up doing the vocals will do this great album justice. It’s a daring, but risky proposition, and I for one eagerly anticipate the release of the alternate version... no pressure, Phil!
Highs: Overall, a well-composed and atmospheric instrumental prog metal concept album with gothic and industrial elements. Some of the best numbers include “A High Price To Pay”, “Coat Hanger”, “Test Subject 1047”, “Tourniquet”, “Damsel In Distress”, “A Song For The Weary” and “On My Own.”
Lows: While there isn’t a single bad song on the album, this twenty track, 109 minute opus occasionally drags a bit. Some tracks—while good if not excellent when taken individually—can be overlooked or under-appreciated as a result of listener fatigue and some repetitiveness in rhythm and the auditory palette.
Final Rating: 7.5/10