The tension between theme – that is, concept, lyrics and overall tone – and the actual quality of music on an album is one that is deserving of closer attention. A passage between the two undoubtedly exists; one affects the other, adding or withdrawing from its quality as a stand alone experience. Themes can enhance or detract from music and vice verse. But should reviews focus solely on the “technical” aspect of the music alone, its delivery and expertise, or does the power of the concept deserve attention as well? This review might serve as an answer to that, for it is impossible to understand Bridging Realms but as a whole, music and theme, together. It’s a wildly varied album, presenting a mix of genres that would otherwise be scattered, purposeless and confusing. However, under the auspices of a well formulated theme, it comes together to create one of the best albums of 2015.
Let us address the “technical” issue first: how and how well is this album constructed and performed? The answer to the first is, with an audacity that is as refreshing as it is challenging. The major distinguishing feature is the lack of a center; there’s no instrument on this album that can be singled out as more important. In that sense, Dreadnought are one unit performing disparate acts of music that somehow blend together. On the one hand, major grounds have been cleared for the vocals on the album. Dual female leads show up sparsely but when they do, the stage is theirs and they take it gladly. Their styles range from black metal screams to Dorthia Cottrell inspired country-drawls, with a tinge of deeper growls that might take their cue from Myrkur.
However they are performed, the vocals are exiquisite. But it would be a mistake to call this album a “singer’s album” because, on the other hand, the groove section is just as important. The work behind the drum kit for example is accurate yet fluid, able to maintain the weight of the beat but also to innovate in interesting and unique ways. Nowhere is this more evident than on closing track “Bridging Realms”, featuring cymbal work that should send a smile straight to your face. The counterpart of the drums, perhaps embodying the only “classical” choice on the album is the bass. The tone is insanely smooth, caressing the rest of the instruments with a deft, light yet firm hand.
This is a good time to introduce you to the plethora of other instruments on this album: wood flute, synths, piano, chimes and more. These are far from just an attraction, as the first track’s outro can well attest. “Ode to Ether” in general is a perfect opener for this album, introducing us to the whole range of sounds we will encounter along the way. The intro to “Odyssey” is masterful in its use of varied instruments as well, echoing the groovier parts of Camel, if that statement even makes any sense. Lastly, we have the guitars. These again present a more “conventional” sound, performing the sludgy part we would expect of them. Their main strong point is that they’re not overused. Many metal bands feel that guitars are a staple of the genre and, therefore, must be present as much as possible. They are correct to a degree, but moderation is a high virtue and the guitars only become more powerful here for being used at the right intervals.
So, you begin to perhaps see the earlier point about theme: what is the glue that holds all of the above together? We have a large amount of instruments, most of which do not partake in the accepted arrangement, the roles you would normally assign and expect of them. You have vocal styles which shift and moved. All of this and more could easily cause confusion. And yet, this is where the theme comes in; the timbre of the album if you will. We might be shooting in the dark here but we’re going to go ahead and say that the theme here is: Space. And this is Space with a capital S, not that lower-case “space” that every downtuned band seems to be pedalling. Dreadnought are interested not in the navel gazing, drool-inducing fascination with nebulae or mystical geometries but rather with a deep-seated and intellectual awe that arises from the concept of Space.
This is what lends this album sense, informs the choices made for certain instruments and simply makes the album work. From high pitched screams to frolicking flutes, through quiet passages that last long minutes and all the way down to the sludgiest of passages, Bridging Realms works because it knows what it wants: it wants to convey that feeling you get when you look up at the night sky and you’re suddenly struck with a heady melange of emotions. Fear, awe, longing, hope, melancholy, all mix into an amalgam that’s hard to put a finger on and characterize. That exact moment is ground up, distilled and then funnelled right into your brain via your ears. Thus do the different parts of the album meet, thus do Dreadnought turn from several bands playing at the same time to one mean whole, perfectly aligned with achieving its goal: to send shivers down your spine as you look up at the night sky. Does this sound far-fetched? Too in depth? Not backed up by facts?
Just look at the album art. It has all the answers you need to the question: “why is this album one of the best of 2015?”.
Dreadnought – Bridging Realms gets…