Powerful, Life-Changing Metal – Let Your Soul Rise!
In a world of negativity, where we are constantly bombarded with anger, fear, hatred, resentment, contempt, violence, injustice and ultimately disillusionment and hopelessness – reflected, by the way, in and reinforced by much of today’s music – Images Of Eden is a ray of hope and light. Formed in 1998 by vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Gordon Tittsworth (York, PA), this power/progressive outfit – a hybrid of classic metal and newer metal – is alive and vibrant on Soulrise, their 4th studio release. Despite quite a few line-up changes over the past 2 decades – and a long hiatus since 2011’s Rebuilding The Ruins – IOE have released their best-sounding, most original and most spiritually uplifting album to date. Rarely do I reference content from a band’s website in a review, but the description below pretty much says it all.
"Images of Eden is a fearless concept band that brings together familiar, well-loved elements of metal and rock combined with their own unique vision, message and delivery. The result is a distinct musical hybrid that speaks directly to the struggles and tribulations of the listener." – imagesofeden.com
I have to say, where in the past I thought these guys sounded like Queensryche, Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery, I feel that with the current line-up they have really developed their own style and sound. New multi-faceted drummer/producer Steve Dorssom has a more classic power metal groove compared to former drummer Chris Lucci (who had a more progressive style). Dorssom’s style, combined with new bassist Eric Mulvaine’s thunder, lends a much more driving and powerful rhythm/vibe to the Images Of Eden sound. Dean Harris (who joined the band prior to the last release) returns on keys/piano, and Mexico’s Carlos Urquidi Perez has taken over the lead guitars from Dennis Mullin. Along with Gordon’s unorthodox singing style and slightly down-tuned, but crunchy rhythm guitars, Images Of Eden somewhat defies comparison. Soulrise was produced by the band but mixed and mastered by the venerable Bill Metoyer (skullseven.com), so yes, this really is the best I’ve heard this band so far in terms of the mix and production quality.
“I know I cannot change the world, but I can change the way I live today. I never want to forget where I came from” – “Only Human”
One of the unique aspects about Soulrise would have to be the lyrical approach. Where some bands may incorporate Scripture references or paraphrases directly into the songs (Sardonyx – Sons Of The Kingdom a great example), rarely do you find the kind of “real-life” dialogue going on between an individual (could be me or you) and God. And this ongoing “conversation” stretches throughout the entire 65 minute duration! Furthermore, not only is God constantly engaged with the human in these songs, but God also has the most to say and takes up more than half of the words. This might not be readily apparent without the lyric insert where the human’s words are in white text and God’s are in yellow. In fact, when I first listened through this without lyrics I could tell there was some dialogue going on, but didn’t realize the profound extent of the conversation until I had lyrics in hand because of the way Gordon does his vocal phrasings and inflections. In other words, he doesn’t always alter his voice or the melody in a way that cues the listener to a switch in the speaker. So my only criticism would be that it would have been cool to have more of a change of inflection or singing style or phrasing to cue the listener as to the change in “voice.” Fortunately, most of the time, the actual content of the words help us know who is “speaking” at any given moment.
“Rise above deception/With the words I have given you/For I am losing my Creation/Show the world my love/For they only divide and hate.” – “Godless”
On many levels, this is a wonderful and refreshing approach to lyric-writing. First, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an album which gave this much lyric time to God’s voice! Second, the human’s struggles in these songs are ones to which all of us can relate – real life doubts, pain and suffering and tragedies. Third, instead of a “preacher” or “therapist” telling us how to heal ourselves, we have God telling us His solution for our situation. Fourth, these songs show God in a different light than our world often reflects Him. His exhortation is not condemning or judgmental (as is often the case with man’s exhortation for fellow man), but rather full of encouragement and unconditional love. Furthermore, I love how the Father doesn’t sugar coat the situation (“Let Me Die Young”), but yet empathizes with the sufferer (“Only Human”), always challenging the human to have faith (“Once We Believed”), yet always protecting/providing (“Shield Me”) and offering hope that this life is not the end (“Twice Upon A Time”). This is wonderful stuff, all within the scope of what we all experience (or desire to experience) every day.
“Self-destruction and apathy will never mend your wounds/But I can only help you now” – “All Is Now Forgiven”
The natural question which follows, then, is how are these wonderful lyrical outpourings conveyed in and augmented by the music in a way which remains credible and sincere? For one, by shortening the songs and cutting out much of the musical indulgence inherent to the prog/power genre. I felt that one of the weaknesses of Rebuilding The Ruins was there was too much going on and therefore songs didn’t stand as well on their own, nor did they have a distinct quality – it all tended to blend. Not so here, as each of these songs stands alone despite the fact that this is a concept album. The net effect, though, of the shorter songs is that it keeps you focused on the lyrics, and Gordon’s vocal clarity further solidifies the impact of the words as well. To their credit, although there are a few spoken Tate-like sections, the narrative is kept to a minimum, so throughout its 65 minutes Soulrise (despite the thick concentration of lyrics) retains a balanced ebb and flow of heavy riffs, well-placed and well-executed guitar solos, fist-pumping rhythms and interspersed keys.
The first 4 tracks are heavy, mid-tempo metal – the highlight of those probably “Shield Me,” especially because of the heavy and dynamic guitars on this song and the great vocal chorus section. Things slow down for the first time with the lovely “Moonrise,” which not only features some great vocal melodies as well, but plenty of piano, acoustic guitar and dynamic contrast. This is followed by “Godless,” one of the heaviest songs on the album (and more modern metal influenced) and one of the most profound songs lyrically. Dorssom gets to let loose here with a faster pace and some nice tom work the ride out guitar solo scorches. “Once We Believed” is one of my favorite songs and definitely a reference to Queensryche is due at this point. I just love the flow of this song and the lyrics all with that piano underlying the melodic vocal outpouring.
The latter half of the album is equally enthralling lead by the lively “Twice Upon A Time,” a song with some great rhythms, fast double bass drumming and distorted vocals – very contemporary metal sound. “All Is Now Forgiven” is one of the more progressive tunes, again with amazing lyrics, but this song exhibits nicely how Gordon uses his voice and phrasings and vocal harmonies in a manner instrumental in continuing to define the original Images of Eden sound. “Waiting For The Sky To Fall” once again has that mid-period Queensryche echo, yet sounds fresh. The bass guitar really shines on this one – a bit of a bass solo in the breakout acoustic section mid song. The piano driven ballad “And Then There Was One” represents the denouement (of sorts) and man is this brilliant. Tittsworth explains that this song stems from a childhood fear of being isolated, alone or the last person left alive perhaps. We all have to face physical death alone, but this song emphasizes the process from God’s perspective – the “footsteps in the sand” a reminder that we don’t have to walk that last part of our journey on earth alone. The gentle piano notes at the conclusion sound like walking into the light! Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the album ended on this song. Prog fans, however, will rejoice in the epic, nearly 10 minute, title track ("Soulrise") which features the believer’s journey to Heaven. Not only does this song feature all of the great vocal and musical elements we’ve heard up to this point, including some great acoustic and electric guitar solos – a great finale in essence – but we are treated to the “reunion” with family and friends as the journey concludes.
What else can be said other than that Soulrise is a breathtaking emotional, musical and spiritual experience. While the songs do stand well on their own, do yourself a favor and take some time with this release – there is so much here to learn from and be encouraged by, and it is obvious these guys put a lot of time, emotion and energy into its production. While I didn’t completely “get” what was going on here initially, after repeated listens and several trips through the lyrics these songs really connect on so many levels. Definitely one of the highlight power/prog releases this year, right up there with Orphaned Land, Ostura and Redemption.
Release Date: 8/17/2018
Track Listing: (65:20)
1. Harvest Day (4:47)
2. Let Me Die Young (4:29)
3. Shield Me (4:00)
4. Only Human (4:12)
5. Moonrise (5:53)
6. Godless (3:58)
7. Once We Believed (4:43)
8. Twice Upon A Time (6:14)
9. All Is Now Forgiven (5:34)
10. Waiting For The Sky To Fall (4:46)
11. And Then There Was One (6:58)
12. Soulrise (9:48)