The Antithetic Affiliation (2CD/DVD)
"It's been a while since I walked through the land of prog metal. In the late 1980s / early 1990s I was looking for heavier prog and was a very happy prog fan when I discovered the first Dream Theater album. It came out at a time I needed it. A decade later my taste had shifted: most of prog metal was too technical to my taste, increasingly cold music didn't do it for me anymore. Another decade later my taste is going back to heavier music, heavier than ever before actually, as long as it's exciting and surprising my ears while not showing off technically. Atmosphere, playing from the heart, heavy melodies, that is what counts for me. And headbanging, obviously.
I was not familiar with TDW, but considering the near-full circle my taste underwent, I was interested in picking this up for a review. Oh, the beautiful packaging and artwork helped. A double CD (with bonus DVD), a concept book-ended by two epics. I can't see a band going wild on technical showcasing for 20 minutes, so this sounded safe for my noodling allergy.
(There was some confusion about the official band name. In official communication and the CD I read TDW, other sources claim TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. TdW acknowlegdes this and is thinking of using TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc as the official project name.)
At first listen, I was pleasantly surprised! Several elements are pleasing to my ears and taste: lots of heavy bits, no growling or silly heavy metal voices, no operatic vocals, lots of heavy riffing yet very melodic, focus on musicality instead of technicality, progressive in the sense a lot is happening in terms of musical layers and breaks and solos.
Regarding the two epics I was having some doubts at first. Aren't they too long? Would a split into slightly shorter tracks work just as well or even better? With the whole album as a story, the lyrics don't require extra long compositions. It took a few more spins before the cohesion started to become clearer, making it more of a whole instead of the feared patchwork of separate sections. Repetitions of themes here and there, no illogical breaks, it all comes across very organic.
A lot of the music has a lot going on. With an album of this length, this speed, and this many things happening at once, you get an awful lot of music for your money. I know some people say sometimes it's the silence between the notes that makes the music, and that's true for some types of music, but a lot of times my brain just likes a lot going on to keep itself busy. Alternated with quieter sections, sometimes with acoustic guitar and piano, sometimes even for a bit longer (Lovesong), this never get tedious and just feels like a well-balanced effort. Listening to this, even several spins later, not once did I think the music needed a break.
The disc titles (The Light and The Dark) refer to the story rather than the music, so don't expect a heavy and a softer side. In fact, I think the The Light is actually a bit heavyer with The Dark being more symphonic. There are a lot of lyrics. It's obvious the story is important. With tracks this long there is still enough space for instrumental sections. Not just soloing, but also multi-layered, symphonic walls of sound. As you will buy this for the music and not the story, I won't make this review even longer by throwing some spoilers on the story.
Although I realise I missed some of what prog metal has went through for a certain amount of time, I have not been living under a rock (being a publisher on the DPRP team, I see all review issues including all videos), and I find a lot of original stuff here. This makes it harder to give references because any name I give that I am reminded of will also have a lot of differences as well. That is a good sign!
During some guitar solos I hear Iron Maiden, but TDW are heavier and much more progressive. Some epic moments recall Epica, but TDW never take the cinematic route and therefore steer from becoming cheesy (sorry, fans of epic metal). Regarding song structures I could see these guys open for a band like Opeth, but TDW are less polished, which is a plus, to my ears. I really think they might blow that headliner off the stage. A safe reference would be Devin Townsend, but Townsend is more extreme, more crazy, more guitar-oriented, and less serious. (No judgment, just stating my perception.)
I think I also have to mention countryman Ayreon (heavy prog concept studio projects with different line-ups based around a single person), but TDW are a bit heavier with more focus on the metal side, and less stylistic and epic-sounding. Whether they are not capable of it or deliberately avoiding it, TDW tend to write less catchy tunes. It's not about big sing-along choruses or the epic effect they are after, like Epica or Within Temptation where to my ears the catchiness becomes a bit formulatic. To me it sounds like TDW are not trying so hard to write catchy or pleasing. And that pleases me.
The whole album pleases me. If you like even a bit of prog metal, this will please you, too. From the soaring epic bits to heavy riffing, from the subdued sections to the ripping solos, all covered in that melodic, progressive, symphonic gravy. Being thrown off your feet by the breaks and the sheer power of it all. Thank you TDW for this warm welcome for me back into the world of prog metal. It came out at a time I needed this. It is more than a great album, it's a new benchmark for the world of prog metal." - DPRP.net