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Awaken - Out of the Shadows (Reissue) Award winner

Awaken
Out of the Shadows (Reissue)
by Kira Schlechter at 16 November 2020, 6:35 AM

There is certainly no shortage of drive and purpose in the reissue of “Out of the Shadows,” the 2019 double album from the decade-old New York melodic/symphonic/prog metal band AWAKEN. This two-disc collection runs the gamut of emotion, subject matter, and just plain musical daring. Guitars on the album were done by guest artist Eric Gillette; Eric Wirsing took the permanent guitarist spot last year. He also plays in THE BEST RUSH tribute band out there, SOLAR FEDERATION – you heard it from me, so it’s true.

“Black From Blue” opens things spectacularly, with Middle Eastern acoustic guitar, wordless vocals, sitar effects, percussion including clapping and rattles, and a hypnotically dark acoustic melody that worms into your soul before the power chords kick in. The rhythms change subtly with each section, which makes things compelling throughout. The end reprises the Middle Eastern flavor, as you hoped it would, with those menacing chords underneath, and it ends with just that glorious percussion. Glenn’s vocal mix, though, is really upfront, so when he sings, he commands your aural attention, to a bit of the detriment of the music.

It’s not immediately clear how the title fits the lyrics, and the sentiment is not immediately apparent. But the two verses mesh together and change very subtly from the first to the second, from “The path is clear” to “The path is open,” from “Martyr chose his ground” to “Martyr can’t be found,” from “Terror haunts my faith, my soul cannot be free” to “Struggle is my faith, eternal destiny.” So there’s definitely a theme, perhaps some sort of back-and-forth spiritual struggle.

“Moment Of Truth” is a real departure from the opener – much punchier, with a more direct rhythm. Glenn is reminiscent of “Brave New World”-era BRUCE DICKINSON in some ways (that same vibrato, that same edge of sandpaper grit), and he’s a bit more incorporated into the mix here. The instrumental bridge shows their command of dynamics, and the solo section mimics the melody of the chorus – this is a real earworm, majestic and potent with lots of genuine drama. There’s more parallelism in the two verses, but Glenn’s lyrics are nicely obtuse – there are themes and hints but nothing outright. And there’s an especially nice couplet in the chorus, “The dark in your eyes/Is a door to the devil/A moment of truth/Leads you out of this hell,” so perhaps this is about coming to some sort of crossroads in life, where something happens and you need to choose one path or another.

A cover of “Ride Like The Wind” (yes, that one, the melodramatic 1978 Christopher Cross pop hit, of all things) gets a metal treatment in AWAKEN’s hands, and it adapts itself to it weirdly well. Piano and strings in the instrumental bridge prog it up, not to mention Mike’s fabulous drumming that’s completely faithful to the original (including on what sounds like bongos). How this Wild West tale of a murderous outlaw on the run after eluding the hangman fits into the context of the album isn’t clear, but it doesn’t matter because they tackle it with respect, with vigor, and with a complete lack of irony. Glenn’s metal scream at the end makes the track solidly their own.

“Drowning Pool” is built on a truly badass riff, grinding and meaty and instantly memorable. The string section echoes it, picking up the tempo but keeping it intact. A slightly different riff leads into the verse – there are heavy mid-period RUSH influences in the syncopation, the intricate drumming, and the keyboards in this part and throughout. The intro is long but it’s well worth it. Glenn’s vocals are up in the mix again, so perhaps this might be done on specific tracks for a reason, say to provide emphasis. The lyrical theme here is a bit vague, but that’s not a bad thing.

The chorus of “My Heart Of Darkness,” with its touches of piano and orchestration and a sharp, urgent main riff, boasts the kind of irresistible chorus you want to have – internal and visceral, Glenn sings, “In my heart of darkness … is a place I’m weakest/A soldier of my fears/Can we change the past/As it tears throughout my mind/In my heart of darkness/Is where forever lies.” Andrew’s keening synth melody is something you don’t really hear anymore and it’s refreshing. This strikes me as being pretty personal, as Glenn muses, “I walk beside my sorrow/I live inside my fear/The road that I will follow/Is a path of wasted years” and later adds, “I am a soul forgotten/I am what I feared.”

“Dachau Be My Destiny,” with its lovely acoustic guitar and piano, is sparse and haunting – the longer intro definitely sets the tone for this sober track. It’s multilayered, spanning a range of moods and structured very loosely – it doesn’t have verses necessarily, but instead chapters broken up by outstanding instrumental sections. We all know what Dachau is, but the song makes no overt reference to it – this is a very subtle, delicately drawn tale of a concentration camp victim (there’s a line, “another victim to Hartheim,” that being the German castle where the Nazis murdered those deemed mentally or physically flawed). It’s all very internal and thoughtful and moving as it goes through this person’s psyche in a delicate way that’s filled with imagery.

The first part is being resigned to the end, “Can’t help but smile/As the fears are washed away” and “Words of God now guide the last/The last of my days.” The second is a reprieve, “Live to fight another day,” and being unafraid to “Embrace the coming madness/With no trace of guilt or shame” as another victim is taken instead. The chorus only happens once and it’s so poignant – “I’ve waited,” the victim says, “For my life to change,” “For God to save me then remake me,” and then finally, “Without the grace to wonder why,” like why have I been spared til now. The third section is reminiscing – “Scenes of memories old and new,” for instance – and the final section is indeed the end, “The years carry on/Shadows start to move/A candle gives them life,” then “I hear the distant cries/Tear me from my haunted sleep/For what seems like a thousand times/I dare to think of freedom/Footsteps in the night.” It’s powerful and heartbreaking and done extremely well.

Musical treats abound in the title track – terse, taut verses alternating with the 6/8 groove of the chorus, the orchestrated bridge, the sublimely melodic solo led by Eddie’s excellent bass and Andrew’s piano. Based on the sound effects – evil chuckles, a wolf’s howl, rain and thunder – and the lyrical hints, this has a supernatural bent, perhaps a werewolf kind of thing, especially in the second part of the chorus (“I fear the worst has started/Darkness strikes my prey/And night is real again”), the second verse (“Still are the hearts/The screams beneath the silence/Blackmoor woods/A scene of bloody violence”), and the bridge (“The darkest hour of hell is upon me/Under the blood red moon/Three days of fear/The past is a wilderness of horror”).

What’s cool to realize by this point is how AWAKEN is obviously equally comfortable with a variety of topics, like the historically-based “Only Your Eyes To Weep,” which begins as a soulful bluesy ballad, Glenn’s voice world-weary, thoughtful, and backed by lush, atmospheric orchestration. When the stomping, syncopated crunch kicks solidly in, his voice soars accordingly. By the mention of the Irish town of Drogheda, I’m guessing this could be referring to the siege of that town by the English general Oliver Cromwell in 1649, which led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians. By another educated guess, I’d say it’s from the perspective of the Irish commander Sir Arthur Aston.

It tells the story in retrospective, perhaps Aston’s from beyond the grave. At first he speaks of his memories – “I’ve always been a man of peace” he says, “I can hear the echoed screams/They still haunt me in my sleep/Until the walls close in/And I’m beckoned to the breach” of those walls,” that is, to fight. In the second verse, he remembers the English “Campfires in the dark/Like ever watching eyes.” The resignation of the prechorus (“Witness it all, conscience of none … women and children dead on the ground … the time has come to lead the way”) leads to the defiance of the chorus (“To a cause and to the end/We will stand to see Drogheda live again”) and the pounding of the last verse as the siege ends and Aston dies (“Desperation clouds my vision/Sweat and smoke burn my eyes”). It’s great songwriting to tell stories like these with just enough detail, not bogging things down, keeping to the most relevant of images.

A completely appropriate creepy keyboard melody is the basis of “The Spider Dream,” and the minor-key chorus isn’t clearly defined, which adds to the feeling of unease. There’s more lyrical ambiguity in this one – it references “Depression kills the mind,” and “The venom kills the body” might refer to addition. But it’s the spider metaphors that link it all together, like “the web that’s loneliness,” “tie me up, then let me go,” and “the poison takes my life until I die.”

“Twist Of Fate” is dark and slow and almost seductive, with shimmers of acoustic guitar and piano and ever-so-dainty wisps of drums. It again has that mid-period RUSH quality to it later, especially with the bouncy main riff, which punctuates the solo section. Returning to that opening section at the end brings such a nice sense of closure and continuity. The chorus is lovely and despairing, the keyboard adding to that feel, but the final instrumental fadeout has a sense of optimism to it. Again, what we’re talking about here isn’t completely apparent – it could be choosing right over wrong, good over evil, that struggle (“Abandon mortal value/Enter sadist soul” and “Coldness of desire/We carry in us all”) – it’s murky and that’s just fine.

The hugely ambitious closer, “Nine Circles Suite,” is divided into three parts, each of which has multiple parts within them, many of which are instrumental. Part 1 is “Through The Gates” and we begin our journey through the underworld – this is their “2112,” if you will. It begins with piano and programming (more kudos to Andrew; he’s terrific, especially on piano and the eerie, prescient keyboard line) and a muted guitar riff that resolves and comes out of hiding. This is an intrepid soul stepping into the underworld (“I step into nothing, leave my body behind”) and he’s afraid (“All your visions fill me with horror” and “Can you silence the screams of the dead”), but “The angels have mercy and send me a guide,” so he begins his journey.

Part 2 is “The Dark SIde Of Sorrow,” an instrumental that opens with a touch of the closing melody of the first section and maintains the feel of it throughout. Various instruments, including piano, acoustic guitar, soprano sax, and fluttering, pattering percussion, lead into electric guitar and more defined drumming before we return to hints of the initial piano melody. It’s just programming that announces the arrival of Charon’s boat (he’s the ferryman who will guide our soul across the river Styx), but it’s super effective in conveying the action – the disembodied voices of the souls, the sound of the water.

And Part 3 is “City of Dis,” which starts with two instrumentals before the final section, “Blood of Judas.” The title is drawn from Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”; the city is surrounded by the river Styx and encompasses the sixth through ninth circles of Hell (hence the name of the song), so the band is deriving from multiple interlacing lyrical sources, both Dante and Greek mythology. The reference to Cocytus in one instrumental, is “a river of wailing” in Hades; another to Acheron in “Blood,” is the “river of woe.”

Our soul is making his way through Hell and seeing the suffering in each of the Nine Circles (“Punished by their blight/Abandoned by all hope/The fate of men who don't repent/Forsaken to unknown”), but still he goes on, preparing for his own end (“I found myself in a forest dark/Prepared to see the end of life” and “The inner circle calls my name”). The final instrumental section, “Lethe, The River of Oblivion,” is SO RUSH in so many ways – rhythmically, melodically – that it could be a lost track from the Canadian masters. The final portion, “Dawn,” is our resolution – our soul has made it, or maybe it was all a metaphor after all (“The quest of man, the will of God/These questions asked will live beyond”).

Bold and fearless, “Out of the Shadows” shows what can result from leaving boundaries behind and seizing musical risk – and maintaining the highest standards of playing and songwriting.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 9

5 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Black From Blue
2. Moment Of Truth
3. Ride Like The Wind
4. Drowning Pool
5. My Heart Of Darkness
6. Dachau Be My Destiny
7. Out Of The Shadows
8. Only Your Eyes To Weep
9. The Spider Dream
10. Twist Of Fate
11. Nine Circles Suite, Part 1: Through The Gates
12. Nine Circles Suite, Part 2: The Dark Side Of Sorrow
13. Nine Circles Suite, Part 3: City Of Dis
Lineup:
Glenn DaGrossa - Vocals
Eric Wirsing - Guitar
Andrew Colyer - Keyboards
Eddie Jucius - Bass
Mike Marrone - Drums
Record Label: Pure Steel Records
     


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Edited 05 December 2020
 

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