REDEMPTION mainstay, guitarist/keyboardist, and primary songwriter Nicolas Van Dyk states in the liner notes of "This Mortal Coil" that while the album is dedicated to the doctor (Bart Barlogie) that saved his life, it is not about him or cancer. He then goes on to state the following: "This is an album about feelings of confronting mortality, of coming to terms with death, of hopefully learning something from such an experience, and about taking the best from life as we stumble through the continuing frailty of our human condition, fraught as it is with wondering and cynicism, beauty, ugliness, hope and despair, faith and desperation, desire and regret, fear and resolve, and always love" (exhale). Beyond Van Dyk's expression of his thoughts behind the lyrical themes, that lengthy sentence encapsulates Van Dyk's natural ability to link progressive metal depth with catchy melodies, while expressively conveying through the music and lyrics the raw human emotion that has formed the basis of his entire career as heart and soul of the band. You know when you hear it and nobody does it quite like REDEMPTION.
First off, REDEMPTION is one of those bands that make great albums. That's been the case right up on through 2009's "Snowfall on Judgment Day" and "This Mortal Coil" is anything but a detour off that main road. The new album may not rise to the magical heights — in a sense that transcends musicality anyway — reached on sophomore effort "The Fullness of Time", but it is right there with it from a compositional standpoint and sure as hell from an emotional one. The level of musicianship from a stable lineup that also includes guitarist Bernie Versailles, bassist Sean Andrews, drummer/percussionist Chris Quirarte is beyond question and impresses more with each album. The guitar-forward mix accentuates a plethora of great riffs and some of the best soloing heard from this band to date. But even adding in the relatively prominent, melody bolstering role for the keyboards in and the tastefully complex rhythm section, there is still enough room left for the Ray Alder's emotive interpretation of Van Dyk's intense, contemplative lyrics. Alder's voice has worn over the years and his range is limited, but his performance here contains little that could be considered flawed. His role as the voice of REDEMPTION is uncontestable and most couldn't imagine "This Mortal Coil" without him. The fit is a perfect one.
While Van Dyk's message of hope, strength, and renewal may be broadly applicable, one cannot help believing that the intensely personal lyrics about a life-and-death struggle and the subsequent emergence of defiant pride are autobiographical. One hears it most glaringly on the final two tracks, "Stronger than Death" and "Departure Of The Pale Horse". The former features not only a touching, harmony supported chorus, but one of the album's most powerful vocal moments when Alder belts out "You tried to kill me…but I've killed you". It is the harmonized lines of "Where is your victory? Where is your sting?" on the aptly titled, 10-minute "Departure of the Pale Horse" that ring out with justifiable impudence, like one final sneer in the face of a defeated Reaper. That pair of equally heart-wrenching and heartwarming cuts in combination with the gentle elegance (and enormous hook) of "Let it Rain" and the lush tones of "Perfect" represent that side of REDEMPTION where the raw humanity and pure passion conveyed often outweighs compositional specifics.
Much of the rest of the album is demonstrative of the band's progressive metal might, this time with heaviness unrivaled by any prior release. That's not to say that the melody heard on a song like the moving "No Tickets to the Funeral" are the product of afterthought (quite the opposite), but that the mix of guitar-centric heavy metal and progressive arrangement is undeniable as a defining characteristic of the album. Bloody hell, the opening riff to "Path of the Whirlwind" approaches progressive death before swirling into a tornado of prog dynamics. "Noonday Devil" is one of the most aggressive songs heard on any REDEMPTION album to date. Yet all that crunch 'n wail is not with aim and the tune still hooks hard on the chorus.
Striking those balances is a recognized trait of any REDEMPTION album, but even with all those terrific melodies "This Mortal Coil" still stands apart from the rest of the catalogue for its in-your-face — on many levels — nature, subtler/mellower moments notwithstanding. That's not exactly surprising, considering the subject matter involved. The truest statement of all though is that REDEMPTION packs a lot of fantastic music into the 71 minutes of "This Mortal Coil" and every second of it is worth the time invested. And if you need a break before embarking on another journey into the depths of "This Mortal Coil", then spend some time with the 37-minute bonus disc of cover tunes, described as "a collection of songs originally recorded by other artists that one would not expect would be performed by a progressive metal band". Though REDEMPTION makes no attempt at creative reinterpretation, listening to the group tear though ELTON JOHN's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and smooth it on out with UFO's "Love to Love" is thoroughly satisfying. If you've not yet experienced REDEMPTION, "This Mortal Coil" is as good a place as any to start since you'll probably purchase all the other albums not long after anyway.