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The fact that this is Chuck's swansong tugs at my heartstrings, but I can't be dishonest. This album is a bit of mess. If you've listened to any number of prog albums, you've heard this kind of album before. It seems like it’s trying so hard to be progressive, that it ends up sounding like a bunch of songs crammed together, losing any coherency, and more importantly, becomes extremely difficult to let it maintain the attention. This type of songwriting faux pas of being uber progressive/technical at expense of cohesive song structures that go together and transition from section to section in a flowing manner as opposed to abruptly stopping one riff and doing another, I call Dream Theater syndrome; because in basically every DT song there is a point where the song is held back from greatness by some random solo or what have you.
And sadly, this album certainly has a strain of DTitus. But it for the most part it isn't the solos I have a problem with. From the start with Death, Chuck has always been great at memorable, melodic leads. In fact the leads here are certainly a highlight. But there are no transitions to be found here at all. The riffs, at best, sound only slightly related, as if they were from the same song, but from opposite ends of it or something, and at worst, sound like to riffs for two different albums were put adjacent to one another to form a prog master headache. There will be (example here from When the Link Becomes Missing) a string of fast chugging, into a more staccato riff, into a sudden stop of everything completely, into a freaking acoustic break, into a face melting solo, into a soulful melodic solo which leads into a new fast chugging riff with electrified vocals. What the hell?
There really isn't a song on here that is completely cohesive. They are all plagued by the piece-together-fragments-of-songs-to-form-one-song style of songwriting. And it can be very frustrating. The only other thing that bothers me is the lyrics. Chuck went a little overboard here, and though the lyrics aren't awful, as someone below said, they are a little off-putting. They're a bit awkward, like he wrote them without the intent that someone would be singing them. There are numerous examples of this. Like the "once I was free, now I am trapped, once I was trapped but now I am free" section of Consumed, or... well most of the song What If... What sucks though, is that despite Tim Aymar's great voice, for quite a large portion, the lyrics are so clunky, the delivery seems a bit off, and soulless.
But there are some points on the album where the vocals are just awesome. When I first put this album on, and Consumed started, I thought this was going to be the greatest album ever. That soaring voice half singing, half screaming "Your face is hiding! Deep inside my mind! Your touch, is on, my TOOOOOONGGGUE!" But the song takes a random turn into program excess, with random slow parts and whatnot.... Throughout the album though, there are numerous fantastic vocal lines. The classic chorus of Expect the Unexpected is a highlight, and the insane shrieks on Breaking the Broken are just goose bump inducing.
I already commented on the ever consistent leads of Chuck, but how do the riffs compare? Well, there really isn't really a riff here that's bad. There are plenty of riffs that are downright brilliant. Like on Cut Down, which is probably the most consistent song on the album, and the AWESOME opening riff of the title track. The interlude riff halfway through Believe is awesome too! However, no matter how great the riffs may be, the arrangements are just too confusing.
You getting the picture yet? Everything's awesome here. The riffs, the vocals, the solos, that bass! But it's all arranged in like the LEAST appealing way. Seriously. This could've been a masterpiece, but it just isn't, and it pisses me off! The drumming and bass are super consistent, varied and impressive, but there are some bass breaks, that just completely break the flow of the songs, and I love bass breaks! The drumming never really breaks flow, and I greatly commend Richard Christy for keeping up with the crazy stuff that goes on. Overall, the rhythm section is extremely tight and well done, just you guessed it, arranged weird.
So in the end, this is a classic example of excellent quality music that just throws too much at you in its effort to be respected. The music is quality enough though, that I can't give it a failing score, and despite how frustrating it is, I do listen to it on occasion. I wish Chuck's career would've ended on a higher note, but the man accomplished much in a short span of time, and we all know, love, and respect the man and his music. R.I.P. Chuck Schuldiner. You are missed every day and will always be missed, by your fans.
For amazing music, just too much of it put together haphazardly, Control Denied's The Fragile Art of Existence gets a 70, or a 3 out of 5.
Expect the Unexpected
Breaking the Broken