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Cosmic - 96%

failsafeman, September 28th, 2009

For those not familiar with Othyrworld’s history, they started out as Sacred Blade back in the 80s with a full band ensemble; as time went on they turned into a duo, got more progressive, and grew away from their traditional heavy metal/USPM roots (represented on Sacred Blade’s album by the likes of “Salem” and “Master of the Sun”). Beyond into the Night of Day consists mostly of re-recorded tracks from the original Of the Sun + Moon, with the more traditional tracks dropped and a couple of new ones introduced that fit better with the album’s overall aesthetic. For once in the history of metal, growing away from roots and re-recording old tracks are NOT synonyms for shittiness!

Building on a foundation of rocking USPM with progressive and psychedelic touches, Othyrworld come up with something unique thanks to going for a certain effect across their entire album that in the rest of the genre is rarely even attempted for a single song. Power metal is often triumphant, uplifting, glorious, etc., but rather than evoking images of heroes and battles and barbarians, Othyrworld go for a glory more cosmic in nature, as if you were flying through space and basking in the majesty of the heavenly bodies. “Ethereal Skylines”, one of the new tracks, captures that feeling perfectly. It brings to mind a calm psychedelic experience with no anxiety, just serenity and awe (and listening to the lyrics, I doubt it’s coincidental). “But what about the riffs, Jim?” Well, yes friends, there are riffs. There is headbanging. There is, in short, METAL. How does that work? Well, I’ll describe the elements to give you an idea.

First off are the warm baritone vocals of Jeff “The Pilot” Ulmer himself; masculine and powerful, but laid-back. His tone sounds more stoner rock than power metal to me, but it fits and he's good, able to put an edge in his voice or smooth it out as needed. Liberal multi-tracking is in evidence, usually maintaining close harmony with the main melodic line. The occasional awesome piercing falsetto crops up, such as at the end of “Legacy”. I’m really impressed that the dude can still pull it off at his age, when many of his contemporaries have lost the ability over time. His emotional range is worth noting as well; “Right Ascension” for example exhibits gruff urgency and aggression transitioning into tender nostalgia. The vocals are probably the prime aspect I could point to for evidence of improvement since the band’s Sacred Blade days, as they sound so much more mature, not to mention polished both as far as the Pilot’s pipes go and in the production/multi-tracking department. Plus, he hasn’t lost the falsettos of his youth!

Next there’s the Pilot again on strings, handling guitars as well as bass, and frankly they’re nothing short of stupendous. The riffs, solos, fuck, even basslines are breathtaking. The polish is simply stunning, and it’s clear that the time between 1986 and 2005 was not wasted. “Ethereal Skyline” is my favorite example, with driving riffs and a great walking bassline sharing the spotlight. The dual-leads in the song are astounding, bringing home the feeling of stars and brightness and FUCK! Words can’t do the song justice. The guitars are often layered, sometimes with clean-picked parts on top of more traditional riffs for accent ("Moon", for example). Again, there is much diversity in composition, with the interlude “Reign of the Night Rainz” showcasing gentle acoustics over a background of thunder before the ominous “Legacy” changes the pace yet again. “Right Ascension” opens with an emotive solo, reminding me of something Edward Pursino would do, followed by a delicious meaty riff. The production is warm and full, giving the guitars meat with an abrasive edge and some fuzz. The mix is perfect, with the bass clearly audible.

Finally we have Ted (“Co-pilot”?) Zawadzki taking percussion duties, as I guess even Ulmer can’t do everything by himself. The fills are inventive, and he uses a lot of beats generally unorthodox in metal, not to mention the occasional non-standard percussion instrument. Anyway, I’ll shut up about drums before it becomes too painfully obvious I don’t know diddly about ‘em.

Still, even good elements ain’t worth shit if they don’t come together to form a cohesive whole (Hear ‘n Aid, anyone? No, didn’t think so), and here is where the band really shines. Just as each part of the composition is essential to each song, each song is essential to the album; no clunkers in the lot. Beyond into the Night of the Day has a definite flow to it, as if it were telling a musical story. Though I don’t think it’s a bonafide concept album, it’s very much like The Warning in that it carries the listener through a progression of emotional shifts and transitions that make it feel like a story (which given the average literary value of most metal concept albums, is really the important part). What would the story of Beyond into the Night of Day be? Well, some sort of cosmic journey through the heavens, or perhaps a creation myth telling of how the sun, moon, and stars came to be (somehow “The Gods of Pegana” comes to mind). The ending instrumental, titled simply “Moon”, is slow and sprawling, with powerful dual-leads and solos and bass licks that go on forever and don’t get old. There’s this one repeated ascending riff/lead that is essentially the “theme” of the instrumental, and it’s hypnotizing as it repeats itself underneath never-ending solos. Though the song does eventually fade as our trip ends and we drift back down to Earth, it seems it continues on eternally in some strange dimension or corner of the galaxy. Luckily for us, it requires no spacecraft or illegal chemistry but only the press of a button to take us back again.

A Pioneer Metal Act Revisited. - 99%

hells_unicorn, February 9th, 2007

The early days of heavy metal were quite an interesting and unique time, as the various bands who built the foundation of the metal style were not bound by any rules set by the limitations of a particular sub-genre. Black Sabbath is a shining example of the progressive nature that the metal style has always had, and anyone who has heard the entire discography from the first LP with Ozzy up until the last one with Tony Martin, there is an endless spectrum of possibilities that all waiting hands can grab onto and make their own.

In the late 70s there was a group of musicians from Vancouver Canada who sought to expand upon this Progressive ideal, a band that pre-dates both Queensryche and Fates Warning, and one that originated under the name Sacred Blade. One of the disadvantages that they had in attaining recognition as the first bands to marry the ideas of Rush, Pink Floyd and other seventies progressive rock bands successfully (Sabbath tried this on Technical Ecstasy and failed miserably) is that they weren’t as prolific as their American competitors and failed to attract label attention until after these bands had already released several albums and gained an audience.

Luckily “Black Dragon Records” caught on to this phenomenon and mass communicated the fruits of several independent demos onto one full length studio release dubbed “Of the Sun and Moon”. Sadly this singular release was the only thing that Sacred Blade would release on a major label and attention waned in the absence of a follow up. Eventually Fates Warning and Queensryche would evolve into entirely different creatures, paving the way for a new generation of Progressive Metal bands such as Dream Theater who were radically different than the earlier conception that Sacred Blade fell into, thus “Of the Sun and Moon” was eventually forgotten and it became a bit scarce in the mid to late 90s. Although the band would attempt to gain attention with more demos with new material, by 1992 there was no way to get a new generation of numbskull Groove Metal fans interested in early 80s Progressive Metal.

However, in the wake of a massive renaissance of the Metal movement in Europe, interest was again peeked in the realm of Progressive Metal and albums such as Fates Warning’s “Awaken the Guardian” and the Queensryche EP were gaining new attention. Somewhere between 2003 and 2004 Sacred Blade founder and principle composer Jeff “The Pilot” Ulmer decided to change the band’s name to “Othyrworld”, most likely because it fit more with the otherworldly lyrics of their material and to avoid confusion with a vast collection of bands containing the word Sacred followed by something else.

The music found on Othyrworld’s 2005 studio release “Beyond into the Night of Day” is essentially a re-recorded compilation of most of the material that was on “Of the Sun and Moon”, although some of the songs were dropped to make room for songs from demos recorded after that album. The result is a large collection of radically varied, yet well connected and related material. Jeff Ulmer proves to be quite the studio musician and handles every instrument on here except for the percussion. Although the songs have mostly been kept the same, the radical advances in home recording technology since the 80s have made it possible for a high quality product to result.

The guitar work on here is the high point of the album, as it should be with all metal conceptions. The riffs are heavily inspired by NWOBHM acts such as Angel Witch, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden. Signature metal moments are to be found on the driving main riff of “Of the Sun and Moon”, the galloping guitar line of “fieldz the sunshrine”, and the low end groove riffs of “In Light of the Moon”. However, being true to the Progressive side of things, we also have a sizable amount of acoustic interludes in several of the songs, giving it a quasi-folk quality at times. The lead guitar work on here is heavily influenced by both the NWOBHM players and more melodic players such as Alex Lifeson and Dave Gilmour, resulting in a soloing style quite similar to Chris DeGarmo’s.

Although the ideas found on here are quite simple in comparison to what is currently offered up by Progressive Metal outfits, the general musicality on display here is quite astounding when one considers the time it was originally composed. Every song from the shortest to longest in length is loaded with variation both in melodic material and instrumentation, resulting in a general flow and epic feel resulting in this release listening like a concept album. There are several lead riffs that come in and out of different songs, which bolster this implied structure further.

As someone who became familiar with some of the material on Sacred Blade’s 1986 release “Of the Sun and Moon” I was happy to see a new studio version, mostly because I lacked the original CD and was only able to track down 3 songs from it online. Of those 3, my favorite was “Master of the Sun”, which unfortunately was dropped from this release in order to make room for more recent material. I am hopeful that this song will eventually get re-recorded as it is a rather early attempt at what we now know as Epic Power Metal.

To all you Progressive Metal freaks out there, this is a verified piece of history directly linked with the music that you love. The relationship that this band has with the scene is quite similar to the one that Overkill had with Thrash Metal, they were there before most of the other more successful acts were, and they don’t get nearly the credit that they deserve for getting the genre going. If you like Rush, Queensryche, Fates Warning, and early Iron Maiden this album will provide you with a lot of pleasant listens. It still enjoys a large amount of play in my car whenever I’m in the mood for contemplating what is beyond the atmosphere of this planet.