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Greetings! My name is Matthew, and I love to listen to all types of metal. Since I’m a Christian, most of the bands that I listen to reflect my faith or have positive, uplifting lyrics. The other thing that you should know is that I love to write – in fact, I want to write epic science fiction for a living.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hope for the Dying - "Aletheia" Review

Hope for the Dying - Aletheia
Facedown Records
Genre:  Progressive metalcore

Links:  Band's Facebook

Lineup:

Josh Ditto (vocals and keys)
James Houseman (guitar)
Jack Daniels (guitar)
Brendan Hengle (drums and percussion)

  
          Music is a bizarre yet wonderful thing.  A mere conglomeration of seemingly random sounds, it nonetheless affects the emotions and psyche in profuse ways.  There are moments when the majesty of music overwhelms the senses and one is simply left awed, stunned by something both transcendent yet strangely physical.  For me I can look back at the music that I have cherished and point out aspects of certain songs that have stayed with me.  These experiences were often held in the soundscapes of entire works of art, such as Becoming the Archetype’s “End of the Age.”  In other cases they were limited to only a few notes:  the opening bars of Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement” immediately come to mind.  Perhaps this is a roundabout way of coming to the album that is under review, but I think that it helps put this monumental piece of art in perspective.  Hope for the Dying’s album Aletheia is one of these inspirational pieces of music that help to redefine your concept of music as art.
            The album is at once progressive, but not tedious; lengthy, but not overbearing; and aggressive, but ultimately soothing.  Aletheia is a mold in which all of the subsequent parts have joined together in harmony to piece together a functional and graceful whole.  Guitars, drums, vocals, and keys are all there, but not one is overbearing.  Hope for the Dying has somehow taken the shredding of pioneers like Metallica and Iron Maiden, mixed it with the technical aspects of old-school DragonForce and the progressiveness of Dream Theater, and maintained the atmosphere of bands like Opeth.  The sound quality of the album is also represented at a high standard.  This is immensely improved over their first self-titled EP and even their debut album Dissimulation.  In a few points on Dissimulation, one felt that the production was a bit overblown, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem with Aletheia.  Hope for the Dying are also masters at creating albums that joins together seamlessly.  Listening to the album as a whole is highly recommended, as it flows smoothly from one song to the next and one can get a better glimpse of the overall continuation of musical themes.  Some may view this as a downside, but there are a few songs that can stand alone if the listener doesn’t have time to get fully immersed in Aletheia.  


            Aletheia begins with “Acceptance,” an epic opener that slowly builds in power and in scope.  This is exactly the way to draw listeners in.  On first listen it was pure bliss to my ears, and it reminded me of the way Theocracy opened their album with “I Am” on their last album.  The guitars, starting with the acoustic, are just phenomenal on this song.  A second immediate favorite is “In Isolation,” another longer song with a prolonged section of atmospheric guitars and orchestration.  It’s the same pattern that Becoming the Archetype and other progressive bands have used in their music, and it works very well here.  So, remember that moment of musical elucidation that I was talking about?  For me, it most strongly came across on this album with the instrumental “Through a Nightmare, Darkly.”  Hope for the Dying scores with this song.  Artists often forget that music isn’t necessarily about technical prowess or the number of complicated chords that they can play.  It’s about involving the listener both emotionally and spiritually.  Oftentimes the best recipe for this can be musical simplicity, and “Through a Nightmare, Darkly” personifies this concept.  There’s nothing overly complicated about this song, but I can feel the depth of emotion that this song is attempting to convey.  It’s mysterious, driving, atmospheric, and refreshing.  There’s so much to talk about on this record, and I’m skipping over a ton of stuff, but you’ll have to forgive me.  You’ll just have to listen for yourself.  But I would like to touch the album closer, if just briefly.  “Open Up the Sky” reminds me of something that Ecthirion would write, although of course the delivery of the song differs.  The opening is a hollowed-out calabash in which the band has inserted a filling of melodic intensity.  The song weaves its way through various themes in over 12 minutes, taking the listener on a no-compromise, epic journey. 
            Can there be anything wrong with Aletheia, then?  No album is perfect.  In the past, I’ve harped on Josh Ditto a bit for his fairly one-dimensional vocals.  The screaming is powerful, but I still think that he could work on alternating between different octaves more often.  I will give Josh credit, though:  Aletheia is much improved from Dissimulation in this aspect.  For those of you who aren’t progressive metal or rock fans, you may also find the length of some of the songs to be a bit tedious.  Personally, I like longer songs (as long as they maintain energy and focus), but there are four songs on the album that are over eight minutes in length.  Coupled with the recommendation to listen to the entire album to better your experience, you’re going to be looking at a solid hour of music.  In today’s busy world, some may not have the time to routinely invest in an album of this length.  One more matter of personal taste is the band’s clean vocals.  I actually like the singing on Aletheia more than Dissimulation (Dissimulation’s was generally with less direction).  But you’ll just have to judge for yourself.
            The final verdict?  Masterpiece.  Aletheia not only promises, but it delivers.  Quite frankly, I’m astonished that Hope for the Dying hasn’t become more popular.  If you’re a fan of hardcore, progressive music, power metal, or even thrash metal, I think that you will find moments to enjoy on this record.  It is my honor to say that this is one of the highest ratings that I have ever given on Matthew's Metal.  I’ve listened to a lot of metal albums in my day, but I can honestly say that this is one of the best.

Overall rating:  9.17 out of 10.0 (Superior)
Musicianship:  9.5 out of 10.0 
Song structure:  9.0 out of 10.0
Album structure:  9.0 out of 10.0

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How did I come up with my rating?  I rate the following categories:  musicianship, song structure, and album structure.  I then take an average of these three scores and come up with an overall rating.

1.0-2.9 (Poor:  musicianship is poor, song structures are haphazard, no directional flow)
3.0-4.9 (Good:  musicianship is sloppy, song structures are undeveloped, flow is hampered)
5.0-6.9 (Average:  musicianship is adequate, song structures are good, flow works most of the time)
7.0-8.9 (Excellent:  musicianship is very good, song structures are thought out, songs connect well)
9.0-9.9 (Superior:  musicianship is superb, song structures are varied, flow is almost flawless)

Note:  Ratings may be given in increments of 0.1 for a final score (rounded up) and 0.5 for individual category scores.  I will never give a rating of 10.0 because I do not believe that any one album can be "perfect," and the ratings at either end of the spectrum will be very few.

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