1. MEDITATION (TRANSCENDENTAL)
2. CONFESSIONAL LOCK
3. INTERROGATION FRAMES
4. THE DEPARTING
6. MINDFULNESS (MEDITATION)
5. SELF REFLECTION
7. VERDICT COPE
8. SEND ME AN ANGEL
10. MEDITATION (GUIDED)
I’m just going to out this right out there at the start of this review so I can get it out of the way:
Molitoth could be your favourite new band that you haven’t discovered yet.
I know, a bold claim, but on the strength of the album “The Tribunal”, you’d not be forgiving yourself for not involving it in your life.
But first a bit of background on it, eh?
Molitoth is effectively one person, Kyle Brandt, vocalist of A Light Within, one of my favourite Prog/Tech Metal bands and “The Tribunal” sees Kyle in full artist control of his creation as he writes, performs and produces everything save from a few guest appearances and it takes everything I loved from ALW and distils it down to it’s perfect essence.
Thematically, it’s a concept album, but don’t let that dissuade you. Progressive Rock has come a long way since keyboard solos by men with stringy hair and capes. Modern Progressive Rock has grown so much with artists like Steve Wilson leading its charge. Gone are the lyrical cliches of old and the never ending guitar solos that would prove nothing other than the guitarist could play forever without really adding anything to the overall song.
With “The Tribunal” Brandt talks of grief and loss, age old muses for songs, but rather than talk of the incident itself the album becomes an extension of the artist’s exploration of the actual healing process. Yes, the pain will still be there, but how do we come to terms with it in our daily lives? Do we bury it deep in some dark recess of our mind ready to explode back into the light at any given moment or do we instead embrace it and let it take it’s place in our lives, acknowledged but not ignored?
By using the ‘Meditation’ tracks, Brandt takes us along a journey that most keep private, yet it’s a journey we all go through at several points in our lives.
Opening track ‘Meditation (Transcendental)’ sounds akin to the opening of some dark cinematic masterpiece. As you can possibly guess by the title it also creates a bit of theme that runs through the album. A woman’s soft voice asks us to “Relax. Just relax.......” before asking the listener to take deep breaths like a guided meditation exercise would do. Over a layer strings and oozing synthetic chords we’re brought into a state of self awareness, building for just over a minute before dropping us into the start of ‘Confessional Lock’ which could easily be mistaken for a modern descendent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’. Guitars ring across a widely drawn soundscape as Kyle’s vocals stretch across this musical infinity. They’re strong, the sign of someone who’s in complete control of his talent. He uses different voices throughout the song (and throughout the album itself), something that draws you in, especially on headphones.
In fact, using headphones is the best way to listen to this. The instrumentation is thick and layered perfectly. You catch something new in your ear with every listen; a way a phrase has a certain inflexion, a way a synth will ebb and flow with the current of the sea. ‘Interrogation Frames’ dwells in world where Gary Numan has a great influence, an almost machine like voice sings “You’re faulting me and taunting me” over the song’, in a way that could be seen as either as a victim or an attacker.
‘The Departing’ uses a simple keyboard riff to carry the song as a guitar works as a counterpoint to the rhythm. The lyrics read like they could have stepped from the writing of Kafka, it’s confessional nature drawing from a feeling that’s part confessional, part defensive shielding from the song’s protagonist, as if they’ve been pushed to their point of breaking, something that you can take from the way Brandt is performing the song. Not only is the the first track to feature a conventional guitar solo, it’s also the longest song on the album clocking in at just over nine minutes. Not that you start watching the clock during it, you’re drawn into it’s beating metallic heart as the song grows and evolves, tendrils of vocal lines wrapping themselves around you and pulling you further and deeper.
Again, a simple piano introduces us to the next song, ‘Self Reflection’, almost closing the album’s first act. Lyrically and vocally you can feel Kyle drawing deep from the cultural emptiness that Bowie left behind after his passing away a few years ago. After taking part in several therapy sessions it really feels like the soundtrack to one, a self exploration of the artist and their journey. It makes me want to be sitting on a train, looking from the window while at the same time using the moment to reflect on myself. If you’ve been there and know the feeling you’ll know exactly what I mean by this.
The second interlude comes next (‘Meditation (Mindfulness)’) and again you have a woman guiding you, while setting your expectations for the next section (I’ll come back to these meditations later). ‘Verdict Cope’ strikes suddenly, like a cornered animal, its feel and nature reminding me very much of ‘Reptile’ from the Nine Inch Nails classic album “The Downward Spiral”. You could say that as an album “The Tribunal” travels a similar audio and narrative journey, with some notable differences. Reznor was fixated on exploring the nihilistic, imploding person he felt he was becoming, whereas Brandt seems to be looking for redemption by looking deeper into himself.
And that’s what we have here. Rather than wanting to become Mr Self Destruct, we have here (conceptually at least) someone who’s willing to accept their shortcomings and failures and learn to grow. ‘Send Me An Angel’ is almost the album’s commercial single, that if it wasn’t a sneering response to a normal ballad. If this was on a Slipknot album (where thematically it could fit in) it would be armoured in cynicism and venom, but here it’s subtle, reaching out for a helping hand rather than knocking it away. ‘Acknowledgement’ is exactly that. It’s taking stock, it’s looking back and around and evaluating it’s position. “My denial has me blind,” Brandt sings, “showing me the facts, covering up the truth” as the song builds to the distorted realisation of it’s own inevitability, the realisation that you/they have and always have had full control of it all.
‘Meditation (Guided)’ is the longest, and final, meditation section, mentioning body scans with its reverse countdown. This is a tool used within guided meditation circles to bring internal focus while bringing yourself back into the ‘here and now’ by making you more aware of your actual physical self. The meditation sections act by marking each chapter of the journey of exploration and healing for the character. At the start, ‘Transcendental’ has you starting your journey, looking at the world round you and your position in its chaos. ‘Mindfulness’ is the journey into self reflection and awareness, the realisation that not everything can be controlled or should even indeed be worried about while the final one ‘Guided’ leads us into the final coda of acceptance and affirmation with the final track.
The album’s journey end’s with ‘Incarceration’. Its gentle; acoustic guitars pathe our way through the verses as Brandt’s vocal drift around us, creating a real audio wash rather than a Phil Spector wall of sound which works well will the song. Add in some tasty guitar solos for the last half of the song and you’re left with a conclusion that is satisfying while making you want to return to the beginning of the album.
“The Tribunal” is a work of great depth, both in its scope and its clear, spacious production. It’s at times harrowing as you feel like it’s taking a deep look inside you while it shares its tale, but it’s a rewarding listen on so many levels. It’s ambitious and isn’t really designed as something disposable to listen or distract yourself with; this album is an unexplored journey of self exploration and asks its listener for acceptance and involvement.
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Review - Scott Hamilton