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Beyond The Bridge - "The Old Man And The Spirit" (CD)

Beyond The Bridge - "The Old Man And The Spirit" CD cover image

"The Old Man And The Spirit" track listing:

1. The Call
2. The Apparition
3. Triumph of Irreality
4. The Spring of It All
5. World of Wonders
6. The Primal Demand
7. Doorway to Salvation
8. The Struggle
9. The Difference is Human
10. Where the Earth and Sky Meet
11. All A Man Can Do

Reviewed by on March 20, 2012

"Beyond The Bridge put as much thought into this debut as a normal band would put into three records, making it stand as a paragon of balance, skill, styles, and execution."

Seven years in the making, "The Old Man and The Spirit" is the first Beyond The Bridge album and the brain-child of guitarist Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg and keyboardist Christopher Tarnow. Fronted by up-and-coming powerhouse vocalist Herbie Langhans (of Sinbreed) and skilled female vocalist Dilenya Mar, the record tells a story involving different characters. Langhans plays the voice of the Old Man, who has experienced the full depth of human sensations in his lifetime, and Mar plays The Spirit, the embodiment of wisdom unknowable by man.

Mar's character lacks the ability to feel and Langhans's character lacks the ability to rise above human sensations. A deal is offered by The Spirit after she is called by the Old Man: His life's feelings and experiences in exchange for the wisdom only known by The Spirit. The catch is that the Old Man's feelings are all tied to his memories. These high stakes make for an exciting story that is perfectly accented by waves of progressive metal.

Beyond The Bridge put as much thought into this debut as a normal band would put into three records, making it stand as a paragon of balance, skill, styles, and execution. The shining star of this record is Herbie Langhans, whose emotionally malleable voice hits depths of feeling normally reserved for Broadway musical singers. At his most intense, he is a blend of Jorn Lande and Chris Cornell. At the opposite end of his range, he bleeds sensitivity with breathy sincerity.

The variety of sounds that keyboardist Christopher Tarnow has at his disposal are also impressive and are geared more towards blending than standing out in the mix. He also uses unorthodox sounds like a music box piped into a huge space (on "The Primal Demand,") chimes, and a heavily chorus-effected piano that sounds straight out of the 1800s. The layers of pads, keys, synths, and celesta (as well as the gospel-type choir) behind the Old Man's moving solo piece, "Where The Earth and Sky Meet," make for one of the most moving prog odes since Evergrey's "Waking Up Blind," nearly a decade ago.

In the firestorm that is "The Struggle," the band has the Old Man repeating several key lyrics that highlight the dilemma he faces. The song opens up to be a gigantic centerpiece of the album and culminates in a truly unique a capella dual vocal piece in its middle section. The Old Man continues to fight with The Spirit while she sings back over him, turning into an all-out shouting match past a certain point. The way that Mar interjects her lines into the off-beat, switching up as soon as the band enters again, elevates the music and adds great dramatic emphasis.

Degenfeld's guitar work takes from the school of “Awake”-era Dream Theater, though he develops quite a few more riffs that focus on themes. With the help of bassist Dominik Stotzem and drummer Fabian Maier, Beyond The Bridge has made a near-perfect first album. The group has also made endings into an art form, with "Where the Earth and Sky Meet" and the closing "All A Man Can Do" ending in true epic fashion with choirs and huge backing instrumentation.

Nevertheless, vocal clarity isn't the best in certain areas when one would expect it to be a top concern, given the focus on the lyrical story. When Mar and Langhans sing over each other, it's especially hard to discern what each is saying without looking at a lyric sheet. Other than that blemish, this record is spotless and very well-produced. It was recorded at Gate Studios, with Simon Oberender mixing and assisting on keyboards, and Sascha Paeth handling the mastering with a talented ear.

Highs: "Where The Earth and Sky Meet," "The Struggle," and "All A Man Can Do"

Lows: The lyrics aren't all that easy to follow at times.

Bottom line: A sensible prog metal debut with exceptional vocal performances and backings.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)