Section X is the second album from symphonic progressive metal band Beyond Twilight (or third, if you count the album they released while called Twilight). Like their previous album The Devil’s Hall of Fame it is a concept album (it may be a sequel to that album, there is a lyrical reference to it in Section X, but I am not sure), and the subject is pretty dark. I’ll talk more of that later, one thing that must be said now, at the start of this review is that The Devil’s Hall of Fame is a tough act for a band to follow, especially after changing lead singer, and that replaced singer just happens to be Jorn Lande (Masterplan, Ark, Jorn et all). Somehow against all odds Beyond Twilight have done it, and not just that, they’ve gone one better. The replacement vocalist is one Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter. Unfortunately like Jorn before him this is the only Beyond Twilight album that he sings on, but what is most notable by his appearance here is that he has stepped into Lande’s shoes and produced something better. There are not many singers who can claim to have done that.
Back onto that concept, yes, it’s very dark in theme. The story is explained fully on the album’s packaging but in summary could be described as dark sci-fi horror. It involves the mapping of the human brain, cloning (and control of the clone through addictive drugs), the placement of the contents of Einstein’s brain in the clone’s (along with the original subject’s). There is a power struggle between original and clone. The original acquires a taste for evil, which he sees as beautiful. Taking over the bodies of others, he uses them as puppets. When he leaves them, they die. Eventually he becomes obsessed with female sexuality, overtaking their bodies. When he does eventually return to life as a man, he finds his soul mate, described as the perfection of love, sexuality and perversion. Deciding that the clone is a threat, he decides to kill it and disguised as a women he seduced and murders the clone, but this causes his life to crumble away – he cannot exist without a soul. So yeah, it’s pretty dark and messed up.
Musically however the album is without fault. After an intro track entitled Be Careful It’s My Head Too, which consists prominently of a computerised voice, the album proper begins with The Path of Darkness. The previous album also had an intro but included it as part of the first track. Here they are separate and it’s one of the rare occasions where that approach works better, because if you want to take The Path of Darkness as a single song you can. The same may be said of the whole album. It’s a pretty good song, and Sundown’s vocals range from rough (not growls) to more melodic singing in the song’s chorus. The concept takes some prevalence in this song in a section which sounds like a conversation between the man and his clone. It’s done pretty well but if quite unexpected on first listening and if you don’t appreciate the album’s concept it may annoy you. Music wise I especially love this song’s intro – heavy guitars and keys. The keys are quite prominent on Section X, whether in the form of synths or piano. It’s a very symphonic album as well as progressive, though not in the same sense as other symphonic bands such as Nightwish, it’s a whole other level above that and it works very well.
Shadow Self is the third track and one of the album’s highlights. The chorus is especially epic with Sundown’s vocals really making the song what it is. There’s even some Latin style stuff going on in the lyrics here. In comparison the next track, Sleeping Beauty is something of an oddball at first, with a strange intro and a light section which is distinctly not metal, a mix of piano, drums and vocals which are unlike anything Kelly has delivered thus and even when it gets heavier it still sounds strange. I was like ‘what’s going on here?’ when I first heard it. Eventually though it switches into a more familiar Beyond Twilight and it’s only after several listens that I really realise how epic it is that they have done this song like this.
Later in the album there is a short instrumental break called Portrait F In Dark Waters. It’s extremely progressive and epic for its length. Led by piano, at first it doesn’t seem as if it will be anything more, but then at about one minute it is speeds up and becomes almost classical in style. Nearly another minute later some guitars appear yet it gets even more classical like with the fast piano work. It slows for the end of the piece but it truly is pure genius. Straight after is my favourite track from Section X, Ecstasy Arise. It’s another of those Beyond Twilight songs where the chorus is extremely epic. It also just happens to feature some of the best guitar riffs on the album. This song, like Shadow Self, is one that you will keep coming back to both as a part of the album and as a single track. Musically, lyrically and vocally this is what perfection sounds like. It’s really great stuff and its seven minute length seems to pass in no time. Really it would be a great song to end on, but we still have the title track to come. Section X is the longest track on the album at just over nine minutes. To me it’s good but not one of my personal favourites. As I said the epic style of the previous track is the perfect way to end an album and when put beside in the title track seems almost like they turned it down a gear, especially in the chorus which is slow and melodic, though this suits the concept of the album very well, as this is when the man in the story has killed his clone and is now dying himself. He’s going out slowly and painfully, and an epic chorus would just seem out of place here. It’s because of that really why I don’t mind so much and Ecstasy Arise was the more epic song. There’s some great instrument here though about half way through that more than makes up for the lack of an epic chorus section.
Overall an exceptional album, with perhaps the only downside in that at 44:48 minutes in length it’s actually over pretty quick. Most bands who make concepts album’s fill a whole disc of material of equal quality to this and while that’s no reason to penalise Beyond Twilight here, I do feel that it could have been longer and not felt overdone. Nevertheless the score I have given is based on what is here over what isn’t and I think it fully deserves a perfect score.
(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scoring 9.9/10)