With higher highs and lower lows than Bath, Leaving Your Body Map is another absolutely stunning and totally unmatched piece of music.
Leaving Your Body Map is the second half of a two-disc release by maudlin of the Well, preceded by Bath. While these two albums are not a double album (they're completely separate and different pieces of music), they are similarly structured, carry the same thematic material, and are stylistically similar, although a number of stylistic elements are different between the two (you can read my review of Bath if you'd like a more complete summary of their style).
Leaving Your Body Map is generally held to be the heavier of the two albums. There is a lot more metal to be found here throughout: whereas the metal parts on Bath came in heavy, concentrated doses in regular intervals throughout the album, Leaving Your Body Map has heaviness to be found in most nearly every part of the album (although it should be noted that the heaviest pieces were found in Bath). Another noticeable difference is the type of non-traditional instruments used between the two albums: where Bath heavily used instruments like the clarinet, saxophone, and the organ, here Leaving Your Body Map replaces that focus with instruments like the violin, horns, and bells. All of the instruments are still performed incredibly well, from Greg Massi's impressive guitar soloing to the avant- garde horn sections. Vocally the album is also very sound. Jason Byron is given much more singing time, and his rather evil-sounding growls do a wonderful job complementing the heavier focus on the album. Toby Driver gets a more equal share of vocal duties but does less of the extreme screams found in Bath, and his singing is excellent on many of the softer sections.
The overall feel of the music is heavy, yet at the same time incredibly spacey, "astral metal", if you will. There were certain sections in Bath that hinted at this but this is where the feel comes around full-force. It's an interesting vibe the album gives off: the listener is simultaneously exposed to both awesome and magnificent feelings, the feelings of one who is traveling the vast expanses of space, but there's also a certain tension to everything. A very subtle sense of dread or horror, and on certain occasions during the album, this becomes more apparent. The music portrays a certain awe and wonder for the vast chasms of space and the untold wonders of what lie in the astral plane, but this is a very fearful kind of awe, as if some incomprehensible horror exists out in the astral fields, lurking but benevolent and omnithreatening. It could be some sort of warning from the band, but the music itself takes this form, like the band supposedly takes its elements from the vast cosmic archives of art (see my review of Bath for a summary on this). It's an incredibly engrossing element to the music and really transports the listener outside of this world and into this dark, mysterious plane.
Conceptually, this album continues the themes of astral projection and lucid dreaming. The lyrics here are again ridiculously strong; they read as actual poetry, and in many cases they're stronger than the ones found on Bath. Hearing Byron growling these otherwise beautiful poetic lyrics adds a "beauty found in heaviness" aspect to a lot of the album, in what is already what I would consider some very beautiful metal. An interesting thing to note is that (to me; I should let it be known that all of this is personal interpretation) this album seems to follow a processual arc within this theme of astral projection: if Bath was about the process of separating one's physical body from the esoteric spirit through lucid dreaming, e.g., the process of astral projection, then Leaving Your Body Map is about the now-separate spiritual body exploring the vast, mysterious, and frightening astral planes. This may be where the titles of the albums come into play: Bath is a reference to the sort of cleansing of the spirit from the physical body (also seen in the numerous references to water and actual use of water in Bath), and Leaving Your Body Map is then referencing the astral "map" that one's spirit follows in the journey through the astral plane, possibly to this vast cosmic archive the band has cited as the source of all their inspiration.
Another interesting thing to point out is the structure of the album. While I've said that Bath and Leaving Your Body Map are two very different pieces of music, the two albums are structured to mirror each other. All of the interludes are in the same place on both albums, the epics are in the same place, and even the strongest and weakest moments of each album are in nearly the same place. More parallels can be seen in the lengths and sections of certain songs, though this is only really apparent after multiple listens. I'll go over it in some detail during the track-by-track breakdown. Another puzzler is the album artwork. The artwork for Leaving Your Body Map shows a bathtub and a window, whereas the artwork for Bath depicts what appears to be a representation of an astral map, or a long and winding path marked with signs representing planets. At the end of this path the very small object at the end is the bathtub and window seen in close detail on the cover of Leaving Your Body Map, providing a seemingly opposite process to what I had analyzed before. The band stated in an interview that the covers are switched simply to represent the dual nature of each; that one can't exist without the other. What it represents beyond that, however, I cannot tell.
The album opens with "Stones of October's Sobbing" in a soft, similar fashion to the way Bath does. It opens with an eerie guitar chord backing a soft flute melody. Some more delicate guitar chords continue guided along the flute melody, which goes from shrill to pleasant on occasion before a loud drum beat takes it into the main section of the song. An oddly soft and very spacey section sets the backdrop to uncharacteristically loud and thundering drumming and some harsh growls. This semblance continues, creating an odd structure and some creepy undertones into the second verse where some random horn noodling in the background creates a chaotic tension amidst a peaceful backdrop. Eventually this section morphs into the original spacey melody being played with lightning fast death metal distortion while a shrill flute plays a disturbingly peaceful melody over the top. This continues for a while before the flutes start to go slightly off tune and it turns into a scary metal section with some backdrop screaming provided by Toby, eerie electronic screeches, and the piece ends in some odd start-and-stop heaviness. Overall this is a very avant-garde piece that effectively portrays the unsettling mood of the album, and, on an off note, this piece is a good representation of the musical direction that future Toby Driver project Kayo Dot would pursue.
The next piece "Gleam in Ranks" is an absolutely amazing piece of prog metal and possibly my favorite motW song. It starts out with some soft, almost whispered vocals and an upbeat palm-muted guitar riff that is accented by some awesome keys and a very good bass line. This continues until Toby's voice elevates to hit a high note before turning into a very upbeat progressive metal song with some cool guitar interplay and spacey backing keys. Eventually Toby's voice kicks in with an incredibly catchy vocal melody. It's very dynamic, probably his best vocal showing yet. The original riff changes to something a little more sinister and the piece builds up to a frenzy of crazed vocals and fast chugging riffs before ending very suddenly.
The next piece "Bizarre Flowers/A Violent Mist" starts off with some soft feedback noises before opening into a very epic metal riff, guided by Driver's voice and given a strong backing melody by what sound like church bells. Eventually a solemn guitar solo joins the melody before the bells escalate in a large unison. This section ends and another section of distorted percussion, guitar feedback, and a number of very creepy, agonizing growls occur in the background. The growls eventually escalate into a chaotic mess of noises before a grand metal riff starts again. Byron's growls lead this into a very slow-churning metal section that eventually goes momentarily silent, and leads into a... funk fusion section? All of a sudden this spacey metal stops and it turns into a fast, fun, upbeat section with strong bass rhythm and an absolutely brilliant guitar solo. This section continues but eventually adds the same melody in heavy metal guitar tones. When this ends we get into another spacey section with some odd electronic noises and some echoic vocals.
"Interlude 3" follows, and it's noticeably longer than the first interlude on Bath. It's also an incredibly beautiful piece of music. Some delicate acoustic guitars play a very peaceful melody before some soft bongos add a light percussion. Eventually a very pretty violin adds on, and a soft clarinet, and some grandiose horns create a stunningly beautiful and magnificent piece devoid of all the scary undertones present in the songs before it, leaving only pleasant bliss in songwriting.
The wonderfully pleasant note that "Interlude 3" ends on is a nice segue into a folksy section that begins "The Curve That to an Angle Curve'd". This pleasant little intro doesn't last long, however, as the song suddenly turns into a very slow and heavy doom metal piece, with some slow chugging riffs and Byron's menacing growls. Eventually the heaviness stops and we get a soft rock piece with some sorrowful vocal exchange between Toby and the female vocalist. The lyrics are somewhat of a love exchange. Some more sad guitar chords start another building process, where some background whispering and an eventual increase in tempo lead to another upbeat metal section with some very evil sounding layered screams, and while it appears as though the piece is going to elevate higher, it slowly deconstructs and dies out. While not a weak piece in any way, this song is comparatively the weakest on the album.
"Sleep is a Curse" is a pretty different song to show up halfway through the album. It's a somewhat sad indie folk song with some powerful vocals performed by Driver. He also wrote the lyrics to this song (Byron normally writes all the poetry for the lyrics), and they're a lot more down-to-earth than most of the other lyrics, and quite touching. The first half of the song is guided by some folksy acoustic guitars and Toby's vocals, but halfway through the song some percussion and violin are added, making for a very pretty folk rock piece.
Up next is the epic "Riseth He, the Numberless" suite, which, ironically, is split up into two parts. It opens with a solo horn in a similar fashion that "Girl with a Watering Can" does on Bath with the clarinet. Eventually a very loud note leads into an unsettling spacey section that is joined by some very menacing metal riffage. Byron's growling is top-notch here as it leads into an absolutely fantastic and utterly horrifying spacey metal riff. It follows with some rather menacing death metal and a cool guitar solo as the lyrics foretell what sounds like some sort of end times event. The guitar solo ascends into a frenzy as all the metal very quickly slows down into a non-music section that bridges into the second section of the song. In between we have what sounds like the distorted sound of wind blowing into a microphone, and eventually we start to hear stifled screams in the background. These eerie voices continue to cry out in agony as a soft ticking escalates, and I get this picture in my mind of some unspeakably horrible, timeless evil awakening and bringing about the end times. The second section begins after about a minute with some cool drumming and soft guitars, and eventually even a harp. Eventually some echoing keyboards start a very spacey metal section. Once the vocals kick in it becomes a rather evil sounding piece that's complimented by a wicked guitar solo and the menacing church organ. It ends on a long creepy organ note and some accompanying guitar distortion.
"Interlude 4" is supposedly the band's crowning achievement. In the liner notes for the re- issue, Toby states that this song was completely imagined through dream composition and translated just through lucid dream remembrance. It opens with sleigh bells ringing and a soft guitar melody with a fingered upright bass in the background. What sounds like a fretless guitar later adds a lead line. When the drumming kicks in it's accompanied by some very soft and soothing viola. The piece continues like this on some minor variation before the music fades away, leaving only the sleigh bells left, which had been ringing throughout the concourse of the whole song. This whole piece is rather beautiful in a mystifying way and indeed sounds like it was inspired from some astral body; it's a truly otherworldly piece.
"Monstrously Low Tide" is the closing song and it opens with immensely heavy guitars and thudding bass before slowing down into a very spacey metal section with some trippy piano melodies in the background. This section ends very quickly and then a passage with some dark acoustic guitar starts. This soft section continues with some echoing background vocals provided by Driver and some very soothing female lead. Eventually the tempo picks up slightly and Toby provides some very beautiful lead vocals while some soft chanting vocals in the background end this section. The last half of the song is some free-form spacey guitar, all clean, but with some heavy loop and reverberation effects going on. The album ends pleasantly as the guitar fades to a stop.
And thus ends the second part of possibly the most incredible 2-part suite of music I have ever heard and possibly will ever hear. I think when all is said and done Bath is the better of the two albums; it's a lot more consistent and overall a better package, but Leaving Your Body Map is otherwise just as good in every respect and is worthy of nothing less than a perfect score as well. People, if you ever get a chance to listen to either of these albums in their entirety, do so. Any fan of challenging, mature metal needs to listen to this album.
Standout tracks: All of them.