Note: I have changed my rating to a 4 star for the purpose of MMA, as I just do not see it as appropriate to give the album a 5 star on a website that is intended to represent Metal. Normally, I would not let that change my rating, but for this album I just didn't feel right giving it a 5 on this website. This concludes my preface, and now we return to our regularly scheduled broadcast:
The Void is the seventh studio album for Progressive Rock act Beardfish, and as I listened to this album again the other day I had a bit of a catharsis. On my first listen, I would not have given it 5 stars – I did actually enjoy the album quite a bit, but I was not ready to give it 5 stars at this point. But I made some connections this time, and found new understanding of the album. Now, I'd like to get on a soapbox a bit and talk about reviewing albums, why I started reviewing albums, and some peeves I have about reviews. This may seem to have nothing to do with The Void by Beardfish, but stick with me here and I am going to try to make a connection between the album and this thought process.
So I have listened to and been a fan of Progressive Rock for a long time and have listened to many, many albums. But I only recently began to review albums, and while I had thought about giving it a shot many times before, I always thought I didn't really have anything new to say. But what eventually pushed me into writing my first review was when I saw a horrible review of an album I loved, and it was the only review on the site for this album. The reviewer's only reason for giving a very low rating of this album and trash talking it seemed to be that he felt the band wasn't truly "Progressive" because they had some, in his opinion, obvious influences and thus were not doing anything new. Now, this is a huge peeve of mine, because I think this is a misunderstanding of what the "Progressive" genre is truly about. You see, I don't believe the genre, or any musical genre, can be defined by such an ambiguous idea as being "new" or having never been done before. It's music – nothing is new! Every piece of music is influenced by some other pieces of music going back all the way to the time when the caveman Ugh Nok Ok picked up a seashell and blew into it, playing the very first notes. If your music has notes, it was influenced by this event! You think King Crimson was "new"? You think Yes was doing something that had never been done before? No! They were influenced by classical composers as well as the rock music of their time and they were just combining influences! So it is a peeve of mine when I see reviewers defining the Progressive genre by this ambiguous idea of possessing "newness" and taking this concept to the conclusion that anything that does not possess this indefinable and immeasurable idea must not be good. No, what makes an album "good" is indefinable as well, and different from person to person, but usually has to do with a certain level of musical skill, and creating a combination of sounds that is pleasing in some way to the listener as well as presenting an idea to the listener in a way that makes a connection with that listener. And so, as I have pondered how to go about defining my ratings of albums in my reviews, I have realized that I cannot pretend to be presenting the true measurement of an album's worth but can only represent my own enjoyment of an album, nothing more.
Now, what does this have to do with Beardfish's album, The Void? Well, let's start exploring this question by taking a look at the first track of the album, the Intro, in which Andy Tillison states:
"The magician looked into the future and saw nothing but the past, repeating itself. With caution he turned his eyes to the present and found himself staring into a void. He disappeared in the dark. Time passed, and one day he returned, with a vision. Once he talked to the first stranger he met it was clear that in his absence nothing had changed, but him…"
Now right away, we have a very powerful and mysterious statement. But as the album progresses, I believe the band explores this concept through their music. Now, I have always been intrigued by Beardfish – they have a unique style that incorporates a very retro sound that seems to be influenced by Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis, incorporating progressive musical structures, quick fingered riffs, changing time signatures, sometimes odd crashing jangles, and a quirky sophistication. But when this album first came out I heard rumblings that seemed to frighten some away while only drawing me in: "Psst! Beardfish is going metal! Run away!" This is the warning it seemed some were giving out. So of course I had to check it out. And as I listened I thought that I could hear where these people were coming from, but it seemed clear to me that this was not a release that nicely and neatly fit right in to the "Metal" categorization in any way. Yes, the guitars have a bit more distorted crunch to them, there is some riffing that is more aggressive in previous Beardfish albums, and there are the occasional growly vocals present. But it is clear that the retro sound we're used to hearing from Beardfish is still present as well as plenty of jazz influences. But as I listened to this album again later on I felt that I began to understand the musical statement as I realized there seemed to be many, many musical influences present in this album. By incorporating and representing musical influences from many genres and time periods, I believe Beardfish is musically presenting the statement put forth by King Solomon thousands of years ago: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time."
As I realized the presence of Classic Prog, Progressive Metal, Sludge, Math-Rock, Jazz, Classic Rock, Blues, and Classical influences (and possibly many more) that were present in this release, and thought about the statement made in the intro, I began to realize how beautifully and profoundly they were presenting this idea of the future merely repeating the past, and the spiritual and philosophical quandary that we are faced with as we ponder this and what it means for our lives. And as I began to understand this statement, I began to truly enjoy this album as it touched me and affected my perspective. And that is what this album is all about, I believe: the mystery of life in which there is nothing new and that as we deal with loss, love, life and death and struggle to heal from emotional wounds, the illusion of change, and how the only thing which truly changes in time is our own perspective.
Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org