Despite the unfortunate tendency for many progressive rock "supergroups" to pale in comparison to the individual members' day jobs, the debut effort from For All We Know offers a top-notch album from some of the business's finest musicians. A stunning observation that stands as one of the genre's finest offerings in the last decade-plus, this eye-opening effort should truly send shockwaves through progressive rock and metal fans worldwide. Although 2011 may be a bit of a slow year when it comes to strikingly original and unique progressive metal albums, this debut stands as a shining example that prog metal can still be done correctly over twenty-five years into its history. Did somebody say "masterpiece"?
Though this is essentially a side project from Within Temptation's Ruud Jolie, he recruits a star-studded cast consisting of Wudstik (Ayreon) on vocals, Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Dial, Pain of Salvation) on bass, Leo Margarit (Pain of Salvation) on drums, Thijs Schrijnemakers (Stereo) on Hammond organ, and Marco Kuypers (Cloudmachine) on piano and Rhodes. As if that's not an impressive enough lineup already, guest vocalists include Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Damian Wilson (Threshold, Ayreon), Ruud Houweling (Cloudmachine), Anke Derks, and Tom Sikkers (Daybroke), and guest musicians John Wesley, Richie Faulkner, and Camilla van der Kooij also contribute. One glance at a list like that, and it's clear that For All We Know consists of brilliant musicians - and they certainly don't disappoint either. The musicianship, while never crossing the line into extremely technical territory, remains tasteful and impressive throughout the album's entire duration.
In spite of Ruud Jolie's symphonic metal background, the music here is a stark contrast to his work in Within Temptation. I'd describe For All We Know as a crossing point between Pain of Salvation, Hogarth-era Marillion, Porcupine Tree, Riverside, and Wolverine. That means you should expect mellow progressive metal that's focused heavily on atmosphere and melancholy, rather than technicality and heaviness. There are actually quite a few times where I'd hesitate in even calling For All We Know a metal album - some excellently placed heavy riffs reaffirm that this album is certainly prog metal, but many softer tracks like "Keep Breathing" and "Nothing More" make the album ride the border between prog rock and prog metal. The fresh, unique sound that Ruud Jolie successfully captures makes For All We Know stand out immediately in the fairly stagnant modern prog metal genre.
From a songwriting standpoint, For All We Know tremendously exceeds any of my preconceived expectations. Every song here is its own unique journey, each one standing terrifically on its own, yet even better when pieced together as a full experience. That is my key expectation when we're talking about musical masterpieces, and For All We Know offers some of the most stunning and emotional progressive metal compositions I've ever heard. I reckon it impossible to listen to a track like "Down On My Knees", "Open Your Eyes", or "Nothing More" without goosebumps running up your arms and legs. This is some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard played by some of the most passionate musicians in the industry... there's certainly not much more I could ask for.
In case I haven't praised For All We Know enough (which, trust me, I haven't), the warm and powerful production deserves a mention. Although extremely polished and modern, it maintains a highly clean and captivating sound that makes the album even more appealing. I can't think of any production that would better suit the music here.
I really don't think there's much else to say. For All We Know is a stunning album by a stunning group that I honest-to-god hope makes more albums before calling it quits. It'd be quite a shame to see such a fantastic project end after just one album. But even if that is the case, the band has graciously left us with one of the finest progressive metal albums ever created... and that's ultimately what matters most. This album holds a special place in my collection, and I'm sure it'll be cherished for many years to come. I would not let this essential masterpiece slip through your fingers, and anyone who enjoys progressive rock/metal should get this one in their CD player as soon as possible. In a place called "utopia" every album would be this moving, but as that is not the case, we must cherish the few truly outstanding albums that grace our ears - and For All We Know is surely one of them. Of course, 5 stars are the least I can give in this scenario. For All We Know may very well have claimed album of the year with their terrific debut.