While Heaven Wept - Suspended At Aphelion (2014)

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We can always agree to disagree, what the hell that actually means. And we can also be honest with ourselves, and admit that everything we do and say is both subjective and, at times, prejudicial. Fear of Infinity, the last studio album by Virginia's While Heaven Wept, fell onto this very desk some three years ago, with a lot of baggage attached. Before even pressing play, I had been convinced by a set of factors that i was about to review a power metal album. I couldn't have been farther off. But that notion, that preconceived idea of what I thought I was hearing, skewed the end result, or at least my opinion of it. Three years later, and it is safe to say we've learned a lot of lessons, mainly about letting a band and an album speak for itself. But also, to never give up hope and never deny a listen. With the release of Suspended At Aphelion,  it's time to let this epic metal outfit have a chance to let their music do the talking.

You'll find that, very early on, there is a somber and yet somehow earnest nature to the string work. Introspectus has a richness of sound that brings to mind some of the works of Ennio Morricone, in all the right ways. As the strings fade to the background and a softly plucked and strummed guitar moves forward, it brings with it a relaxing quality. Even when it transitions to Icarus And I/Ardor, some of that influence stays. It's the melodic sensibility the band relies on here that stands out, with the harmonies hitting the right balance of high and low. It's almost curious how well balanced the mix is here, with even the lightest cymbal tap shining through in full. It's an intriguing mix of prog leads and doomy backgrounds, two thirds dreamscape, and one third nightmare. The latter half of the track, now moving into it's ninth minute, sees a change from airy to more dense, and drum heavy. The constant is the vocals, melodically tinged and soaring harmonies aplenty.

It would be hard to ignore that the album is distinctly moody, though by no means in a bad way. Heartburst slows the pace to a crawl, slow for even the most delicate ballad. What it has in emotion, though, it leaves behind with a lack of true payoff. It isn't until the following track, Indifference Turned Paralysis that we get the band at their best. Here, the rhythm section gives a dominant performance, a thunderous gallop of low end that boosts the entire mix into a different level. Drummer Trevor Schrotz delivers on every swing of the stick and stomp of the foot, driving this high energy track every step of the way. With quick flurries of classical guitars, injected into the middle of fierce drum fills, you still get both sides of the coin, without slowing down to wave. With tracks containing multiple parts, as we have in The Memory Of Bleeding /Souls In Permafrost /Searching The Star, it feels, at times like disjointed fragments, rather than parts of the same whole. The instrumental succeeds on a number of levels, particularly in the way the keyboards merge with the guitars here.But the evenness of the track may be it's weakness, as it fails to provide any side to side or up and down.

And oddly, it is Reminiscence Of Strangers/Lifelines Lost that brings in some of the strongest guitar work on the album, in the solo sense. It's as if the room suddenly grew three times its size, and left the band with an open space to grow. The entire mix expands, sound waves radiating outward with no obstacles in their wave. You feel yourself begin to sway in their wake, a welcomed effect that may have otherwise been lost. And as the album comes full circle, it is Retrospectus that fittingly takes you to its end, and beginning. The string work returns, just as touching as before, sobering in each swipe of the bow across the strings. It feels a little like floating, with your toes hanging just above the ground. Beautiful and simple.

Much like their back catalog, While Heaven Wept have given us another album that is hard to describe, and even harder to classify. It's theatrical without being operatic, progressive without being pretentious, and metal without being overtly heavy. One of its greatest strengths, the ability to remain consistent and straightforward, may also be its biggest fault, as it fails to reach for the height it has so easily within its grasp. Rather than highs and lows, it plays light off of dark, and beauty off of bombastic. It works more often than it doesn't, and keeps the listener holding on to see what comes next, even if it is just by the thinnest of threads sometimes. What it seems to be, really, is an exercise in restraint and freedom, both used at opposing junctures to convey different emotions. Suspended At Aphelion isn't cut and dry, but it's worth investigating further.

7.5/10

Official Site - http://www.whileheavenwept.com

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