Released By: Self-Released
Release Date: January 18, 2014
Genre: Symphonic Progressive Metal
Dianne van Giersbergen – Vocals
Paul van den Broek – Guitar
Koen Stam – Keyboards
Peter den Bakker – Bass
Eelco van der Meer – Drums
2. Murderess In Me
3. On The Ocean’s Command
4. The Dream I Dream
5. Song Of Discord
6. A Mother’s Lament
7. Daughter Of Corinth
8. A Tale Told…
9. From Birth To Bloodshed
The year 2014 is less than a month old, and yet I’ve already heard a couple albums I could see being in my top 10 albums of the year by the end. First up is Medea, the second full length album from Dutch progressive metal band Ex Libris. In 2011 they released a three song demo with the same name, and all songs from that release have been re-recorded for this full version. Medea is a concept album based on the Greek tragedy of the same name, and the majority of the lyrics are told from the perspective of Medea, portrayed by lead vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen, though Jason appears on the track “Song Of Discord”, and is portrayed by Threshold vocalist Damian Wilson. While I was impressed by the album the first time I heard it, by the end of my fourth listen I was absolutely blown away by it, and after several more listens I think all other progressive metal bands releasing an album this year will have a lot to live up to.
Of course, simply labeling Ex Libris as a prog band would be selling them short, as there’s a lot more to their music than that. Many of the instrumental sections do bring to mind elite prog bands such as Dream Theater (some sections sound eerily similar to their classic album Awake), but there’s also some strong symphonic influence here, a lot of theatrical styling, and occasionally even some very brief power metal sections where the music suddenly speeds up. Almost every track has sudden and unexpected tempo changes, and while almost every song has some very aggressive guitar driven sections, mixed with some calmer atmospheric keyboard dominated sections, there’s always a surprise or two just around the corner.
The more dramatic sections are particularly notable, as the album often feels like a musical, and there are many points where it seems Dianne is as much acting out the lyrics as she is singing them. This effect is amplified further on the track “Song Of Discord”, which takes the shape of a conversation between Medea and Jason. It still has some great instrumental sections, but for the most part it’s all about the dialogue exchanges, with both Dianne and Damian doing an absolutely terrific job of portraying their characters. Parts of the song are sung in a very theatrical operatic way from both singers, but there’s also two sections where the band fades into the background as Dianne and Damian speak out their lyrics to each other. On my first listen I wasn’t too thrilled with this track, but the more I listen to it the more I can appreciate what the band is doing here, as it really is very unique and both vocalists put so much emotion into the two speaking scenes, that it really is quite impressive, and it definitely doesn’t come off as cheesy like similar experiments from other metal bands have.
On the whole it’s a very challenging and complex album, and one where I think anyone interested in reviewing it should almost be required to give a bare minimum of at least 4 listens before reviewing, just because there’s so much to take in at first that it can quickly become overwhelming, so it needs multiple listens to fully appreciate. Which is of course how prog albums often work, anyway, but I think this album is exceptionally challenging and complex. Aside from the brief instrumental interlude “A Tale Told…), the only song that’s even remotely straight-forward is “The Dream I Dream”, and it’s definitely a highlight. It starts out as a ballad, and the chorus allows Dianne to showcase her excellent soprano vocals, then in the second half the guitars kick in for a much heavier extended instrumental section. It’s still very complex for a ballad, but compared to the other songs here it’s much easier to follow, and it certainly left a strong first impression on me.
As amazing as the instrumental sections are, perhaps the most impressive part of the album is Dianne’s singing. As mentioned above, she can be very dramatic at times, but even beyond that she is extremely versatile, often switching from her epic high pitched operatic voice to her more intense and powerful low register, but most impressive is that while she excels at the parts where she gets to really open up and sing with all her vocal power, or the aforementioned dramatic parts where she can get very emotional, she’s just as good at reining it in and singing calmly, which the songs often require her to do. In fact, as amazing as Dianne is, the songwriting is just as impressive and dynamic, so on the whole this is an album full of stunning vocal sections that never become predictable in the least.
Because it’s a concept album and because of how the songs are constructed, it can be very hard to pick favorite tracks, but I will list three particular tracks I’m always especially excited to hear. First is the aforementioned “The Dream I Dream”, as Dianne really is spectacular on that song. Next is “A Mother’s Lament”, which is loud and intense right from the beginning with perhaps Dianne’s most aggressive vocals of the album coming right at the start. As the song goes on it takes several interesting turns, including one particular instrumental section that is simply incredible. But I think my favorite track is the 10 minute epic “From Birth To Bloodshed”, which closes the album. It really is everything the finale to an album as good as Medea should be, with particular highlights being a haunting reprise of the chorus from the opening title track, and the epic choir vocals that show up near the end.
It was a long wait for Ex Libris fans, but in the end Medea is more than worth it, as it’s an absolutely incredible album that’s highly recommended for fans of complex progressive metal albums, as well as anyone who enjoys metal albums with exceptional female vocals. As I said above: All other prog bands releasing albums this year certainly have a lot to live up to.
Written by Travis