Released: 2012, Frontiers Records
Although Beyond The Bridge’s Germanic roots stretch all the way back to 1999 (the band was called Fallout back then), THE OLD MAN AND THE SPIRIT represents the group’s first release. A long time to be sure and it has been a true labour of love for guitarist Peter Degenfeld and keyboardist Christopher Tarnow, who have been working on this album on and off since 2005. Seven years later and it has finally arrived, and is a high-concept album about a man at the end of his life trying to make some sense of, and find meaning in, life. He meets the mysterious Spirit, who offers to answer all his questions in exchange for his experiences and feelings. Heady stuff, right? It’s also pretty much a guarantee that this is a progressive metal album.
Indeed, Beyond The Bridge is a prog-metal band, as THE OLD MAN AND THE SPIRIT is filled with long songs packed with time changes, multiple vocalists, flashy soloing, and stylistic wanderings. Yet somehow the band manages to make the disparate parts fit seamlessly together into an absolutely stunning whole. It may have take more than seven years to put this album together, but it’s clear that all of the time was well spent in making the best album possible.
In truth, I was quite underwhelmed by this album the first few times I listened to it, as both opening songs, “The Call” and “The Apparition”, failed to grab me right away. It was only with the surging, downright catchy instrumental “Triumph of Irreality” that I perked up and paid attention. Even then, the rest of the album was a bit of a blur, with nothing forcing me to pay attention. Then after about five spins it all clicked and suddenly I was entranced by this thing and haven’t stopped listening to it since.
The main reason the album is so good is the band’s ability to write songs that take you on a journey, rather than simply stringing riffs together – you don’t even need to pay attention to the story to enjoy the album. The music is so beautiful in places – “Where the Earth and Sky Meet” in particular – that you surrender and get swept along. There are some bumps along the way (“The Struggle” is somewhat weak), but I found myself continually coming back for more. It’s still very early in the year, but this album will definitely be a contender for album of the year.