Order Of Nine
Seventh Year of the Broken Mirror
Released: 2013, Nightmare Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Released in 2013 by Nightmare Records, ‘Seventh Year of the Broken Mirror’ is the current album by the American progressive/power metal band ORDER OF NINE. I must admit, this is was a hard review to do as I have never felt so conflicted by an album before. There are things about this album that I just can’t get along with at all, but then there is a change and I hear other parts that are well crafted, being both dramatic yet subtle and so well done that I change my mind. The issue for me was that this continued throughout the whole album. So the only way to write this review is to go through those conflicts.
One of the best things about this album is the beginning of each song. Sounds strange I know saying that the best bit is a short section at the start of the songs, however just listen to them. When I used the word crafted before I meant it. Each has its own blend of drama, of storytelling and each immediately picks you up and prepares to take you on a journey. For example, the title track ‘Seventh Year of the Broken Mirror’ starts the album with a whispered beginning which quickly leads to a no nonsense song. I love the use of synths here as they blend and weave in well to the melody and though you have to tune your ear to really hear them work, they give definite support and lift to the song. Later ‘Dreamspeak’ follows up with keys in a similar tone but building as it goes, layering the remaining instruments with every short loop of the melody for almost a minute, before ladling on a thrash rhythm, overlaid with pretty synths.
It’s interesting that I’m now four songs in (‘Spiral Staircase’) and each beginning is becoming less complex, and this appeals to me. This song is another example of the well-chosen layering, though perhaps a less obvious one as the layers are applied through the volume of the other instruments and backing vocals, with the inclusion of a slight Arabian Night sound about half way through. Listen to it once as it is, then repeat, tuning your ear to each instrument; it gives it another, more complex, and for me, more pleasing sound.
‘Innocence’ for me has possibly the strongest start and one where when the vocals come in they meld with the song instead of opposing it. There is a very slight menace to the tone of the vocals and the use of music box style keys adds to that sense of quiet menace and is very well done. ‘Third Wish’ is a bit of a misstep after the ending for ‘Innocence’ with its creepy yet gentle keys as this one is loud, harsh and thrashy. Though after a while the echoes of the previous song wear off and you are brought back towards to start of the album. ‘Eye of the Enemy’ has a much more cinematic sound at the beginning, reminding me that the songs do indeed begin stronger as the album goes on. However, this is where one of those conflicts comes to the fore as it is a pity that these elements do not continue throughout the songs. For me this loses some of the drama, defiance and connection that you hear at the beginning of the tracks.
Another conflict for me are the vocals. It is not the actual voice, but more the tone applied to the vocals (‘Twelfth Talisman’ is an example), as well as the speed that often clashes with the rhythm of the melody. I’m fine with clashy rhythms, but listening through the album I’m asking myself why it is done so often. For example in the title track the narrow selection of notes used for the vocal melody do not fit with what you are expecting to hear. (Though this works better when this is blended with additional ‘nastier’ toned vocals – kind of how you would imagine the little devil on your shoulder sounds). Another example is in ‘Third Wish’, especially with the slide used towards the end of some of the lines. However, in ‘Dreamspeak’ the vocals are more fluid and even and work well with the rest of the song. There are other moments throughout the album that also make me rethink my view on this point, hence the conflict, as there are times when the languorous tone to the vocals works well, but for me in several songs it doesn’t seem to sit well with the rest of the song.
The other conflict I had is the aforementioned layering, which I know I said I loved and I do. There are some really good examples in there and little surprises thrown in across the album unexpectedly that made me sit back and think. ‘Changing Of The Guard’ hits the nail on the head. I would pick this one to listen as it combines the unique elements and layers from the previous songs into one, and that in itself makes it unique. To hear each of the elements I would recommend this song, especially for the thrashy beginning and the guitars about four minutes in.
‘Words That Were Said’ immediately fills me with hope with its straight forward, raw sound, and here is the surprise at around 3.40 with the sound of breaking glass leading into a complete break for just a piano; a clear and simple melody. Totally unexpectedly and so well done. ‘Winters Call’ is focused on a simple melody, swapping the electronic sounds for piano keys and deeper, more spoken vocals, in a style that likens itself to an era long gone. In a way it is a fitting end to the album for me as it represents another conflict. I like the melody and I can hear the style and direction the track is taking, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album, and being the last track it should tie things together. So I am left again, simply confused.
‘Eye Of The Enemy’ is one of the best examples of the conflict I have with this album. As I mentioned earlier the beginning is the strongest and most dramatic of the album. You then come to an ending with a piano which in its simpler, striped back arrangements is beautiful and the melody and pianoforte effects brings you to such a logical and well ended conclusion; slightly winding down but also leaving a slight cliff-hanger; a mere whisper of an unanswered question. It really is so well done. However, then I found that we have three more minutes as you are quickly brought back to the harsher beginning. There is still the pianoforte backing things up but with the slow, low melancholy vocals and melody. I have no qualms with the still of the last three minutes per se, I just don’t understand why it is there as there was such a good stylish ending and it made me angry to listen to it. Added to this there is a second ‘ending’ at about 6.40 we again have another fitting ending just after the words ‘the enemy is me’, which is instead followed by a minute and a half of guitar.
Don’t get me wrong there are some really good guitar riffs in this album (listen to ‘Spiral Staircase’) so I’m not discrediting those, however, they do tend to appear at around 4 minutes for most songs, and I’m not a fan of adding more guitar solos just for the sake of it or at the expense of an already good ending.
The constant ‘this is good/this is not good’ going through my mind made this a hard album to score as I can’t see myself ever listening to it again. However, there are some really good, well thought-out elements to this album and as I said I cannot fault the beginnings of the songs at all. I can’t personally overly recommend this album, however it is those elements that stood out that speak of such promise; of what they are capable of, of the though behind those sections, and of what could potentially be very appealing to someone else. So have a listen and make up your own mind.
Review by Rowena Lamb