Reviewed By Andrew McKaysmith
Adagio’s new album, Life, begins with the sound of heavy strings set against the playful laughter of children. The dramatic opening sequence expands to include horns and other orchestral instruments before Stéphan Forté’s guitar djents across the aural landscape to introduce the band proper. Thus, Life has begun and the vast musical palette of the bands leader and composer, Forté, is on offer once again.
Forté is one of a very select few postmodern musicians that I would consider a natural composer. If he were born 250 years ago, his intellect and compositional capacity may have seen him venture from his native France to nearby Austria under the tutelage of one Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, the great tutor to Mozart, Beethoven and the underappreciated Moscheles.
It’s not very often I get to compare or review an album as broad as Life. That’s because Adagio and Forté himself occupy a rare sphere of heavy metal. Vast, theatrical, colorful, dense, rich, abstract, technical. Yes, all of them. If I lean too heavily on one adjective it seems to undermine the descriptive narrative of another. It’s actually easier to breakdown the compositional elements and build a picture of the music from there. So here goes!
Kelly Sundown Carpenter is the vocalist for this release and the Texan native acquits himself well. I can’t imagine that it would have been an easy task to frame the vocal over the rich symphony of the instrumentation, yet Carpenter’s vocal soars. “Subrahmanya” and the music video accompanying cut, “Darkness Machine” offer a rich demonstration of Carpenter’s vocal prowess. All of the tracks have a standout moment from him but those two are excellent cuts that will get a solid airing on my media player. There are very, very few vocalists that I will offer the following accord, however Carpenter is similar in delivery to one of my all-time favorite vocalists and one of the most technically gifted of our generation, Tim Aymar of Control Denied. Those of you of you who are familiar with my reviews will recognize that acclaim is about as good as it gets!
Franck Hermanny (bass) and Jelly Cardarelli (drums & percussion) aren’t names you will recognise yet both are as accomplished as Cynic’s rhythm section par-excellence Sean Malone and Sean Reinert. Lots of ‘blink and you miss it’ bass runs and drum fills all tastefully added. I particularly love the restraint offered by both though my favorite album cut, “Secluded Within Myself”. There may have been a temptation to either follow Forté or noodle off elsewhere under the outstanding guitar solo on this cut, yet they lock down the rhythm for Forté to bring a requiem-like solo
Longtime keyboard player Kevin Codfert has now partnered with Forté on a variety of his projects so this is a strong musical comradeship. If the guise of a great keyboard player in metal is to offer as many notes as possible without overbearing the songs core then Codfert deserves acclaim for his performance on Life. Codfert’s best moments are when he carries the melodic theme of a song such as on the mournful “Trippin Away”.
This brings us to the man himself.
Having toured or performed with both Marty Friedman and Yngwie Malmsteen, Forté’s guitar playing is certainly of that class technically. Where his star burns brightest is through his command of compositional structure and arrangement.
I have listened to both of Forté’s solo offering’s and Life, it confirms a rather unique visual that I hold when listening to his music. If the estate holders of the late great Jim Henson seek a musical muse for re-enactments or extensions to accompany his epic fables bought to screen through feature films such as classics The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, Forté would be a worthy selection.
What you are about to read now may sound like a tangent yet it underlines why Life is such a great album.
Many readers may wonder why a reviewer selects an album to share his or thoughts regarding. In my case, I listen to many albums per week and can assure the reader that most releases have redeeming characteristics, but most are either ill conceived, poorly written, or contain far too many clichés. Artists are in bind as they continue to use the '60s methodology of spreading ideas out over 10 plus songs to create an ‘album’. Young and unsigned artists are now first releasing E.P.’s (such as outstanding US based power pop quartet The Dives) which give listeners a chance to absorb an artist’s material via streaming services for 10-20 minutes. All without being mired in an albums narrative that often means at least half of the album’s cuts are filler and studio after thoughts.
There is an excellent article by Quartz Media with the headline ‘Unless you’re Adele, you have no business releasing album tracks all at once’ which I encourage all readers and artists to check out. Life is an exception and is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. When an album such as Life offers so much music, delicately layered to ensure the listener can carry the experience, I’m rather excited for both band and listener.
There is a heck of a lot going in throughout Life. It will take many spins or plays for the listener to unravel the genius of Forté and his comrades and I certainly look forward to obtaining the vinyl edition and listening for many, many years.
More from Adagio
- Archangels In Black [review]