Frameshift - An Absence Of Empathy

Year of Release: 2005
Label: ProgRock Records
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 73:59:00

You probably know by now that Frameshift's second release, An Absence Of Empathy, is a concept album, as we journey along with the protagonist as he flits from acts of violence both from the point of view of perp and the victim, or, in the case of "In An Empty Room" a third point of view of a loved one watching a post-trauma victim. Of course, there's a joke waiting here, you know. If you end up not liking it, it itself becomes one more act of violence... upon the ears of a listener. But, unless you don't like metal anyway, or how Bach sings - which isn't too bad at all, by the way - then I shant think you'll think that. Just my sarky - and verbose - mind at work there.

Anyway. The songs are paired such that there are two views, or perspectives, of a particular act of violence. The whole concept originated with ProgRock Records President Shawn Gordon, and the storyline was finalized by Gordon and multi-instrumentalist/driving force Henning Pauly. The album's stark and bloody artwork will give the mood being set here. While this is not at all sentimental look at violence, as the title suggests, that isn't to say there is a total absence of empathy, as evidenced by the above mentioned "In An Empty Room." That one moment aside, there is no sense that you are supposed to view these violent acts with any sort of sympathy for the perpetrator, nor the victim. Even as the protagonist in "I Killed You" seems to feel remorse over his act - killing his wife in the flash of anger of finding her cheating - you do not feel compelled to sympathize (or maybe that's just me?).

As the subject matter dictates, we get some intense and heavy metal, though don't think of speed metal or a persistent bash-bash of drums through which a guitar or bass line peek out. Pauly, who composed all the music, understands that a break can be just as important as a beat. And there's a lot of melodicism here, but it's not always "pretty" melodicism (instrumentally speaking, it's pretty, but not meant to be "pretty"). Though drums and percussion (Eddie Marvin) are ever present, it's guitar and bass (Pauly) that are the forefront for the most part, with keys occasionally (on, for example, "I Killed You," "Outcast," and "How Long Can I Resist"). One exception to the drums/percussion "rule", to my ears, is "Blade" - a look at war as fought in days gone by, when combat was hand to hand, looking back to hundreds of years ago. A Celtic passage, leads into rhythmic, militaristic drumming, adding in some classical-like passages that then meld into a much heavier militaristic rhythm which reflects the heat of battle, the chaos of hundreds of foot and horse-mounted soldiers fighting in close quarters. It's Braveheart, Henry V (the grittier Braunaugh version), oh, Lord Of The Rings (the grittiness of Jackson's battle scenes, I mean). It's not until we get the manly, warrior-chorus of voices towards the end that I think of folks like Blind Guardian or Jag Panzer (et. al.). And because you have a concept album told through lyrics, vocals are at the forefront of everything, and that which sticks most in one's mind. The screechy "Just One More" (a look through the eyes and mind of a serial killer) might also be another exception. (I'll note that Pauly also plays banjo, Warr guitar, and piano on this release).

One of those great melodic instrumental moments comes in a pair of rather nifty guitar solos in "I Killed You," a piece that is mainly balladic (though not entirely, as in the bridge the beast that came out to commit the crime, resurfaces), and in the entirety of "...Empty Room." These are two of the half-dozen or so tracks that have stuck with me. Now, not to say these are necessarily the best tracks on the album, but those that linger. And, interestingly enough, they all mostly occur at the core - or middle - of the album. First, there's the anthemic "Miseducation" - a catchy chorus rattles in your brain long after the CD ends; if radio were friendly this would be radio friendly... in an age when the likes of, uh, well Skid Row or Guns 'N' Roses were the "hot thing." Not saying that this sounds dated, but it does recall at times the late 80s. Sure, Skid Row was Bach's gig, so that he's singing here owes a bit to that. In fact, to be honest, the whole album has a late 80s metal sound to it, the arrangements, though, are a little more involved, and the subject matter much darker. What has often gone through my mind, post-listen, is G'N'R's "Welcome To The Jungle."

The third track that stood out was "This Is Gonna Hurt" - and maybe for the swinging chorus, catchily delivered sinister words, as the protagonist taunts his torture victim. Oddly, what sticks are the vocals, I guess I'd have to say that percussion - chunky, digital, combined with handclaps (must be the handclap percussion credited to Pauly) - is strong component here, too.

"In An Empty Room" is a mellower piece, truly balladic. Instrumentally, we get, for most of the piece, jazzy drums, percussion, and piano, though we also get a cool guitar solo, and towards the end some very nice vocal harmonies. Rather classy, even with Bach's harsher, screaming vocals under those harmonies right at the end. We get here a terrific vocal performance from Bach. My thought on this... reminds me of something we might find on an Ayreon album.

Some words about some other tracks: "Outcast," the counterpart to "Miseducation," shows a duality of nature, smooth, good natured parts over heavier, angier parts - though this is far from being the heaviest track on the album. Bach gives his voice an edge that suggests at the violence to come - here a school kid getting revenge. "Push The Button" is the precursor to "Blade;" here we have a look at war from the distant view - I'm thinking an aircraft carrier, far offshore. The album is bookended by the intro, theme setting "Human Grain" and the denouement of "What Kind Of Animal," a sparse vocal/piano ballad, where the protagonist contemplates the future of his own child in light of what he's just gone through. "When I Look Into My Eyes" flips the situation in "This Is Gonna Hurt." It's another rather nifty song musically with another catchy chorus.

This is probably not something that Henning Pauly wants to hear now, given all the drama surrounding this album's release, but... I think James LaBrie could easily have handled much of the material here, as Sebastian Bach reminds me sometimes of LaBrie. Well, what I mean is that I could hear LaBrie delivering the melodic lines in similar manner; not, of course, the harsher, screechier parts. I also I think Matt Cash, Pauly's co-hort in Chain, could have handled some of the material, too. Not to take anything away from Bach, mind, I just find it interesting to note.

When all is said and done, An Absence Of Empathy is pretty good album. There are lots of engaging musical moments, not just guitar solos, but some very nice rhythmic, melodic passages, that might seem a little too smooth given the dark subject matter, but in and of themselves are quite nice. The tracks I think I end up liking the most are "Blade," "In An Empty Room" and "This Is Gonna Hurt" (I don't know, there's just an evil-fun element to the song's delivery); coming close is "I Killed You."

Human Grain / Just One More / Miseducation / I Killed You / This Is Gonna Hurt / Push The Button / In An Empty Room / Outcast / Blade / How Long Can I Resist / When I Look Into My Eyes / What Kind Of Animal

Sebastian Bach - vocals
Henning Pauly - guitars, banjo, bass, war guitar, piano, b3, Rhodes, synthesizer, hand percussion
Eddie Marvin - drums

Unweaving The Rainbow (2004)
An Absence Of Empathy (2005)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin VA

Added: November 29th 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 957
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]