Here we are then, a lump of philosophy to jump start your head after the excesses of the season of good will. 'The Old Man And The Spirit' apparently took five years to create and (I quote the promo blurb here) "deals with the polarity of human sensuousness and superhuman awareness."
"The latter is embodied by the character of the Spirit. She is the personification of all wisdom and awareness that is unachievable to mankind, however, lacks of the ability to feel. Her opponent, the character of the Old Man, is presented as a bon vivant who has lived through all highs and lows of human sensation. Steadied by his old age, he searches for a sense, for a coherence, for the meaning of his life in the maelstrom of transiency.
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"As the story unfolds, the Spirit convinces the Old Man that there is no way for Man to overcome the limits of human perception. They can only be transgressed with the help of the Spirit's wisdom. Aware of human curiosity, the Spirit offers to answer all of the Old Man's questions - in exchange for his experiences and feelings. A high price, as they are inseparably connected to the Old Man's memories."
Got that? No? Nor I. So I'm not surprised it took five years to complete. Probably took two just to think up the concept. Normally, combining trained musicians with planet sized brains, prog (of any kind) and a long gestation period invariably leads to artistic masturbation overwhelming the quality of the songs, producing albums that whilst being top gun technically, lack soul and cohesion.
Of course none of this bodes well but in this instance you'd be wrong. 'Beyond The Bridge' is a German outfit of professionally trained musicians and 'The Old Man And The Spirit' is their debut album which is quite brilliant. The album is peppered with brief soliloquies that are quite frankly impenetrable bollocks of the highest order but when the music is as rich and deep (and at over 60 minutes, long too) as this they pass without notice.
Very often this sort of intricate stuff gets too busy at the expense of the groove but not here. Despite the bang up production job there is much that reminds me of classic Yes and Genesis, sounding like the band have allowed 'The Old Man and the Spirit' to have its head, delicately shepherding it so that it never loses its direction.
Largely keyboard driven, the album still has an overt Metal edge but there are subtleties too. 'The Apparition' has a distinct Middle Eastern feel to it and 'The Spring Of It All' has a vibe that harkens back to the heady prog days of the early seventies.
'World Of Wonders' builds from a simple stripped back start to the sort of quiet epic the likes of 'Anathema' and 'Mostly Autumn' are not averse to. 'Doorway To Salvation' strains at its thrash chains and 'Where The Earth And Sky Meet' has the grandeur the title alludes to.
Overall 'The Old Man And The Spirit' soars and swoops over an epic sounds cape having soaked up everything the band have chucked at it and given a near classic in return.