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Music Review: maudlin of the Well – Bath

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Bath, released in 2001 by progressive metal band maudlin of the Well (spelled with a lower-case “m”), is an album doomed never to be heard by most people. In fact, it is an album doomed never to be heard by most metal fans. But despite its obscurity, Bath is easily one of the most daring musical achievements of the decade, and I am glad to be one of the precious few that have heard it.

Seamlessly blending elements of metal, jazz, and indie, listening to Bath is truly an otherworldly experience. And perhaps the method in which the album was composed does a great deal to explain just why it sounds that way.

Toby Driver, the singer and front man behind maudlin of the Well’s music, claims they don't even compose their own music. At least, not compose it in the way one would expect.

Driver and the rest of the band use a method called “astral projection” to find their music, already composed, on the “astral plane,” which exists outside the realm of physical existence called spiritual existence. It can only being reached by inducing an out of body experience, achievable through the medium of lucid dreaming. Once maudlin finds their music in the astral plane, they “bring it back” to earth, and compose it as closely as they can translate it.

Whether one belie ves in this or not, the music itself suggests a mystical quality. Bath literally sounds like nothing else ever composed — and the effect is absolutely beautiful, which seems counter intuitive in that it is considered metal. At least, as far as maudlin of the Well goes, "metal" is a very loose term, as much of their music is actually soothing and jazzy.

Maudlin of the Well released their first album, My Fruit Psychobells…A Seed Combustible in 1999. When I first found this album on the Internet, I expected with a title like that, one should expect some pretty weird stuff. And upon first listen to that particular album, I must admit I was equally startled as I was enthralled at what I heard. Like all of maudlin's music, their first album was haunting, beautiful, traumatic, urging, happy, loving, warm, powerful, and mysterious. It is exceedingly rare to hear such emotion conveyed in notes. Ever.

Now for their next album, Bath, multiply all that by ten. Bath, and its companion album Leaving Your Body Map, were both released in 2001 and continued in the vein of My Fruit Psychobells… with their excellence in expressing emotion. But each topped what My Fruit Psychobells… did in 1999. But of all three of their legendary albums, this one outshines them all, and in my opinion, tends to be more listenable than its counterpart Leaving Your Body Map.

The album opens with “The Blue Ghost/Shedding Qliphoth,” a particularly powerful piece which starts softly in its first two minutes with a single guitar plucking a strange progression of notes — beautiful, sparse, and tense. Then enters the alto saxophone solo, a sad melody across the ethereal space conjured by the backdrop of plucking guitars. Then, around minute seven, a sudden crescendo sends the entire piece into a maelstrom of wailing guitars, violent with passion.

The second track, “They Aren’t All Beautiful,” is the heaviest piece to be composed by the band, heavy enough to make even the metal veteran wince at its intensity and bombacity. The outwards intensity echoes desperate and powerful lyrics such as, “See through my eyes, POETRY!”

Track three, “Heaven and Weak,” showcases maudlin’s talent for interspersing soft, beautiful segments with frenzied metal without making it sound out of place — I can see this track being the highlight for many. Track four, “Interlude One,” is just that — an interlude into the next track featuring some nice acoustic guitar.

Track five, “The Ferryman,” begins with a positively evil sounding organ solo. Composed in a strange, Greek-esque seven/four time signature, the song is sung entirely in Latin and relates the story of a man’s descent into Hades aboard Charon’s ferry. The track ends with the echo of the ferry’s paddle plying through the cold subterranean water of the River Styx against the backdrop of groaning souls.

The end of “The Ferryman” also serves as the beginning of the next track, "Marid's Gift of Art." It is a transition point between the first and last halves of the album, reflected in the way the plying of water continues between the two tracks. Listening, I feel as if I’m being transported through a cold, subterranean tunnel, still aboard Charon's Ferry into the realm of death.

As the paddling continues into track six without interruption, one begins to hear an acoustic guitar strumming softly, getting louder and louder as the boat nears whoever is playing. This is an emotional high point of the album with soul-stirring lyrics when Toby Driver starts singing. Some of the most inspiring of his lyrics are, “I could make everything beautiful like you, Clean like you, Forever just like you.”

Despite the first six wonderful tracks contained at the front of the album showcasing maudlin's incredible talent, the last four of the ten tracks is where Bath's soul is contained. “Girl with the Watering Can,” track seven, is one of the most haunting songs I’ve heard, echoed in its off-putting five/four time signature. This is where the album descends into the concept of death in full force.

Echoing the beginning, "The Girl with the Watering Can" begins with the same melody as “The Blue Ghost,” only instead of guitar, a clarinet plays the sad melody. The apex of the album, “Girl With the Watering Can,” reflects the tragedy of losing the eyes of a child as one grows older. This sentiment is reflected in the lyrics, “Bitterness is all God hath created, a proud king amongst the failures of dreams," and "I held all of Heaven dead in my arms, And in one moment knew of all of Hell."

Track eight, "Birth Pains of Astral Projection," is the longest song on the album, clocking in around ten minutes. Yet again, it is amazing — it follows pretty much the same formula as "Heaven and Weak" and "The Blue Ghost" in that it begins softly and gets more powerful as the song progresses. Its lyrics are uplifting which balances the cynicism expressed in "Girl with a Watering Can."

"Interlude Two," track nine, bridges the powerful "Birth Pains…" with the tender "Geography." The song is about love — not necessarily amorous love, but love all the same. The beauty of the melodies of this comparatively short song will make this song close to my heart. It is the perfect closer to an almost perfect album.

Of the ten tracks, only two could be considered filler—“Interlude One” and “Interlude Two,” but they seem to work well and serve as bridges between tracks that would otherwise sound strange coming one after the other.

I suggest Bath to anyone who is just looking for something a little different. You don’t even have to be a fan of metal. I hardly listen to metal and am largely unfamiliar with the genre, but Bath may just be my favorite album of all time. The instrumentation is not overdone, as metal is often wont to do. It is refreshing to hear metal which lets melodies and chords carry solos rather than seeing how many notes one can fit into a beat.

One thing that has always bothered me is when people question the validity of anything artistic that is a bit hard to understand because of its avant-garde nature. This sentiment stagnates new ideas that challenge the norm. Bath is such a piece of art, and I can see how it could be intimidating in its avant-garde nature. But the ideas expressed  could not be expressed with the same effect outside the album.

So for its daring instrumentation, composition, and thought-provoking lyrics, this music is sure to invigorate and inspire aspiring artists, and indeed, all lovers of music, and not just those who listen to metal. It is for those who love to challenge and open themselves up to new ideas and gain a better of understanding of the world. As such, it is not for everybody, but anyone who goes through the trouble of finding this "lost" (it is now out of print) album will be duly rewarded with some of the best music every composed, no exaggeration. Five out of five stars.

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