Ambition isn’t a thing that eludes Tom Phillips. From their humble beginnings as an old school Doom Metal trio, While Heaven Wept evolved into a seven-piece that – while still relatively subdued in terms of tempo – combines influences from many subgenres into a unique, majestic form of Heavy Metal. For me, as a fan of their massive epic ‘The Furthest Shore’, the announcement that ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ would be a fourty minute song (divided into eleven chapters) meant anticipation. And expectations are met; ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ is a beautiful work of art that has brought While Heaven Wept to a whole new level once again.
Labelling the music on this album isn’t an easy task. There seems to be a basis of symphonic Heavy Metal, but it definitely has a progressive edge to it. The progressive side isn’t all that surprising, as Phillips never made a secret of his admiration for Fates Warning and the album features contributions from Fates’ co-founding guitarist Victor Arduini and former drummer Mark Zonder, though the most “Metal” passages of the album are probably closer in atmosphere of the latter’s original band Warlord. Also, there are piano interludes, balladic segments and purely classical bits. Hell, ‘Icarus And I’ even features a section that has a Black Metal vibe, due to the dissonant chords and harsh vocals.
Phillips isn’t the only reason why this album is so incredible. Throughout the band’s existence, he has always profited from the strengths of his fellow musicians. Singer Rain Irving has an enviable range that is perfectly able to carry this masterpiece emotionally, Jason Lingle’s keyboards are essential to the album’s sound, Mark Shuping’s strings are tear jerking and Christopher Ladd’s work on the classical guitar is simply a revelation. The cooperation of the latter two on the breathtaking overture ‘Introspectus’ is more beautiful material than on many a contemporary album, but ‘Suspended At Aphelion’ has 35 additional minutes!
To get an idea of the sheer scope of the album, just listen how the progressive instrumental chapter ‘Indifference Turned Paralysis’ moves into the epic Metal of ‘Souls In Permafrost’ through the heart wrenching piano ballad ‘The Memory Of Bleeding’. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The enormous amount of emotion could have easily carried on too far into the cheesy and the many layers of instruments could have turned into hollow bombast, but instead, the results are overwhelming. It is sort of ironic that an album that tells a tale of ambition and failure succeeds at its own ambition so well.
‘Suspended At Aphelion’ isn’t an easy album by any means, but it is well worth the time it takes to grow. There are many subtleties to grasp, but more importantly, there are many beautiful melodies and engaging rhythms to immerse yourself in all throughout the album. Or song, if you will. It will be hard for an album like this one to find its audience in the current Metal scene and its constant quest for louder, lower tuned and more extreme, but its sincerity should be enough to convince anyone with an open mind and a heart. Bonus points for the surprisingly dynamic mastering job.
Recommended tracks: ‘Indifference Turned Paralysis’, ‘Souls In Permafrost’, ‘Introspectus’