The 25th Hour
Since discovering The Perfect Machine a few years back, I've developed a very fond affection for Italian power/prog experts Vision Divine. Michele Luppi is admittedly the single greatest recipient of my affection, but the trio of albums that the band made during his time with them illustrate the entire group at their creative and musical peak. The 25th Hour is the final album of this trio, and probably the most mellow of the three.
Like most of the band's work, and specifically with Luppi, almost every piece that was composed for this album is supremely smooth and memorable. A relatively reserved rhythm guitar sound (definitely not as prominent or as edgy as that heard on The Perfect Machine) combined with a great deal of synth work ensures that as usual, Luppi's vocals are the primary focus. Without coming off as too much of a fanboy (and it's already painfully obvious that I am), there's a bloody good reason he's considered one of the very best singers in metal, and his final tour with Vision Divine is nothing short of exemplary in that regard. He is as distinctive as he is high and clear, and the trademark sound of his own layered vocal tracks is what makes songs like "Eyes of a Child" so outstanding and emotionally powerful.
Enough about Luppi. After all I'm shortchanging the real mastermind of Vision Divine, Olaf Thorsen, who has turned this band into the metal equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci: inventive and visionary. Despite Vision Divine's reputation as a relatively "light" metal project, none of his guitar or arrangement work since Stream of Consciousness has been anything other than terrific. Actually, the lack of extreme crunch or ridiculous speed is probably something that endears VD so deeply to a number of people, myself included. The music here is so carefully crafted and thoughtful that you can almost feel a map being drawn by the wandering notes, the tasteful synth lines, and the acrobatic, lushly layered vocals and guitar. It's enough to give me chills.
The 25th Hour takes the listener on a journey through the mind of a madman whose last sanity, his guardian angel, has died. This is a continuation of the story begun, I believe, in Stream of Consciousness, and includes some of the melodic themes from that album. The band tells the story much better than I, and while I always prefer and recommend hardcopies over digital versions of albums, The 25th Hour is an absolute must in this regard. The liner notes include as much text as the lyrics, and you're truly missing the whole experience if you don't have the complete package.
My favorite tracks here are "Eyes of a Child", "Alpha & Omega", and probably the brief but stunning finale, "Ascension" because of the great heights that it rises to, as well as the flawless finish that it puts on such a wonderful album. I haven't moved on to Vision Divine's most recent offering without Michele Luppi yet, just because I feel that something profound will be missing from the equation. I am sure that I will someday soon, but I'm certain that this trio of albums, including the third and final, will remain my favorites. The 25th Hour is a sweeping, intelligent, and evocatively thoughtful composition which ties up any musical loose ends that the band might have had. It's a very different experience from the first two albums of this era of the band, but certainly of the same heart and quality of work. Bravo Vision Divine, an impeccable finish to a masterful storytelling and musical experience.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 9.0 out of 10