Tuesday, June 21

Zero Hour - The Towers of Avarice

Zero Hour
The Towers of Avarice


Preface: I have wanted to write a review for "The Towers of Avarice" for a long time. I don't like to pick favorites, but if I do have a favorite album, this is probably it. As you might imagine, this was not an easy task; I have been brainstorming for a long time ways in which to put my love of this album into words, and I don't believe that it is entirely possible. That said, I will do my darnedest to express my thoughts and feelings, and this may require a bit of a departure from standard procedure, so bear with me. If this review seems at all over-the-top or flowery, that is because it needs to be; there is no other way that I can describe this album.

As they say in Sweden, "Haters are welcome." You have been warned.

With that, let us begin.


The album is a very enigmatic art form. A poorly written album can quickly wear out its welcome, dragging a collection of good songs deep into the mire of mediocrity, but a well-written album does just the opposite: it becomes much greater than the sum of its parts, going far beyond what could be accomplished with a mere grouping of songs. The best albums flow together as cohesive works, and fulfill a role much more important than simply entertainment: they speak to some fundamental truth, imparting upon the listener greater knowledge of what it means to live, what it means to die, what it means to be human.

But in my opinion, there is one album that may perhaps go beyond all the others, and this album is "The Towers of Avarice." Grotesque but beautiful, cold but emotional, reflective but epic, filled with both hope and despair, clarity and illusion, "Towers" stands out as a dazzlingly brilliant spire of truth in the darkness and confusion of human existence. Based loosely on Fritz Lang's classic dystopian film "Metropolis," it tells the story of a man fighting for ideals in a world devoid of them, though both the vivid lyricism of singer Erik Rosvold and the incredibly creative compositions of twin brothers Jasun and Troy Tipton (guitar/keyboards and bass, respectively). Between the aforementioned musicians and drummer Mike Guy, the musicianship here is impeccable; both technically precise and emotionally deep, it brings out the best of each musician, and to build on an earlier theme, the band as a whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

The music here is quite mind-boggling at first, as there is little in the way of traditional song structure or recurring melodies, and the constant time changes come at the listener with seemingly no rhyme or reason. However, given time, "The Towers of Avarice" slowly but surely reveals itself to be a thoroughly entertaining and unprecedentedly deep compositional masterpiece. In a way, the album flows very much like a movie. The first three tracks (out of six) function collectively as a rising-action sequence of sorts, slowly raising the tension for the fourth, a quiet track appropriately titled "Reflections." This in turn serves as a kind of "calm before the storm" moment preceding the epic fifth track, which is the centerpiece and climax of the album. The album ends on a haunting note with the desolate "The Ghosts of Dawn," and at a mere 45 minutes, always leaves the listener hungry for more.

Perhaps I should tell of how I first came upon "The Towers of Avarice." I was introduced to Zero Hour about a year and a half ago by a friend who was listening to "Towers" on a daily basis and told me to check it out. To tell the truth, I didn't like it at all on the first listen. The compositions were so complex that it seemed almost to be random, forgoing any semblance of musicality in favor of technicality, and (on a purely subjective note) the futuristic tone of the album didn't sit well with my newly-discovered love of folk metal. I put down the album and didn't come back to it until a week later, when my friend's constant praise of the album persuaded me to give it another try. I began to listen to it every day while riding the train home from school in an attempt to make myself understand it, and by the fifth listen, I began to like parts of it. With every listen, I found that it made more and more sense, and was, in fact, as musical as it was technical, and as natural as it was machinelike. This is what makes "The Towers of Avarice" great - it grows on the listener like no other album I have heard before or since. In fact, well over a year (and probably around 200 listens) later, "Towers" continues to grow on me. Every time I listen to it, I find new subtle things that I hadn't noticed before, and I continue to find it more and more brilliant. While it may be an extremely difficult album, it is also an extremely rewarding album, and the effort put forth by the listener is repaid many times over.

But to truly understand "The Towers of Avarice," one cannot start with my introduction to it in 2009, nor the release of the album in 2001, nor even the debut of "Metropolis" in 1927. If you wish to understand this album, you must follow me on a journey through dreams, in which I will take you 2400 years ago to the city of Athens, not too far from my home on Mount Olympus, when a man by the name of Plato began to lay the written groundwork for modern thought. Plato posited that there existed fundamental archetypes - ideal forms to which all things aspire - which, though we cannot perceive them, govern the universe and its movements. While most in western society no longer believe this, looking instead for particularities and empirical proof, it is nonetheless a noble ideal, and "The Towers of Avarice" may be our most substantial manifestation of this ideal. In other words, we may not be able to know the archetypal album, but if there is such a thing, "Towers" is pretty damn close.

All dream-journeying aside, I would recommend "The Towers of Avarice" not only to fans of progressive metal, but to anyone who enjoys music that is both thoroughly challenging and highly rewarding. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word - an utterly brilliant album that takes the listener on a journey into the very core of the human condition, building up to an immense, towering climax and leaving us at the end with nothing but our ideals and the burning desire to listen to "Towers" one more time. Magnificent.

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Morpheus's Rating: 5/5

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