Song commentary for “11:59:59”
“A Kiss Before Dying”
Epic, really well crafted and emotive, this one (as mentioned earlier) had been around in one form or another (and in my head) for several years. Unlike the “Autumn Sonata” stuff, this wasn’t about one person in particular, but reflected the world-weary view of the main character, who had experienced just about everything, and saw the ultimate futility (there’s a cheery thought!) One of the biggest kicks I get out of this track is seeing the look on people’s faces when they hear Bob singing such a melodic, restrained vocal line! Great nylon-stringed guitar sound by Rob in one of the early passages.
I don’t remember if we set out purposefully to make this track instrumental, but that’s how it turned out. Really the one part of the record where we each give ourselves some shameless opportunities to solo! Personally, I really like the last two minutes which features some great riffs(the “Oddz and Endz” “Go Rob Go” and “G-Whiz!”,sections) and the “Gidhorra” piece where Rob and Chris do some serious shredding! This is probably the most self-indulgent song on the record, with all my silly titles for the various subsections, but I think the playing is enough of a pay-off!
How’s this for irony? Rob wrote the basic structure for this song very, very late in the game, as we were about 90% done with the record. We were seriously considering shelving it for the next record, it’s a good thing we didn’t! Along with “Sister” from “ADB”, this is becoming a signature song for AX
I came up with the lyrics and melody line, and Bob came up with the killer chorus. The lyrical concept is both specifically referenced for the main character, and can be applied universally as an axiom of sorts. Basically, what I was trying to say is that the universe is an immense and terrifying place, mostly due to its utter randomness. There is no such thing as “justice” or “karma”, merely probability and luck, and those that perpetrate great horrors on others are no more likely to suffer retribution than some 80-year old woman that’s spent decades working for the Red Cross. Unsettling as it is, we overlook the abject cruelty of nature by presupposing some kind of moral imperative is at work, which, unfortunately, does not have any empirical basis whatsoever.
As a sidebar of sorts, this track (along with some of the short connecting pieces) marks AX’s fascination (and mine in particular) with eastern melodies. I have to give a nod to the great Canadian band “The Tea Party” for inspiration on this and several future tracks, which we are currently working on.
For those Bob fans that were shocked to hear him sing so melodically on “Kiss Before Dying”, you’d better grab yourself a chair! We were never quite sure how this-how else can I say it? Light Ballad! would fit- other than my lyrical ideas of the protagonist harkoning back to a happier time when he knew some emotional reciprocity, but we thought it was too good to leave off the record entirely.
Thankfully Bob came up with a Neil Sadaka-inspired melody, and outstanding Beatle-esque harmonies and the song took flight. We’ve heard every criticism on this track, from “what a brilliant deviation” to “what the $^&*!!!???” but I’m glad in retrospect we took this leap. Our goal in AX was always to transcend genres, and to be, in essence, “unclassifiable”, much like Zeppelin or the Beatles. Not that I’m putting us in that rarified air just yet, but I suppose it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all, apologies to Homer Simpson!
“Beyond the Veil of Sorrow”
Another good job by Bob here, in adding the perfect vocal touch to a heavy, morose, but ball-kicking piece! I guess there’s a little nod to Savatage in both his vocal delivery and our music, and I would consider that a compliment. Both this track and the following “Looking glass” were inspired by the whole dichotomy between public persona and reality. Whether you’re talking about us as performers, the story’s protagonist as a hit-man, etc., there’s always that dramatic difference between what we see and what is, how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we really are. The song also represents the passage of time from the momentary euphoria or “Interlude” into a more somber and sobering reality for the character, who is, by the way, nameless.
“Looking Glass Memoirs”
A little more introspective and slightly less aggressive than “Beyond the veil”, “Looking Glass” is none-the-less coming from relatively the same place. Looking at it objectively, this is really two songs in one- the first half’s melodic chording and time signature belie the oppressive underlying theme, but that all changes at about the half-water mark, when the descent is easily palpable, shrouded in the Sabbath-esque riffs of doom amid the usual AX ridiculous time changes and signatures!! Again, I’m obsessed with perception vs. reality here, and the mirror serves as an appropriate metaphor. As before, very good work by Bob on vocals and placement, Scorsese on frenetic percussion and I guess the rest of us are ok!
All Bob all the time! When I recruited him back in March 2001 and went over the concept for the new record, he came up with the lyrics and melody line for the title track. Inspired by Tim McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, it none-the-less fits the central theme of a deeply compromised protagonist struggling with the road taken, and the final destination. This song is kind of the antithesis to “Fatality Complex” from the first album in that the original version absolutely blew chunks, so in completely re-working it we got it right this time! Adding the ultra-low guitar, “Deep Purple-Perfect Strangers” organ sound and Bob’s Jon Oliva-inspired vocal track really elevate this track to status deserving of a title song.
Song Commentary for “A Delicate Balance”
“Sister”, “Emotion”, “Sands of Time” AKA “Autumn Sonata Trilogy”
I’ve said before this is some of the finest music Rob, Chris and I have ever written, and certainly for me, extremely personal lyrically. Both “Sister” and “Sands of Time” were originally poems I wrote for/to someone, and “Emotion” (the middle section of the trilogy) was extrapolated or paraphrased from one she had written to me. Of course with the passage of time many great dramas are rendered maudlin and this is no different. However, it was very fresh in my memory and powerful at the time of it’s recording, and I think Marty and I worked well enough together to convey this. It’s never easy to impart your lyrics and melody lines to a vocalist and have their artistic vision satisfied without compromising your own integrity and mindset for the song, but we really did pull it off in this instance. Rob and Chris are just awesome on these tracks, and I was generally satisfied with my playing as well, particularly the string arrangements and piano. I think these three songs taken as a whole really represent Alchemy X at their finest for that particular period, as a cohesive playing unit, with songs that are very emotionally evocative, lyrically challenging, while technically ripe for “prog-heads”.
This was the first song that the five of us ever wrote together, as we basically pieced the entire thing in the studio over the course of a few days, and I added the lyrics shortly thereafter. Cliché as it sounds, my thought process really was the science of Alchemy, where the single ingredients, in this case, the five of us as writers and players, bore fruit which was greater than the sum of parts. I think Marty was the one who came up with the chorus melody line and the idea of an eponymous song, not that he would’ve phrased it quite that way…. Anyway, I think it works on all levels, with the possible exception being the very end of the song. In retrospect, I think we’d all rather have omitted the gang vocals.
This was the first song we ever played together, back in October of 1996, and in it’s original form paid some homage to Queensryche’s “Operation Mindcrime” (the song, not the album) in it’s dual-guitar attack and presence. There were pre-existing lyrics which were a little primitive, so I re-wrote them, and frankly, I’m not sure mine are all that much better, but what really kind of compromises the original intent of this piece is an ill-advised change in the chorus we made just before recording. I recently saw a live video of our first performance from December 1996 and the old version really sounds superior to what ended up on the record. Maybe someday that old version will make it onto a record as a bonus track! All in all, not up to our standards even for the time, but not really terrible as a first step.
“Requiem by Moonlight”
Another song composed by the five of us, with me adding vampire-themed lyrics later on. Musically it’s kind of a patchwork, with several styles veering in and out of the picture, but I think the playing was top-notch and captured reasonably well. Just to clear up any misconceptions, the lyrical premise was that of the malaise or mind-set of living in black and white in a color world, using the vampire as metaphor, not necessarily literally. As in “Alchemy”, those pesky gang vocals are on-hand, and again, I’m not quite sure we wouldn’t have been slightly better off without them!
Regrettably, this is the song Howard Stern played on his program when interviewing Chris Scorsese a few years ago, and while we love the thrash element, the break-neck speed of some of the passages, and the overall groove feel for most of the track, having people interpret it as AX’s “Signature” song was more than unfortunate. Don’t get me wrong, we feel strongly enough about this song that we still feature it in our live set, but for my money, gun to my head, if someone wanted one song that was totally indicative of all we brought to the table I would have to go with “Sister” from the first album, and “Penance” from “11:59:59”!