The world of progressive metal is pretty insular, so when a band makes a splash, it's hard not to hear about it. Vangough was able to do that with their first two albums, the acclaimed “Manikin Parade” and “Kingdom Of Ruin”, albums I must say I never got around to checking out as fully as I should have. I heard the praise coming from all corners, but for whatever reason, I never managed to hear more than a song or two at a time. Album number three is now upon us, once again attracting a flurry of critical adulation, and this time I'm not going to let the band pass me by again. If Vangough is on the verge of becoming one of the most important progressive metal bands, I feel it's my duty to dig in.
“Beyond The Madness” is a different tract for the band, a darker album than anything they had done before. There's an undercurrent of seething rage that brews inside these songs, bubbling up through he glossy shine of the instrumentation. This kind of music rarely features raw emotion in this vein, which makes the album an interesting listening experience, even before considering the quality of the songs. Vangough has managed to make an album that stands apart from the crowd, which even in progressive circles, is an achievement in and of itself.
When Clay Withrow sings “please God make us whole again,” in the opening “Afterfall”, it's hard not to get swept up in the sheer force he throws behind the song. These aren't songs that have been written and recorded for the sake of making a record, you can hear the sincerity in his voice as he is living the words. That feeling carries throughout the album, tying the more eccentric moments together into a singular identity.
The pounding rhythms in the opening song give way to heavy, modern riffs in the next, and a slow-burning build not long after. By the time we hit “Schizophrenia”, the band has covered such a wide variety of moods and sounds that it's difficult to figure out what's left, which is the point in the album where they unleash their most melodic chorus yet. It's the seminal moment in the record, not just because of how it sounds, but because it is the moment where my perception of the record becomes clear.
From a critical standpoint, there is next to nothing I can complain about. “Between The Madness” is a diverse collection of songs that are all exceptionally written. There is skill and feeling behind all of them, which is something I can't say all that often. That being said, there isn't much about the album that makes you want to come back to it and listen again and again. I understand the need for catharsis, but all the anger that got poured into these songs is not a particularly attractive feeling, so unless my mood matches that of the songs, it's a difficult album to sit through.
I'm of two minds when it comes to this album. The part of me that is a musician myself appreciates the time and skill that went into making this record, and wants to give the band all the praise in the world for their efforts. But the part of me that actually listens to records wishes the band could have tempered some of that with a few more moments that are enjoyable to hear no matter your mood. The record is so steeped in emotion that it's limited to a certain viewpoint. It's a shame, since Vangough does so much well on “Between The Madness”.