In this day and age when it’s all about doing things quickly, getting to the next place where “the action” is and always having several things going on at once, there is few music that makes me stop and really listen, with my eyes closed and my mind wide open.
Poets of the Fall create music that demands the listener to do just that in order to fully appreciate all the wonders within. Their fifth studio album, Temple of Thought will be released on March 21st. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy for review.
As always I was majorly exited to hear their new material as well as a little bit scared. I love Poets of the Fall for their willingness to experiment and their courage to constantly reinvent themselves. They have a very unique and recognizable style, but they manage to make each album sound differently from the other ones. So far it has been an often surprising but always wonderful journey through different genres. Yet with every new album there is a little bit of fear that they might try something that does not work for me, that is so far outside the boundaries of the music I generally listen to that I just can’t cope with it.
So I went and immersed myself in the music, ready to be surprised and knowing I would spent some time marveling at the lyrics. I was still unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster the album put me through. I went from smiling at its beauty to crying bitter tears and back again, in-between being completely in awe of what I was hearing. When I came up for air I was shaken to the core and rather speechless. It took quite a few more listens before I was ready and able to put my feelings into words. In the first days of listening I got so lost in the music that the world outside completely disappeared. When I came out of my trance-like state, I knew I needn’t have worried…
Temple of Thought is a beautiful album, musically as well as lyrically. It does not sound like any of its predecessors yet it is unmistakably a Poets of the Fall album. The music ranges from soft acoustic ballads to rockier songs, from pop tunes to more experimental ones, from simple melodies to very orchestral sounds.
All the songs feel new and fresh, yet there is an obvious connection to the preceding albums. The instrumentation always carries the song and supports the lyrics. Each instrument is just right, never too much or too little. Olli’s guitar work really shines in all of the songs. He makes his guitar cry and gives it a soothing voice, offers everything from soft finger picking to heavy riffs. All on the foundation of drumming that drives the songs forward as well as offering a steady beat to rest upon. In between is a layer of keyboards, sometimes hardly noticeable and sometimes swelling to take over the whole song. There are all sorts of sound effects too that I’m missing the expertise to describe. The important part for me is that the mix of different instruments is just right, that the music and the singing compliment each other and create a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts.
The sound is clear and full, it’s pure joy to just listen to the music. It never ceases to amaze me how a band that produces and mixes all their songs in their own studio still manages to sound better than at least 80% of all music out there. Captain is truly a master of arranging, mixing and producing music.
Last but not least the singing is he best I’ve ever heard Marko do. He covers everything from very low notes to high falsetto and does so flawlessly. I don’t know any other musician in rock or pop today who can cover such a range, but not only does he sing well, he also manages to always evoke the emotions that fit the lyrics.
Thematically all the songs can be connected by one word: Love. Love in different forms, shapes and sizes, from different points of view and at different stages. All of the songs? Those who have heard ‘The Happy Song’ (from the Xbox game ‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare’) may be wondering about this one, but bear with me until the end and I will explain.
If someone had told me beforehand that the entire album was about love, I might have cringed. There are a gazillion love songs out there and probably even more songs about love. So with dedicating an entire album to the subject matter, Poets of the Fall could have easily fallen into the trap of making an album full of trite, cheesy or meaningless songs that could have been entertaining but easily forgotten.
None of this is the case here. The songs cover all the emotions that anyone who has ever been in love, fallen in love or fallen out of love should be familiar with. The excitement and overwhelming desire at the beginning, the comfort and happiness of being there as well as the doubts and fears that sometimes come with it, the bitterness and sorrow when it ends and the healing and good memories after coming to terms with that. The songs even touch on some broader themes, but I will get to that…
From here on I will talk about each song individually. I’ve had by no means enough time to fully grasp everything or do an in-depth analysis of the lyrics, but I am giving you my first thoughts and impressions, fully aware that all these songs have many layers and I’m merely scratching the surface.
‘Running out of time’ the first song is one that immediately makes me smile. The music has this wonderful rock-feel with an almost Van Halen-ish guitar solo and driving drumbeat that gets into my feet and makes me want to get up and dance to it. The song starts with a guitar melody, made of a few notes repeated that makes me think of a ticking clock. A heavier riff contrasts this melody, as if both guitars were talking to each other. Then the drums kick in and take the song away. The guitar riff and some of the drumming remind me of ‘Save me’ off the ‘Revolution Roulette’ album. The singing is very rock, giving the song a bit of an 80ish feel. Yet the song sounds way too modern to be from that era. The way it is sung conveys the feeling of being in a great hurry to get somewhere, get things done, before running out of time. There are some great echo effects too.
The lyrics speak of a relationship that was difficult at one point but has gotten back to good terms. Yet the protagonist is still “hanging on to the ends of yesterday”, not really able to believe at first that his lover is not leaving. The chorus subtly changes from hinting that this relationship has ended to showing the realization that it has not and will not. Confessions are made, that it is easy to wallow in self-pity and harder to admit to being on the wrong track. Yet in the end the singer realizes “you made me see we are crazy running.” The songs ends abruptly, time has run out.
‘Temple of Thought’ is the first song on the album that brought me to the verge of tears. It is one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard and my immediate reaction was “I want someone to feel like that about me!” When Marko sings, “chills come racing down my spine” I can feel just that and get goosebumps that last for the rest of the song. It perfectly conveys the feeling of being deeply and utterly in love, knowing the feeling is mutual. The perspective in the song changes from “I” in the first verse to “you” in the second verse and “we” in the bridge. In the verses, the protagonist of the song starts from describing what he feels and wants to do to what his lover does and means to him to saying what it feels like when they are together. The chorus is a promise to his lover. In these lyrics I feel a mixture of very new love and all the excitement that comes with it, as well as love that has been there long enough to be sure of it. I really want to be so much in love again that I’d feel compelled to tell someone they are “the heart of my temple of thought”.
The singing is very emotional throughout the song, perfectly conveying the feeling sung about. Interestingly the very first line of the song and how it’s sung makes me think of the very first line in the Scorpions’ ‘Still loving you’ and how it is sung. I have no idea if that was intentional or not, but it’s there. The music and singing that leads up to the chorus reminds of the chorus of ‘Change’ from the ‘Twilight Theater’ album, the similarity being in the way the music flows.
The music in general has so many layers that I find it hard to put into words. There’s a haunting guitar that’s singing during the bridge, there are keyboards that sound like an orchestra of strings, drums that lay the foundation on top of which the song unfolds.
‘Cradled in love’, the first single off the album is a song that is objectively brilliant but personally doesn’t do much for me. The guitar melody is beautiful and has just the right quality to worm its way into anyone’s ear and get stuck there as a haunting tune. The singing is flawless, alternating between falsetto during the chorus and lower notes in the verses. Most rock singers I’ve heard so far can’t sing that high without losing most of their vocal power or just sounding off key, but Marko does it beautifully.
My first interpretation of this song was that it describes the feelings of someone who has arrived in a relationship, feels content and happy with it. One thing that bothered me was that I believed the song should make me feel happy, but there is an undercurrent of melancholia in the music that makes me sad. Now, looking at the lyrics again (and in relation to the beautiful video) I realize that it can also be viewed as the memory of a great love because the first two verses are entirely in the past and only the third one takes the listener to the present. Then the fourth verse could be seen as something new seen with the eyes of a love long gone, trying to find out if this new relation ship can be the same, can evoke the same feelings.
‘Kamikaze love’ is by far the most pop tune on the album. I had already heard the 45 second preview of the version that will be released as a single in Germany and despite liking the lyrics my first thought was that it sounds way too much like Sunrise Avenue, a band I hugely dislike. I was told the album version was different, but still this was the song I feared listening to most.
And now? I like it, I really like it and it’s so catchy I can’t get it out of my head. It does indeed sound different from the sample. The beats and sounds in the beginning have an “electro pop” feel to me. The song starts slowly, but takes off like a rocket towards the chorus with rocking guitars and drums as well as a beautiful layer of keyboards that keeps the pop-feel through the entire song.
The lyrics talk about love that is destructive, burning passionately and brightly, but will not end well. It’s a huge crush and overwhelming desire that will only lead to being hurt. The protagonist knows the outcome from the beginning, but doesn’t care, even actively chooses to overlook the facts “Out where reality awaits, I choose to fantasize”. Even though he knows “you raise me high to tear me down” he is too fascinated to care. He is well aware of how their relationship is flawed and that they can’t manage to make it work, watches everything fall apart and still begs to be taken over. In the end, he will be the one who has lost while “Miss Understanding” is “grinning through her teeth”
This might well be a continuation of ‘Don’t mess with me’ from the ‘Signs of Life’ album. It has a very similar feel to me.
Every Poets of the Fall album has one song that I cannot immediately access. That speaks to me in a language I don’t fully understand. ‘The Lie Eternal’ is such a song on this album. I hear a lot of desire in the song, but it seems to be unfulfilled. The general impression I get from it is not a positive one. It feels like an obsessive relationship but one that has long turned bad. There is none of the still positive “I don’t really care where this is gonna end” atmosphere of ‘Kamikaze Love’. Still, the protagonist cannot let go. “Cos it’s only you can touch me deep enough to heal”. He is pleading to be heard, then bargaining, just to get what he wants. Yet on some level he knows this is destructive. He sees being with his lover as a challenge, wants to prove that he can be right for her and himself. Yet the truth is he needs her, needs to be desired and is willing to do just about anything to get there.
The feeling of obsession I get from this song is similar to the feeling I get from Playground’s ‘Different Light’, if not as dark and hopeless as there. However, I cannot put my finger on why, it may have been evoked only by the line “Hell I dare you to see yourself in a different light”
The moment I heard the first sound of the crying guitar in ‘Skin’, I knew the song was going to kill me. It immediately evoked the same emotions as the music of ‘No End no Beginning’ from ‘Alchemy’ that still hurts every time I hear it. The music alone is very powerful, yet the lyrics are what make the song cut me so deeply that I’m bleeding. On first listen the words burned themselves into my brain and not only was I crying hard, I also found myself whispering: “Get out of my head! Please, get out of my head!”
The song deals with love that was once good and strong and beautiful, that might have been supposed to last forever, but somehow got lost on the way, went wrong and has ended. The protagonist here is still wondering if there is anything he could have done to change things for the better, but he knows their love has failed and there is no turning back. All that is left now are memories of better days, “this house is full of stories we both told”. He has tried to forget and pretend that he is OK, that he has healed, but he knows it’s not true, because “I have you tattooed on my skin”.
Everything about this song hurts. It opens doors in my mind that were supposed to be kept closed, at least for now, because what lies behind is not to be looked at too closely. Now they are here all these emotions and memories that I so carefully hid from myself and I have to deal with them. Maybe that will help me come to terms with things.
What I think of the song? Do you have to ask? If something touches me so strongly it can’t be wrong. It’s easily my favorite on the album and might well become my all-time favorite, because absolutely everything about this song is perfect.
What strikes me about ‘The Distance’ right away is the drumming. It makes me think of ‘In the Air tonight’ (Phil Collins) or ‘Invisible Touch’ (Genesis). I like both songs so that works for me. I also love the distorted guitars in this song, they keyboards that are laid out like a carpet for the song to stand on and the voice effects used that make it sound as if it is coming from a distance.
The lyrics speak of lovers separated physically as well as emotionally, but they have not split up, they just have to deal with the fact that they are apart for the time being. In the beginning the protagonist wonders how quickly his strong emotions have lessened. He reminds himself of everything he loves, evoking feelings that seemed to have been forgotten a moment ago. There’s quite some pain in this song and underlying fear/worry about the state of their relationship. He assures both of them “if we could touch now, just hold on now, bridges would never burn again”. Being apart is hard for him to take, it’s frightening, but in the end hope for a brighter future wins over “there’ll be a time when our hearts beat the same.”
With ‘Show me this life’ the smile was back on my face. It’s easily the most upbeat song on the album and has a distinct “Let’s not worry about tomorrow and live now” feel. The music is very upbeat and the guitars are just amazing on this track.
The song is about longing for love, companionship and sex. The main character here is a bit lost and disoriented, might have just come out of a relationship, is looking for answers and cannot find any, while he slowly realizes that he might be the one complicating things.
He finds to feel love, it doesn’t always need to be perfect and it’s not always about looking for a new relationship. Sometimes it’s just about spending a night together, feeling the comfort of someone else’s skin, just aching for someone to share one’s bed with and fulfillment is “just a fantasy away” hence the plea to “take me home tonight”.
Yet in the end he admits that he does not want to be alone and realizes he might already be in too deep, feeling “your razorblade caress of love”
The vibe I get from ‘Morning tide’ is the same I get from ‘Dawn’ off the ‘Carnival of Rust’ album and for me this is a continuation of that story. The song is full of hope and willingness to start anew. While in ‘Dawn’ everything has broken down and is falling apart and the couple has to pick up the pieces of their lives, in ‘Morning tide’ they are ready to go on together into a new life ”leaving behind all our sorrow and pride”. The worst is behind them and after greeting the dawn, they are ready for a new morning, a new day. It’s a promise as much as a plea, describing how they will “brave the crashing waves” and asking “won’t you sail to the shore with me.” The main character is sure of their love and knows he would do everything to keep it alive. Yet all he can do is offer all he has to give and hope for a positive reaction. It doesn’t sound like there’s much doubt though.
The music contains a piano melody that rises and falls like waves and an acoustic guitar that softly carries me through the song like a boat would carry me on the water. There is a lot more to the music, rising and falling together with Marko’s voice. His singing is incredible, very low register, very soothing. This song is so beautiful it moved me to tears. Not to mention the goosebumps I got while listening to it. And if I were asked to sail off into a new life in this way, hell, I would not hesitate for a second.
‘The Ballad of Jeremiah Peacekeeper’ fills my head with images of a gunman standing on a porch in some deserted western city or an old farm maybe, looking out at a desert, waiting for something to happen. I can clearly see him standing there, wearing a long coat and a Stetson – all black of course, even if that is a cliché. Jeremiah is a watcher over the world and its people. He keeps them safe and at peace, suffering in their place if need be. To live through all that he needs love and acceptance from the people he is protecting. He has magical- or superpowers to make reality bend to his will. Jeremiah could well be interpreted as some god, but even with all his powers he seems too human and vulnerable for that. This song pulls at my heartstrings, but I cannot yet put the feelings into words.
The music is rather bombastic and orchestral with bells, strings and a background choir added to drums and guitar. All of this works very well for a ballad that is sung so convincingly it never drifts off into kitsch.
All the other albums end with a classic ballad and this one fits in well with them, but this time the band decided to include a bonus track.
After the last bell of the previous song has rung out, there is a pause on the album. ‘The Happy Song’ comes as quite a wake-up call after that. It was written for ‘Alan Wake’s American Nightmare’ and offers a look into the mind of the main character’s evil twin Mr. Scratch, who wants to take away everything Alan loves. From all I’ve heard and read about the game I take it that Mr.Scratch is a psychopath and a killer.
The song has few and repetitive lyrics, but the way it is sung and the way different sound effects are used it gives a pretty good impression of how I imagine the mind of Mr. Scratch to look like. He announces to the world that he has “told you I’m a psycho” and seems to have fun with it. All the different voice effects and other tricks make the song fun to listen to so the title is fitting. Also Mr. Scratch seems to be quite happy in his own world.
And how does this relate to the common theme of love? Welcome to the dark side of it! The character in this song apparently loves what he is doing and who knows, he might even consider killing an act of love.
Before I end this review, a few words on the booklet and cover art. When I first saw the cover I thought that, while I liked the idea of a good and evil side to all things and the use of a tarot card to express this, it was a bit too Marko-centric for me. I still prefer the covers of ‘Signs of Life’, ‘Carnival of Rust’ and ‘Revolution Roulette’ that do not show any of the band members, but together with the rest of the booklet this one makes more sense to me. The tarot card theme is kept throughout and well excecuted. What I like best is the band picture in the center of the booklet. Without describing it here all I can say is that it makes me grin. I simply love their sense of humor.
With this, I will leave you and I wish you a good journey through this album once it arrives on the shelves and in your CD player or as a digital copy in your download folder. If you love Poets of the Fall I assure you that you won’t be disappointed. This album contains some of everything that makes them so special as a band and I’m sure it contains something for each one of their fans.