“Happy birthday to me,” I thought when I scrolled through Progarchives and found another contender for album of the year. Sure, my birthday was back in August, and I only found this album just last week. But looking at the release information for progressive rock/metal artist Amadeus Awad’s latest album “Death Is Just A Feeling,” I found it was indeed released on my birthday. That was enough for me to take a listen, and was I glad I did!
Born in Lebanon, Amadeus Awad has been coined “the Arjen Lucassen of the Middle East,” a major compliment considering the tremendous skill that comes with being compared to such a man. “Oh really?” I thought when I saw those words; no man could possibly be as quirky and able as Ayreon himself. But after my first listen, I couldn’t have phrased it any other way; I immediately thought of Ayreon’s dialogues on their albums, the amazing contributions of guest musicians, and the undeniable talent of the band leader. With no prior information on Awad before listening to his latest album, I was stunned to learn of his associations with some of progressive rock and metal’s most notable musicians, including Arjen Lucassen himself and Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals, and Marco Minnemann on drums on his latest album. (I won’t even bother speaking of Marco again in this post. How much free time does this guy have?) Learning this, I couldn’t help but have extremely high hopes for “Death Is Just A Feeling.” One of the first times I can ever recall, my ridiculously high expectations were met.
A note to all those that are judging a book by its cover right now with the dark, sinister looking album cover, you are being misled. Appearing nothing less than black metal, “Death Is Just A Feeling” is actually a six track, 47 minute opus containing so many different influences of progressive rock and metal that it’s hard for me to name them all. The album begins with an IQ-sounding keyboard introduction in the opener “Opia,” followed by Ben Harper’s authoritative narration. With a cold quality to his voice, the listener cannot help but feel they are being taught a valuable life lesson. Moments later, Anneke Van Giersbergen’s light and airy voice softens the mood, returning ourselves to an uplifted state. Throughout the album, the listener will feel their emotions manipulated by the light-hearted vocals of Giersbergen and Lucassen, while dragged down by Harper’s coldness and Elia Monsef’s gloomy vocals. For these characteristics alone the album is deserving of attention.
To learn why the album was titled “Death Is Just A Feeling,” I discovered the concept and themes driving the album, which include Awad’s own suicidal thoughts and loss of family members. As serious as such an idea is, Awad successfully provides impactful orchestrations without coming across as too bleak or hopeless. A great example is the song “Tomorrow Lies,” featuring guest vocalist and fellow-Lebanese bandmate Elia Monsef. With such a haunting voice, Monsef creates a vibrant atmosphere throughout the song. I especially love the Lebanese inflection on his voice, which comes across as more personal than ever, like a heart breaking during the actual recording process. The lyric “There’s a reason why tomorrow I’ll be searching for today / It will always lead to sorrow of the time you went away” always hits me so hard, and doesn’t help how catchy the delivery is. The depth of the song is discovered upon repeated listens, as the listener notices different keyboard passages and guitar rhythms with each play. The guest orchestral musicians appear in this track to add beauty to such a tragic track, while the guitar solo in the song’s bridge section fights back in negativity. “Tomorrow Lies” will play with your heart, ping-ponging your emotions from joyful to miserable.
The album closes with “Temporary,” one of my personal favorite tracks. Containing both Arjen Lucassen on vocals and Marco Minnemann on drums, this song features an all-star lineup of guest musicians. With colorful acoustic guitar chords, cheerful cello arrangements, and slide guitar, the song is a complete 180 from the previous five tracks. Coming across sounding as a mix of David Gilmour and Neal Morse, I was surprised by the sudden and drastic change in tone. Lucassen’s warm voice highlights the track, describing the last moments of life from a father. The final minutes give attention to Awad’s momentous guitar solo, reminding me of something taken from Dave Kerzner’s latest album. The album ends abruptly as it begins, containing spoken words from Lucassen himself. The listener cannot help but hit play again to continue Lucassen’s thought.
Despite being shorter than typical progressive rock/metal albums, “Death Is Just A Feeling” will be remembered, especially by fans of bands like Pain of Salvation, Opeth, Fates Warning, and even Dream Theater. My only critique is because the album begins as it ends, Awad’s inclusion of bonus tracks disrupts the infinite flow of the actual album. As amazing as those extra two tracks are, I almost wish they were left off the album so my iPhone can continuously play such an amazing album. Please support Amadeus Awad by following him on Facebook and Twitter for project updates. This album is the closest thing to the definition of a masterpiece, and I hope you all feel the same way.