I remember when I was a kid I was obsessed with really difficult music. I was really into composers like Liszt and Alkan because they’re music was what I thought was extremely complex and difficult. In 6th grade I even brought a copy of Moonlight Sonata to class to show off the third movement in order to explain how it was “the hardest piece in the world” (I can feel everyone cringing). Freshman year of high school, me and my friend would listen to a bunch of really hard classical music and gawk over how cool it was (well, mostly me, he was kinda just along for the ride). It was around this time that I started listening to those touhou metal remixes on youtube, and the same time a friend of mine showed me Yngwie Malmsteen. I could say that this was probably my first experience with metal, and I fell in love with. I always dreamed of going on America’s Got Talent and playing piano in a band that would play metal arrangements of Chopin pieces, and win the heart of america through my intellectual and technical playing.
Fast forward to 2016 and my favorite band is Ahab, I HATE Alkan with a passion, and I’d rather listen to Schoenberg or Penderecki than any romantic composer that ever lived. Needless to say, things changed. I realized that what I thought was super complex and hard was only just hard, and that purely technical and melodic playing only capture a fraction of the emotion that more atmospheric and creative music can. Basically, I grew up. I’m not sure if that was for the better or not, but the fact is I wouldn’t have listened to even 20 seconds of Thergothon even 3-4 years ago.
However I’ve always secretly yearned for some good technical and melodic playing, which is probably why I attach myself to djent despite the massive amount of garbage in the genre. Here comes Exmortus’ Ride Forth in my backlog and I see that dammed Neoclassical Metal tag. Full disclosure, my only experience with neoclassical metal had previously been the aforementioned Malmsteen, which was intentional. Malmsteen doesn’t seem that great to me now, and if he is supposedly the pinnacle of the genre, I’m not sure why I’d invest in it any more. But, it was in my backlog, and I have to give things a fair shot.
So personal rant aside, what do I actually think of the album? Well, there was certainly a nostalgia factor when I heard those classical period style melodies. It’s the kind of sound I didn’t know I wanted to hear all this time. Honestly if had heard of Exmortus about 7 years ago I probably would’ve obsessed over them. Aggressive enough with the death vocals to be edgy, with the classical style melodies I loved so much. However as I am now, this doesn’t register much more than nostalgia. These kind of songs don’t get me going as much as they used to. And it’s not even this band’s fault, the only composer before 1880 that I can listen to anymore is Bach, and only in the hands of the right players. Anything before then after Bach I can’t deal with, it just bores me.
That isn’t to say this is bad album. I certainly love guitar shredding as much as the next guy, albeit it’s not exactly my favorite thing to listen to. If anything, I feel like Ride Forth would’ve been much better if Exmortus had actually toned down on the thrash elements. Songs like Appassionata and Fire and Ice are legitimately 9/10 tracks and exactly what I want to hear from a neoclassical metal album, Appassionata especially. That track is completely instrumental, devoid of the death vocals that I feel add nothing but unneeded edge, and follows exactly the kind of format a classical piece would have. As the title indicates, I can actually feel the passion in their playing, and call my crazy, but this is the only time in the album I feel like the musicians are having fun playing. It’s kind of a weird thing to criticize, but I don’t feel any sort of umpf in the majority of this album. It seems like a lot of the time Exmortus is going through the motions, whether they actually are or not.
I love aggressive music as much as the next guy, but I don’t feel like the aggression here really works. When everything clicks, everything clicks. But otherwise, Ride Forth feels nothing more than decent music that appeals to our basic musical needs but nothing really more than that.