Keyboard wizard Michael Stribling takes his usually sunny disposition in a bold new direction with this dark tour-de-force that soundtracks an epic journey from the highlands to the city to exile and, finally, safely into the arms of love.
Stribling’s imagined story takes place in the foreboding depths of the medieval ages, and as such, he has cooked up a musical alchemy that is every bit as brooding as those dark times. But as in those days, there are bright spots in the music as well, so all is not doom and gloom.
This is not to say that the doom and gloom is bad. In fact, this makes the music that much more dramatic and compelling. The bits of sunshine that do peek through provide glimmers of hope for a better future.
The set opens with the subdued pop anthem “Spirit of the Highlands,” which gains momentum in the middle section with some propulsive percussion and establishes an initial sense of hope and confidence. “The Royal City” is as regal as it sounds, with synthesized horns heralding great expectations.
Clouds begin to form with “Dark Times (The Inquisition),” a dynamic track that interestingly starts out sounding like a ubiquitous piece of incidental music from the 1960s/1970s Mission: Impossible television series and unlikely becomes the most rocking piece on the CD, like dark pop.
The highlight of the album is “Miserere Mei,” a total creep-out that sounds like a Gregorian chant gone horribly wrong, but in a good way. After a very gothic, Transylvania-style pipe organ intro, an eerie choir of male and female voices chants “Miserere Mei” to a crescendo, followed by a dark synthesized passage, and then more chanting. The choir sounds similar to the choir in John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” suite from the Star Wars prequels, as well as the choir in the musical motif during the encounters with the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This one track encapsulates the spirit of the CD and is especially spooky at night.
Although not the final track, “Desolation and Absolution” is a peaceful resolution to the involved themes preceding it. The serene and tranquil tones instill a sense of quiet release and expectant hope for the future.
Once again, Michael Stribling has used his musical canvas to render a portrait of a visceral world of drama and emotion, and it is quite the experience to behold.