|Longings Past Discography (1992-1994)|
|Longings Past Discography (1992-1994)|
Epic heavy metal from USA, discography of two full-length albums released in 1992 (Re-relased 2008) and 1994 (Re-released 2009).|
Epic heavy metal is one of those few musical genres that still remains largely unexplored, and even more so in 1992. In fact, in 1992 a metal band of any sort had to be fairly bold to release an album and expect it to gain them a profit of any sort, as metal was quickly on the decline and the Seattle-based monstrosity called grunge was quickly on the rise. However, James Shellberg and his cohorts seemed to have no concern with popularity and success at all throughout their career, as is evident through their very esoteric musical style as much as the date of their releases. Despite the lack of commercial success with his previous band, Enchanter, Shellberg would not be deterred, quickly putting together a new mishmash of individuals and giving them the moniker "Longings Past". Despite the fact that Shellberg was forced to take up both guitar and vocal duties for the album, Meadows of Maseilya was released very shortly after their creation.
It would be quite a feat to find anything that sounds remotely similar to this album, besides its 1994 successor or Enchanter's demo material. It shares a few similarities with Virgin Steele's 1990s material, and perhaps with the early work of Fates Warning, but in terms of what sort of feeling the composition creates, I have to say that Meadows of Maseilya is in a realm entirely of its own. In writing this album, Shellberg seems to have stumbled across a very personal yet arcane feeling rarely ever seen in music, though often seen on paper in the form of fantasy literature. In essence, it feels that Shellberg has transposed the magical coming-of-age quest of a young man from paper to cassette.
The album starts off by transporting the listener to the world of Tallahan, the classic fantasy narrator assertively setting the stage for the rest of the album over some cheap but well-executed keyboard symphonics. It immediately comes across as the cheesiest thing you've ever likely to have heard, perhaps something you would have heard in your cousin's basement while playing Dungeons & Dragons in the late 1970s, but it does what it does unashamedly, and it does it well, tastefully leading into the first song of the album proper, "Peak of Almashia". The song has a fitting title, conjuring up nothing more than the feeling of riding out towards some magical crag high in the mountains full of confidence, ready to face what's out there. From "Peak of Almashia" to the finale, "Upon a Dragon's Wings", the album flows beautifully, staying, while imperfect, very consistent throughout.
The focal point throughout the album is Shellberg's vocal performance, and I have to say that he lives up to the part he wrote for himself. Despite the fact that he's clearly not the most technically adept vocalist in existence, he is passionate and extremely dedicated to the role he portrays, never once straying from the viewpoint of the young male protagonist throughout the course of the album; he really seems as if he lives in a world of magic and dragons and secluded peaks, and is ready to face it head on. The personal feeling he manages to convey with this technique is, as I've said, practically unparalleled in metal, if not all of music. David DeFeis gives a similar and noteworthy performance in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Part II, but he can't really compete with Shellberg. Mark Shelton probably could, except that his performance tends to convey a feeling that his character is on the outside looking in on events, or is an old man who participated in them long ago and is now recounting them. Still, while Shellberg adds the role of character to his list of duties, both are able to seem author and storyteller of their material simultaneously, and it seems to me that this is because to the best of my knowledge they both handle songwriting duties exclusively or at least almost exclusively, and thus are able to establish complete control over their craft.
On the other side of the spectrum, the only thing that disappoints me on this album is the drumming in certain areas, and the reason it's disappointing is that it's clear that whoever is writing the drum lines knows how to do it. Rich Copeland, who also played in Enchanter, is the assumed drummer on this album, and whether he or Shellberg or both handled the songwriting I don't know, but it's annoyingly inconsistent. I suspect it was Shellberg, as the album seems to be entirely his project and the other two musicians merely guests. Continuing with this assumption in mind, it really becomes more disappointing to see that he was sloppy in some of the drum writing. It fits in perfectly with the guitar in songs like the title track or "Peaks of Almashia" but in some of the more aggressive sections, such as in "Warming Embers", "The Dream Catcher", and "Dawns", the drums seem almost at odds with the guitar, clashing as if the drums are competing to be faster. Now, I do realize that given the headstrong nature of these sections, such a technique doesn't completely fail to convey the intended feeling, but at the same time, it seems that Shellberg should have been more careful in his composition of these sections to keep up to par with the rest of the album.
However, the occasional drum slip-up is really my only complaint with this album, and it's a very small one when compared to the mastery it achieves through most of its duration. As I said earlier, it really is incredibly consistent, as I'm sure Shellberg knew was a necessary thing to achieve the feeling of a real young man's life it presents us. Now, don't get me wrong, the album has its stronger moments; it really seems to shine in the slower, more introspective sections. However, these would become stale very quickly if they weren't interspersed with bouts of confidence and aggression. In fact, the album would also fail to be a realistic story if it weren't for those ups and downs, as I'm sure Shellberg was aware when he was writing it. Meadows of Maseilya truly is the tale of a young man; full of youthful hope and confidence in "Peak of Almashia", at peace in the slower section of "Warming Embers," then more confident again and more experienced later in the song and in "The Dream Catcher", indicating the experience he gained in "Peak of Almashia", and thus further establishing a sense of verisimilitude; thoughtful and surrounded by an arcane wonder in the title track, which is really the crux of the album and the climax of the story; and finally looking back over what he's already thought and accomplished in "Dawns" and "Upon a Dragon's Wings".
Long story short, this is a truly unique album that captures a feeling wholly of its own (at least in my experience) and anyone into epic metal, concept albums, fantasy literature, or even music in general should check out this masterpiece, given the chance. With Meadows of Maseilya, Shellberg has earned the right to be named among the greats of fantasy literature and epic metal. This album really feels as if it's the first and one of the only of its kind, and while musically flawed, has succeeded in mastering what nothing and no one else has really accomplished. Shellberg, my hat's off to you.
1992 Meadows Of Maseilya (2008 Re-Release)
1994 An Angel's Tale (2009 Re-Release)
In 1992, James Shellberg graced us with the unique epic metal masterpiece Meadows of Maseilya which featured his shy, warbling, yet charming tenor over some very progressive power metal that alternated between aggressive riffs and ponderous, introspective passages. The 1994 follow-up An Angel's Tale attempts to capitalize almost exclusively on one side of that dichotomy; namely, the ponderous introspection. While, given the quality of these passages in Meadows, this may seem great on paper, the songwriting is weaker and less diverse, and ultimately fails to live up to its predecessor in virtually every way.
That being said, this is still very distinctly Longings Past; the subtle, atmospheric riffs under Shellberg's singular vocal style are unmistakable; yet at the same time this is definitely a different beast from Meadows of Maseilya. It really has a distinct aesthetic from the debut; while it's similar in that it's a concept album about a young person's emotional journey, the riffs are much simpler, and it borders on rock and pop much of the time; albeit Longings Past's singular brand of strange, esoteric rock and pop. There are some definite metal sections, but they're undermined by the heavy pop influences, the simplistic songwriting, and the limp production, which focuses on Shellberg above all else; the guitars are heavily muted, although strangely enough the bass has a pretty strong presence.
Luckily, even this limper, more laid-back style has its shining moments. Of note here are the tracks "A Somber Mist" and "Eternal Glow", which together more or less constitute one coherent song; the songs here are broken up into shorter tracks, unfortunately, with the exception of the last two songs, which makes it nearly impossible to get anything out of any of the songs without listening to the entire album. But, back to "A Somber Mist" and "Eternal Glow" - they feature an incredibly soft, emotional vocal performance from Shellberg that will make most listeners smile, if not tear up a bit. He sounds about as far from masculine as is humanly possible, but it fucking works anyway. Most of the album is in this vein, with notable exceptions being the second half of "Drift With the Wind", "The Ghostly Hour", "Ethereal Quarter", and "Thoroughfare of the Gods" which actually sound like metal, hearkening back to the debut - "Ethereal Quarter", in fact, hearkening back to the song of the same name by Shellberg's previous band, Enchanter - the melodies are definitely borrowed from that song, and it really works - it's one of the best tracks here.
"The Goddess" and "Epitaph (Song for Brittany)" are more or less bonus tracks; the liner notes of the re-release even say as much. They are not part of the concept of the rest of the album, although "Epitaph" definitely sounds like it could be; it contains many melodies we've heard earlier on the album, as well as the softer approach we're used to. "The Goddess", on the other hand, has a thicker production and a more aggressive style than the rest of the album. It hardly even sounds anything like Meadows of Maseilya - the closest thing I can compare it to is Enchanter; it sounds like something that could have been written between the Ethereal Quarter single and Meadows; the problem is, it's Shellberg singing here, not Enchanter's vocalist, Brian Osborne, and it's really not a very good fit. While Shellberg makes an admirable attempt with the material, it would be much, much better with a shrieker like Osborne than with Shellberg's flat, warbly tone that really doesn't work for much other than Longings Past. The riffs are fantastic, but it's almost painful at times noticing how Shellberg completely trashes the song; the minor key just completely clashes with his warm voice.
Overall, An Angel's Tale is a patchy, sometimes boring and sometimes great album that definitely has its moments but fails to live up to its predecessor and fails to really make much of a mark in the genre of epic metal as Shellberg's previous material did. I would recommend giving it a try, but it's not something I've really tended to revisit over and over like I have with Shellberg's other work.
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