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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Frame Shift

An Absence of Empathy

Review by Josh Turner

The previous album, Unweaving the Rainbow, put forth a respectable effort. It was decent and the concept was certainly interesting. It even happened to come out not too long before the release of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie, which is timely, considering its subject matter. However, the album was overly ambitious and quite possibly over-engineered. Not even Henning himself would disagree with this statement. I found it difficult to follow from a production standpoint and in the end it didn't mesh together all that well. While impressive, I found its very fabric easily unwoven. Enough with the constructive criticism as this release is a totally different matter. An Absence of Empathy rocks so hard, you may actually have an accident in your pants. With all the head-banging material, your attention certainly won't be absent. With the remaining ballads and ballast, you'll be empathetic to every word, every meaning. Due to its change in pace, the album will have you rubber-necking frequently. You'll need a masseuse to soften you up after the highs and lows of this adrenaline-filled affair.

I am a big fan of James LaBrie, but his high-pitched and penetrating voice didn't exactly fit with the excessively electronic sound of Frameshift. With this album, I think Henning Pauly has finally met his match. While Sebation Bach's voice is similar in nature to LaBrie's, it takes us down a couple of octaves. This slightly deeper voice gives the music a grittier feel, which is where this band needed to be all along. While it took a clash of cultures to bring these distinctly different artists together, the collaboration results in some outstanding music. From a fan's perspective, I'm sure Sebastian Bach is welcome back anytime, though I cannot say whether the two of them can overcome a conflict of personalities. If, on the other hand, the goal is to have new vocalists for each Frameshift album, I nominate Russell Allen and Daniel Gildenlow for the cause. Those voices would work wonderfully with this style of music. In the interim, Absence of Empathy offers enough to keep even the fussiest fan busy.

The album makes us ponder the senseless rationale behind torment and torture. However, you will feel neither agony nor affliction from being subjected to these grim topics.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Human Grain
Right off the bat, the first track is not only different than anything that came about in Unweaving the Rainbow, it is way better. The vocals are impressive and the production is overpowering. Bach's voice is not as friendly as a flute, but he certainly demonstrates the range of a wind instrument. He is mean, nasty, and angry. Like Jackie Chan, he is ready to rumble. Oddly enough, before all this angst-driven madness, the album opens with a brief clip from The Eagles' "Hotel California". This lives nowhere near the residence of the song's remainder.
Just One More
There is a great metal vibe in this one making it heavy and heinous. Sebastian uses plenty of vocal variety. While the tune is sung well, there is a proliferation of terrific riffs on top of the singing. The keyboards are cocky and compelling. The guitar solos are just majestic.
This track is totally twisted. The lyrics, the rhythm, the melody, everything, works perfectly here. Dee Snider would "want to rock" after hearing this one. There is nothing rudimentary about this piece, but it's instantly accessible. I hate to say it, but this is ideal for the radio and yet it's almost too good for it. This is my favorite part of the album. This one you've got to hear. Trust me, as there is no misinformation in this lead I am giving you.
I Killed You
There is a great misconception about this album. It's seems people have misconstrued its purpose. It's not condoning violence, but rather frowning upon it. On the surface, you might think this is a violent track. If you listen closely and follow the words, you'll find there is a twist at the end like an episode of Alfred Hitchcock. The music is softer than what came before. It's less about rage than it is about self control. As far as the singing, there is an ultra-cool layer of voices that result in some chilling harmonies.
This Is Gonna Hurt
This is literally and figuratively all the rage just as long as you don't accuse it of being trendy. I'm sure Sebastian doesn't think it is hip to be square. This song is Kansas fused with something that's a little more Hardcore. For some reason, when I hear this song, Pain of Salvation's "Dea Pecuniae", Megadeath's "Breadline", and Limb Bizkit's "Nookie" are among the songs that come to mind. While the other tracks talk about the acts of violence, this one talks about seeing the violent act through the eyes of a victim. Bach makes this one personal and you are right there with him. Something a mirror can't show us is how we appear to others. It cannot show us how victims see those who have assailed them either. The concept behind this song is very intriguing. An individual experiences what he has done to another and he actually knows what's coming. It's quite unsettling.
Push the Button
This is the most progressive one yet. There is a change in time signatures along with a thick layer of keyboards and sound effects. Still, the alloy is made completely out of metal. The chorus feels a bit like Queen's "We Will Rock You", only this one is loaded with added adrenaline. Drummer Eddie Marvin is like a robot on rocket fuel. Once his button is pushed, he appears to have no off switch. This one really grew on me, the twists and turns, the guitars for that matter; all of it will grow on you too.
In An Empty Room
Sebastian is soft-spoken in this one. He's much more laid back than his behavior in the earlier tracks and he doesn't lose his temper even for a second. The anger management sessions must have really paid off. It's a well-written ballad and the bridge is just brilliant. This is another one of my favorites and further substantiates Sebastian's abilities with a microphone. It's a true showcase of his talents. With a portfolio such as his, he could be the star of a Broadway musical, a singer in a rock n' roll band, or just freak out as the frontman to something more intense. He can basically put a voice to any kind of music.
Here we get Kansas keyboards along with heavy metal singing. Maybe there is a bit of Magellan in the mix as well. Bach hollers at the top of his lungs. His voice must have been hoarse after this particular session.
This is less like Wesley Snipes and probably more like Braveheart. We get pipes and bass drums accompanied by a synthesized symphony. The virtuous voice of Jody Ashworth comes to the forefront. This is the sort of stuff made for epic battle scenes. You can envision the company of soldiers in the movie Glory marching steadfast towards the opposing battalion. Much carnage is expected as consequence for their efforts to overthrow an enemy's fort. Through one of the passages, there is the hint of another campaign being fought in the Orient. As you may guess, this gets heavier when Sebastian takes the lead. His war cry broadcasts the battle charge. There may be stillness in the armies before the first blade is swung, but once the swords and shields clash, everywhere there is blood, sparks, and certainly tears. It seems like the point of this song is to reflect upon the wars of old where you had to look your enemy in the eye and witness their suffering. This is very much different than just pushing the button as talked about in the earlier track "Push the Button." As Henning's lyrics state, you have no choice, but to defend. It's a totally surreal experience being involved in this sort of irrational slaughter. The layered voices are imposing and overwhelm like a horde of army ants. They come out of the speaker spewing venom and hate. This song really gets the point across.
How Long Can I Resist
Kansas and Magellan come back again, but this time there is more of the latter. The instrumentals are like Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation. The singing, on the other hand, is a bit like Orphan Project. This is another one of my favorites as well, partly because I'm a big fan of all the bands it emulates.
When I Look Into My Eyes
This is like the earlier song "This is Gonna Hurt." You not only do the hurting, but feel the hurt all at the same time. You're both the torturer and the tortured. You can't comprehend the sadistic motivations behind these acts even though they were once your own. Now that you know their effects, you would take back all this heinous behavior in an instance. It humanizes someone who has acted inhumane. They are shocked by the revelation and horrified by their prior lack of compassion, in other words, an absence of empathy. Sebastian does an incredible job delivering this one. It's just another reason why he is such a fine fit for this album.
What Kind of Animal
Oddly enough, on an album that has been mostly heavy breathing, yelling, cussing, and shrieking, it ends on the shyest of notes. This song is light and fluffy like the earlier ballad "In an Empty Room." It seems everything comes in pairs as if Henning is following a mathematical formula. For every victimizer, there is a victim. For every style of music, there is something to complement it. This album maintains equilibrium and it is evident he put a lot of thought into this balance. I like the way it ends, because it adds an element of surprise not by knocking you off your feet, but by giving you one last chance to contemplate the concept. Sometimes the best way to be heard is not by raising your voice, but rather by lowering it. Likewise, Sebastian hits and holds many high notes with ease before it ends. This is the cleanest his voice sounds anywhere on the album and it is proof his powerful lungs are connected to an exceptional voice. The pianos and acoustic guitars are there as well to help reduce the tension. It's an invigorating ending to an album whose creator obviously has a strong presence of empathy for the sadistic world that surrounds him. While violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, taking a pass on this album is just plain stupid.
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