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Redemption’s Nicolas Van Dyk sheds light on new album “This Mortal Coil”

Nicolas Van Dyk, guitarist/song writer for progressive metal band Redemption, featured by Powerline after the release of their previous full length album, has been kind of enough to chat with us again! Thanks Nick!

Glad to be back!

*Congratulations on the release of This Mortal Coil. It must feel good to have another chapter for Redemption underway, especially given the trials of the last few years!

Yes.  It’s been an interesting learning experience, that’s for sure.  Glad to still be here and making music.

 *Tell us a little bit about what you are trying to achieve musically with the new album as compared to past works.

We have always tried to combine heavy, aggressive, riff-oriented music with strong melody.  I would say the last four albums have been a constant evolution in that style, and with This Mortal Coil we have the heaviest guitar tones we’ve ever used, so the contradiction has been pushed, I think, as far as we can.  The melodies are very strong, we use more harmonies in the choruses than we have in the past, and yet the guitars are often quite brutal.  It makes for an interesting mixture!

*Your last album was written over the course of about a year and a half. When did you start formulating ideas for this record?

I had some ideas when I was undergoing therapy in 2009, but the bulk of it was written in the first six months of 2010.

*Snowfall on Judgement Day was an absolute blast, one of my favorite releases of the year, featured some guest sports including James Labrie of Dream Theater, and was critically acclaimed. That is quite a legacy to live up to. How do previous successes affect the writing process going forward?

We definitely are aware that the bar keeps getting raised.  We really liked Snowfall as well and knew that topping it was going to be hard.  We are always trying to make our latest record our best, but at the same time it’s not just “topping” something for the sake of doing so – it’s about making good music, period.  I will say, though, that part of why I brought in Neil Kernon (our producer) as early as I did was to validate that the songwriting was as strong as possible.

*Tell us a little about the physical composing process for the new record. Are there any specific ideas that were difficult to make a reality?

Nah, not really.  The most challenging part was on the simplest song, Let it Rain.  Neil wanted quite a few changes to that, some of which I undertook and some of which I didn’t, but it was getting late in the recordings and we had to go back and re-do vocals and a bunch of other things so it was logistically a pain.  It almost got left off the record, but Chris convinced me that we needed something slower to break up the relentless tempo of the first five tracks.  I’m glad we kept it – a lot of people enjoy the song.

*Being the primary songwriter for the band, you tend to handle basically all of the composition. What kind of contributions did your band mates provide this time around?

Our process usually works the same way every time: I put together the song structure with a crude bass line, scratch vocal melodies and basic keys.  I send this out to the guys for their comments.  Then when we get into the studio, Sean will come in with more fully completed bass parts, and Chris will have written his drums, and Ray will have ideas for harmonies or a different vocal melody here or there, that sort of thing.

I did take a couple of riffs that Sean had written and used that it one of the tracks on this record, and Chris helped with the lyrics to Let it Rain, so they had more direct compositional involvement on this record than on the previous releases.

*“Let’s talk a bit about some of the lyrical themes present, and of course, the album title.

Redemption’s lyrics are, almost without exception, about human relationships: our relationships with ourselves, our relationships with others, and our relationships with the world around us.  I choose to write about these types of subjects because I find there is more common ground with the listener, and it’s easier for the listener to connect to the material if they can feel as though they are experiencing the same emotions.

On this record, it is about our relationship with mortality.  In my particular case, I was forced to confront it as the result of a cancer diagnosis.  And there are some particular aspects of my own experience that do color some of the lyrics, but generally speaking the goal was to make the songs accessible to everybody since we’re all going to have to face our mortality at some point.

As for the title, it’s Shakespeare.  This Mortal Coil refers to this life and the everyday troubles of our daily existence.

*I an admittedly an enormous fan of Ray Alder, in both Fate’s Warning and Redemption. That said, I have always felt he really shines in this group, and he is able to make full use of his incredible range in a way I’ve never heard on a Fates Warning release. Are you satisfied with his work on the new record?

For Redemption’s music to work, there has to be emotion in the vocals.  I think Ray delivers the goods better than anybody in that department and he is a critical part of Redemption’s sound.

*There is just something amazingly emotive about Ray’s voice in the context of your material. I’ve seen this happen many times with many vocalists; sometimes it just takes that particular band, that particular song, to open up a side of them that maybe even they did not know was there. I feel Redemption does this for Ray. Do you have any thoughts on about this?

It’s hard to say.  I think the combination of the lyrics and Ray’s treatment of them work very well together.  I don’t know why he’s able to since them with particular conviction but he always seems to, and it helps the authenticity of the music tremendously.

*Tell us about the recording process. Lots of bands these days do studio diaries and whatnot, so give us a little overview of some of the challenges/successes during this period.

It was a complete nightmare.  Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong!  We had constant Internet failures, Pro Tools crashes requiring upgrades and full reinstallations, files vanishing from hard drives…when Neil was re-amping my guitar solos the studio we rented was struck by lightning and lost power… it got to the point where I was basically just waking up saying to myself “well, what’s going to happen TODAY to prevent us from getting what we want accomplished?”

*I have to say, I was actually quite surprised at how much heavier and, more importantly, darker this album is than previous releases. A lot of bands throw around the “this is the heaviest thing we’ve ever done” pre-album release, but in this case it is most certainly the case. Was this one of the goals you had in mind?

As I mentioned above, we’ve always combined heaviness with strong melody.  I have also been in search of a heavier guitar tone, and Neil did deliver that.  So it’s not a surprise to me that it ended up a heavy sounding record.

*You got to work with the astoundingly talented Neil Kernon, an absolute legend in his own right. Tell us about this experience. The album definitely has a distinctively different sound this time around. What would you say is his most prominent influence was?

The sound of the record – from the guitar tone to the separation between the instruments – is all Neil.  He was also helpful in the arrangements up front.  As I said it was important to me to try to get the best songwriting possible and having him push me was very valuable.

*While I dig pretty much every song on the album for one reason or another, I find myself particularly enamored with “Blink of An Eye,” and the astoundingly epic “Departure of the Pale Horse.” Let’s talk a bit about these two songs. 

“Blink of an Eye” is a little bit like Megadeth meets Iron Maiden, and as those are two my biggest influences, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that they found their way into a sound.  “Departure of the Pale Horse” is much more sprawling and is another of our efforts at a “big finish” to the record.  Musically, it is a more progressive piece and at 10 minutes is a long one as well – it stretches from mellow, to some cool polyrhytmic stuff at varying levels of intensity to some more emotionally powerful passages that build to the climax which ties together the lyrical themes of the record with a lot of vocal counterpoint, as we’ve done from time to time in the past.

*Do you have any particular pieces that are special to you?

“Dreams from the Pit” and “Noonday Devil” are the most personal to me because they reflect particular episodes during my journey through treatment.  In the case of “Dreams from the Pit”, one of the side effects of the chemotherapy agents that I was on are vivid nightmares.  They weren’t frightening per se, but they left me feeling completely hollow and with no self-esteem…like I was utterly valueless as a person.  It was really a horrible feeling and it took a few days to shake it off, frankly.  So that left its mark and that’s essentially what the song is about.

“Noonday Devil” is about doubt, essentially.  And there was a point in my therapy where it wasn’t working as quickly as I hoped, and for a moment I felt doubt – was I going through all this and going to die anyway?  That was a powerful germ of an idea which led to this song concept which is about doubt in a broader sense – doubt about all of our efforts during this life, essentially.

*Early press seems to be extremely positive about the new album. Though the world wide release is imminent, how do you feel about the album’s reception so far?

To be honest, I’ve read that some people don’t care for the production that much, which surprises me.  We’ll see how it plays out.

*You guys are doing quite a few European shows this time around. How do things look on the U.S. live front?

It’s hard to do anything too extensive but we’ll play out to the extent it’s economic for us to do so.  We’re playing in southern California tomorrow night, and then we’re playing at the Progpower festival next year so hopefully in between there will be some additional dates.  I don’t think an extensive cross-country tour is in the cards, though.

*Are there any songs from the new release that will be particularly challenging to perform?

They all are!  We are playing “Dreams from the Pit” which is one of the most technically difficult tracks, as well as “Noonday Devil” which is more straightforward but still not a cakewalk.  Some of the ones with ten vocal tracks (“Perfect” and “Departure of the Pale Horse”) aren’t particularly practical songs to pull off live.

*I have strong hopes that I’ll hear another ten Redemption releases and beyond. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Any final thoughts/words to fans?

Thanks very much for your interest and support!  I have no intention of stopping any time soon so I hope we’ll be continuing to make music that you enjoy for many years to come!

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