Album Review :
Dorean Lives - A Cold Fire From the One I Loved

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Artist: Dorean Lives
Album: A Cold Fire From the One I Loved
Label: Red Cord Records
Release Date: 11.05.13
Reviewer: Lee Brown

Track Listing:

  1. Shiver Breathe Repeat
  2. Sound of Her Voice
  3. Fated to Repeat
  4. Shores
  5. Wishful (All I’ll Ever Need)
  6. These Dark Matters
  7. The Fear that Brought Us
  8. Two Doves
  9. Dust
  10. Eyes Wide (Headlights)
  11. A Cold Fire From the One I Loved
  12. Darkest Night

The last six years have been nothing if not a ride for the members of Dorean Lives. Frontman Logan Freeman created the band to deal with personal loss, but, as he explains, it “quickly evolved into an audio/film project to create a fully immersive world where the stories found in the songs live and breathe.” From these roots, A Cold Fire From The One I Loved has bloomed into both a passion project waiting to be unleashed and a visceral piece of empirical audiology.

Produced by Joseph McQueen (As I Lay Dying, Erra), A Cold Fire… is a melodic and driving album that uses deeply empirical word pictures to produce an experience that goes beyond merely the notes and tones of the album. Truly, Dorean Lives seeks to pull you and stretch you so that you feel the music, see the images, and hear the force of an icy whisper on your skin.

As the band explains, the experience does not stop with the album itself, either. “Coinciding with the album’s release, a monthly short film series will be released throughout the upcoming year to make the album more than a listening experience, but as an artistic event. The story spans across 12 music videos and 3 short films, giving fans an experience they’ll take with them the rest of their life.”

Inspired by acts like Gaslight Anthem, Smashing Pumpkins, and Anberlin and sounding like a dynamic blend of Mayday Parade and Dead Poetic, with just a hint of Stavesacre and their listed influences added in, Dorean Lives have created a driving rock sound that employs deep harmonics with frequent octave scaling and even a few moments of falsetto to create an engaging sound. Though I have not been privy to the video/short film elements that will accompany the release over the year, it is easy to see how the album works as a seed planted in the ground that metaphorically passes into new life in visual form. The transition will likely not be too difficult, as the band has done a great job of employing more than just the auditory cortex in their deep word pictures and engaging imagery.

Songs are purposely arranged, it would seem, around specific phrases or turned words that bring other senses to the forefront. Having started as a way to deal with loss, the album also brings a certain dirge feeling with it. Tracks like “Sound of Her Voice,” “Shores,” and most notably the title track engage an otherworldly longing to see, hear, feel, or even catch a faint whiff on the breeze of a lost love one. But, the reverberation of this central theme resound throughout the entire album. Each track is not far from the sting of searing loss and the inevitable sense of frustration, anger, and distraught moments. In this, the listener is taken through the five stages of loss from start to finish by the end of the album.

Dorean Lives does a great job of balancing this real and visceral feeling so that it never feels like it is “emo” or trite. Much like Project 86’s “From December,” A Cold Fire From the One I Loved (note how even the title brings a stunning word picture of a once warm embrace that has gone cold with loss) deals with loss honestly and abruptly, but rarely if ever does it become overbearing or make the listener slip into inescapable depression.

From the driving chords that open the album on “Shiver Breathe Repeat,” the band weaves their story. The opening track does a great job at setting the tone of the album and it works as a solid track to show what they have to offer from the outset. “Shiver Breathe Repeat” begins to open the empirical feeling/tone by drawing your attention in with images of icy breath. Musically, there are some ’90’s/early 2000’s flavors that begin here and move throughout the album, as well as some skillful instrumentation that carries a lightly atmospheric tone.

“Sound of Her Voice” becomes the first “dirge” track. In it Logan (as the songwriter) layers together imagery of a lost love and the heartbreaking longing to simply hear “her voice” again. Lyrics like “broken petals fill my head, like a dead symphony… nothing but the beat of her heart in my head” work with the instrumentation to really drive home the tone of the word picture. As mentioned above, the band gives a brutal honesty to the track. As the lyrics move into phrases like, “I should be fine, the sun’s so bright, looks so perfect from below, but it’s cold…” the listener is brought along to dark places, but it never gets too sappy or “emo.” The tone is always a respectful and hauntingly real examination of the pains of loss that so many of us can immediately relate to.

In “Fated to Repeat,” from a musical standpoint and due to both the inflection of the vocal changes and patterning of the track itself, I found myself sucked out of Dorean Lives and into Stavesacre. From start to finish, “Fated…” feels like it hits every pace that Mark Solomon would have hit if this track were spliced onto one of his albums. This wouldn’t really distract most listeners, but every time the chorus hit (where it is most prominent) I wasn’t with Dorean Lives any longer,  I was thinking back to Speakeasy. Again, many listeners will not even know to notice this and the track is a solid one that continues the tale Dorean Lives has to tell.

“Shores” follows with a self examination piece that is one of the strongest tracks on the album. With “Shores” the band inches themselves just on the edge of “radio-friendly” rock that has just enough edge for “indie” listeners. This is the musical tone of the bulk of the album, however “Shores” somehow becomes one of the most engaging offerings. Certainly, if you’re looking to get a sample of the flavor Dorean Lives offers, check out the video below:

“Wishful” starts out with an almost pop-rock sound to the guitars, but moves more closely to the 90’s/00’s rock flavor by the pre-chorus/chorus, reinforcing the “Mayday Parade meets Dead Poetic” sound mentioned above. “These Dark Matters,” however, moves more towards the hard rock edge with a hint of that Stavesacre sound mixed in. As it is titled, “These Dark Matters” employs darker tones moving from  “just tell all your friends…” to the harrowing “tell all those bodies,” and thereby twisting the phrase into graver territory. The track also closes with a “sounds from beyond” sort of moment with veiled words echoing lightly in the mid-ground of the track.

This darker imagery and more explosive hard rock sound carries into “The Fear That Brought Us.” Logan’s vocals have an almost soothing tremble to them as he moves quickly into higher octaves and back. Though he does this again in other tracks, “The Fear…” is one of the shining examples of how this style is employed into the album skillfully. After the title track and “Shores,” “The Fear That Brought Us” is certainly a highlight track. As with previous songs, some pointedly engaging lyrics are found in phrases like “so who among you led the sheep to wolves? So who among you led them to their deaths?”

“Two Doves” and “Dust” follow. With “Two Doves” I found myself, after multiple listens, growing a little tired of the track. This is not to say that it is a “bad” song, but even when I was listening in the background to the album I would notice when this track was playing and think about skipping forward. Objectively, however, the track is catchy and is in no way out of place. “Dust” on the other hand was notably missing from my review copy. After checking, it appears that I was sent the song, but it simply would not play.

“Eyes Wide (Headlights)” brings a heavier dose of angst than most. It is inline with the darker imagery of “The Fear That Brought Us,” with a clear message aimed at a person/persons rather than vacant lamentation. In this, it is the “anger” stage of the grieving process. “Your eyes got wide like an animal’s… and I can’t wait to be the one who puts you down.” As before, the music, lyrics, and even the title of the song pull the listener into an absorbing word picture that all but forces you to give imagery to what is going on in the track. This will likely be reason enough for those who pick up this album to continue the story through the visual media portion that is yet to come, and “Eyes Wide” is certainly one that I’m curious to see where that goes.

Together with “Shores” the title track is far and away the best this album has to offer. I don’t say this to deflate the remaining songs, but to elevate these two gems. While the album itself is mostly in line with what the surrounding genre is producing, these tracks stand out from the crowd. In terms of empirical word pictures, this is simply the definition of forcing the listener to feel what is being conveyed. The imagery itself is carried over from the rest of the album with “her” being referenced from beyond the grave, but the execution both on the musical and songwriting level really hit their apex here.

“A Cold Fire From the One I Loved” is also one of the more layered experiences on the album. It begins with a nice little melody that is interrupted by, and yet also bleeds naturally into, a faster paced riff that would sit nicely in a band like Anberlin’s repertoire. From start to finish, then, this is a driving and passionate song that carries every bit of the gravitas of similar songs (again) such as Project 86’s “From December.”

This is also one of the few tracks that offers veiled hope in something greater. “God” is mentioned here, along with the singer pleading for the “loved one” to whisper to him what eternity feels like. In this respect, I would have liked to see a little more direct hope offered within the track itself, such as The Showdown does with “Laid to Rest,” and Demon Hunter does with “Carry Me Down,” but that role is exclusively reserved for “Darkest Night.”

The subtext to “Darkest Night” says that it is a “Theme for Robert McCammon’s The Five,” which is a book, not a film (just in case you had to look it up as I did). Having not ever read the book itself, nor any of the author’s corpus, I can only comment on how “Darkest Night” closes the material at hand without any greater connections to that work as the band seemingly intends. Those who have read the book please feel free to leave a comment on how this increases/shifts the weight of this track.

“Darkest Night” is a great way to close the chilling and harrowing tale woven through A Cold Fire From the One I Loved. In fact, without it the album would be entirely miserable; not to listen to, but in that it pulls you into the grave without any hope reaching for new life. It would be a parable to “Good Friday” without the hope of the empty tomb on Easter. However, “Darkest Night” brings the fitting and needed eucatastrophe. “I’ve seen a lot since the day I woke up, been through the fire, drank from a poison cup, but I’m still here and plan to remain… every darkest night must give way to the dawn, every lost soul must keep searching on.”

Musicianship: Dorean Lives should get a ton of credit for the level of musicianship they have achieved in spite of several line-up changes, stolen equipment, and set-backs. Overall, they prove to be solid all around in what they accomplish on this album. Though I would say they are in line with other similar bands, overall, with a few real stand out tracks thrown in the mix.

Lyrical/Spiritual Content: In terms of telling a woven and deep-rooted story, DL have integrated together a wonderful set of lyrics. As mentioned repeatedly above, there is a very visceral, chested, and utterly empirical approach to the lyrics that intentionally attempt to force your senses (not merely your ears) and your imagination into the experience.

In terms of the spiritual content, however, there isn’t really much to be said. For an album that deals almost exclusively with the sharp pain of death and eventual moment of hope, the true source of that hope is never more than hinted at… and even then obscurely. Certainly, the band shouldn’t have felt forced into a worship track to close the record, but leaving a trail of bread crumbs for the listener to follow to the only true source of hope would have been rather impactful considering the immediately relatable topic at hand. Everyone, at some point in their lives, faces the sting of horrible loss… but only in one place is death utterly overcome. While “Darkest Night” points towards the dawn, it does not draw upon the real power that lies in that scene, which means the album as a whole never fully comes back to “brightest day.”

It should be noted that as the album seems to follow the five stages of grief to some degree and, therefore, it is honest to leave the story short of total redemption. Many who listen to the album who are dealing with such loss know that you are never completely whole again in the same way after such tragedy.

Lasting Value: A Cold Fire… will be followed by regular videos and short films throughout the next year. It will be interesting to see how these work together and work to extend the life of the album. Having not experienced them myself, I can only assume that they will follow the high level of skill the band has in bringing word pictures to life. This could also be employed into live shows with great effect.

From a purely musical standpoint, because the album relates deeply with a specific emotional tone, the repeated plays will vary depending on the mood and life-circumstances of the listener. A few tracks, noted above, certainly stand out and are worthy to make the rotation at any time. The connected nature of the album may make for an all-or-nothing approach for many, though.

Overall: Dorean Lives bring a harrowing debut album that examines the all too real pain of losing a loved one. In this, it is equatable to C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed as the singer examines the pain he feels with all of his being. The album moves from chilling loss, through grief, anger, and finally into acceptance. In this, it mirrors the five stages of death. Unlike in Lewis’ real life examination of death, the redemption moment offered at the end falls just short of total healing, leaving the listener to continue the story themselves to whatever end. Musically, A Cold Fire From the One I Loved is on par with offerings by bands like Mayday Parade and even some of Anberlin’s works and should certainly be given credit for employing even more engaging word pictures and imagery than many bands are capable of giving the world with there debut offering.

RIYL: Mayday Parade, Anberlin, Dead Poetic, Stavesacre