The concept album has a long history in popular music. There are the old classics (The Wall, Tommy), some more recent, folk-inspired examples (The Hazards of Love, Illinois), and pretty much every Coheed and Cambria album. Hell, even Jay-Z took a swing at it with American Gangster. This type of project is a high risk proposition, however. Concept albums don’t lend themselves to distinct singles which are the currency of popular music. They also are extensive examinations of a single subject and if the listener isn’t interested in that particular topic, there’s no refuge in the skip button.
Concept albums aren’t without reward, of course. A successful attempt can be fulfilling in a way that 12 loosely bound tracks can’t, inspiring a sense of completion for a listener. October Gold looks to reap these benefits in their sophomore release, Bridge of the Sun. The work, which is based on the epic fantasy series The Malazan Book of the Fallen, seeks to cash in on the zeal with which people consume alternate worlds, demonstrated best by the Game of Thrones craze. (Unfortunately, this reviewer did not have time to parse the 3.3 million words of the 10-book series.)
Bridge of the Sun most resembles The Decemberists‘ forays into program music. October Gold uses many folk-style instruments (acoustic guitar, banjo, and violin most notably), but keeps a rock sensibility with plenty of 2 and 4 drum beats to go around. They also make use of some lovely harmonies between the male and female voice. Additionally, the violin melodies stand out consistently, sometimes hauntingly beautiful, other times triumphant.
The album runs into trouble lyrically, however. It is overly repetitive, a quality that hurts any sort of attempt at a true narrative. In fact, the lyrics “for I have a story to tell” appear on the song “Weathered Wings,” six tracks into the record. Thus, the songs do more to convey general ideas from this story rather than truly relate a beginning-to-end tale to the listener.
Rating an album like this is difficult. The music was lovely enough, but the source material and concept isn’t overwhelmingly intriguing to this reviewer. However, with the narrow line between “hit” and “miss” with albums like this, it is unfair to say that it has no value. Take it or leave it, but don’t say that in making an alternative folk-rock concept album that October Gold plays it safe.