Looking back over the moments which make up a life. Memories, despite what we succeed in telling ourselves, still surprisingly raw even with the passing of time; the wincing pangs of embarrassment which, years later, still flush our faces red with shame and turn our heads in cringing pain. Loneliness, Remorse. A pitiful emptiness. Frustrations at what might have been, what could have been and, perhaps, regretfully, should never have been.
The imminent approach of death sharpens the unforgiving focus of the light which is brought to bear, intensifies the turmoil of relentless emotions and adds pressing urgency to the review of the way our lives have unfolded. Standing at the precarious borderlines of life and death, where the reckoning of what our lives have been takes place, is precisely where we rather uncomfortably stand at the opening of The Way Through, the third studio album from German band Cyril.
Guy Manning’s deceptively simple storyline opens the door to a series of musical portraits which capture the troubling yet poignant episodes and moments of a life which now stands in the balance. The journey of the soul on which he takes us allows him to narrate the stories of these episodes in lyrics that are exquisitely detailed, unerringly piercing and emotionally harrowing.
My Own Reflection is a devastating vision of abject misery. The meticulous care and attention in the lyrical details add palpable depth to the story of desperate despair which accompanies loneliness.
“The boy is crying on his own
His legs are pulled up
His hair falls in his eyes
And No-one comes to visit him
As the minutes and the hours pass him by
He is left in his misery
A lonely soul without a guide.”
Akin to the traumatic violence of the Ghost of Christmas Past forcing Scrooge to revisit the awful abandonment of his boarding school days, so the carefully crafted levels of detail here are utterly captivating, creating an equally enthralling musical performance which opens wide the doors to an emotional empathy that only serves to increase the sense of wretched pathos.
A searching, slightly echoed nuanced vocal is carried on a rippling guitar with light drum rhythm – all designed to create the feeling of hollow, empty space. A haunting sax melody cries across the space before a solo piano plays a forlorn repeated refrain, other instruments coming and going before they assemble again for a final push toward a crunching amplified crescendo with defiantly riffing guitar.
The portrait of a life shifts to regret with First Love (A Lullaby). This time the bass and keys set the initial scene; a gravelly vocal carries a crushing guilt and awful remorse contrasted against increasingly powerful drumming. First love fondly remains with us for life. But the naivety of youth rarely appreciates what it has.
“I know, You know, We know now, that love is fleeting
I know, You know, We know now, Never repeating.”
Self-recrimination reaches a point where you either wallow in self-pity or finally own up to the folly of your actions. Enter one of the crowning moments of this album:
“Lullaby ~ Even if it hurts you
Lullaby ~ Set it straight, take her pain
Lullaby ~ She really loves you ~ Lullaby.”
I dare anyone who listens to this album not be singing this mesmerising ear-worm for days afterward, particularly as it is reinforced in a glorious saxophone reprise toward the end. You can feel the excruciating awkwardness of the emotions, arms cradling yourself as you seek to escape the bitterness of the memory.
The mood changes again for Get Up High. A brooding sense of menace and desperation signals a losing of the way and uncertainty over the direction to take. It’s a song of delightful segues and transitions. Marek Arnold finally gives full reign to some fabulous growling keyboards, slowly building layers of atmospheric textures. Energetic drumming combined with crunching guitar work punch both the rhythm and the story home.
No more spoilers! Half the enjoyment of a record like this is discovering, experiencing and then going on the journey yourself: I won’t spoil the conclusion by commenting further. Suffice it to say The Way Forward is a compelling album, filled with intensity and drama. The irresistible charisma and allure of the musical creativity which drives it is simply exceptional. Glorious harmonies, enchanting interplays and riveting arrangements create a symphonic wrapper embracing the narrative.
Special mention must go to the brilliant use of the two vocalists – Manuel Schmid and Larry B. – and the clever way in which their distinctive and contrasting voices are used to weave the fabric of each story. Consistently absorbing bass lines are an integral presence throughout the album and I fancy – whether deliberately or not – it is ever so slightly elevated in the mix to give it just a bit more punch and focus. The fretless bass solo of The Way Through is exquisite and brings a satisfying sense of tranquil completion to both music and story.
With their third album, Cyril have clearly taken yet another momentous leap forward. Their music, as well as the dynamics of their instrumental interactions, bristles with innovation and imagination and combine to create this spellbinding and thoroughly engaging experience.
01. The Gate (5:46)
02. My Own Reflection (6:46)
03. First Love (A Lullaby) (8:19)
04. Get Up High (8:41)
05. A Sign On the Road (4:33)
06. The Wasteland – Home Again (5:54)
07. The Way Through? (6:15)
Total Time – 46:14
Marek Arnold – Keyboards, Saxophones, Seaboard
Larry B. – Vocals
Ralf Dietsch – Guitars
Clemens Litschko – Drums, Percussion
Manuel Schmid – Vocals, Keyboards
Denis Strassburg – Bass
Robert Brenner – Fretless Bass
Guy Manning – Lyrics, Spoken Words
Martin Schnella – Guitars
Andrea Strassburg – Vocals
Record Label: Progressive Promotion Records
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 30th April 2019