I don’t think Tom de Wit, the inspiration behind Dreamwalkers Inc, is capable of creating anything less than substantial. “First Re-draft” is no exception. This is a very thoughtful person, who lives and breathes prog and the emotional waves that go with it. This album has been in the making for 8 years or more but it’s not a case of time standing still. New members have come in, and no less than seven band members are accredited with putting this album together, not to mention a sizeable choir, all summarised as “those who wandered the plains of dreams and death and lived to tell the tale”. It sounds big, but Tom did tip me off that this album is more concise and song orientated than his 2014 album, the complex but engaging “The Antithetic Affiliation”.
Tom is true to his word. Without compromise, this varied collection of songs allows the listener some breathing space. “First Re-Draft” is heavily produced and almost endless in the elements that make up the drama. But it’s not overwhelming, nor is it over dramatic. The album starts, ironically, with “Endless”. Its symphonic choral strains supply epic elements. Tom searches around him to make sense of his surroundings: “I have left your plastic and fake modern world for reality”. In “Endless” he reflects on loneliness. There is a delicate power and balance. It is as if we are floating on air. But this is not dreamy. In parts it’s tough. There’s plenty here. Distant vocals reflect isolation, there is anger and frustration, there is choral reinforcement. “Endless“ has a purity of thought. Instrumentally there’s metal, keyboard touches and that imperious wall that you often get with prog. But it’s easier to get. I’m in. The tension mounts on “Mourning After”, a more “old school” style prog drama than “Endless”. The conversations in the angst are strange and unsettling. The choir provides the riposte to the pent up anger. I liked the samples and programming. An overall highlight of this album is the timely and engaging keyboard insertions. “Mourning After” is high on the complexity scale, leading me to wonder whether such a panoply of musical techniques is a case of more is less?
As has perhaps become apparent, Tom doesn’t do simple but “Happy Day”, which I recognised from the band’s acoustic show at ProgPower Europe in 2016, has a simple charm. It is personal and touching, yet equally powerful and carefully produced with a strong choral accompaniment to the main dish of personal outpourings. The final section leads nicely into the contrasting bells and dark symphonic tone of “Innerburn”, which develops into a still darker, almost Eastern scene. More than even the most ardent progster, Tom lays out his innermost thoughts, sentiments and reflections. It’s not gooey though. He speaks to us and makes damned sure we listen to his words. It’s hard-hitting. “Innerburn” as a whole is a powerful and well balanced piece. Once again I liked the keyboards and programming – a real joy – but then the whole instrumental and choral package is of the highest quality. “Innerburn” is a song I could listen to, inhale and enjoy many many times over.
Now “Dreamwalk” is something different and indeed darker. Flamboyant keys, intensely dark instrumentals and sinister chorals work to great effect. This is metal and dark, dark, dark. To use the imagery of the evocative choral line here, it’s as if we fall down the rabbit hole – very Alice in Wonderland. Although not explicit, Dreamwalkers Inc seem to be guiding us through stages. We have hit a dark patch now. “New Strength” is a vibrant prog feast with a massive heart and driving force.
The mood changes again. “Your Room” starts with an indistinct, anguished conversation. We’re in that room listening in. Tom then reflects. “Within these walls I found a place to stay”. This is a delicate song, but one whose story captures vulnerability, desire, relationships and the need to find one’s place in the world. All that remains is “My Loss”, which sounds like the title of a Katatonia track. It is typically intense and hard hitting like a thumping heartbeat. For me, it doesn’t have the magic of some of the other songs, but the heartbeat effect, whether deliberate on Tom’s part or not, is an appropriate way to end this series of reflections on humanity.
It’s hard to get away from Tom’s intense personality. I’d suggest this has advantages and disadvantages, as it brings the risk of getting lost and tangled up like the picture on the album’s cover. It certainly needs channelling as he has so much to say and offer, both musically and lyrically. Here the Dreamwalkers Inc collective controls the complexity to great effect. “First Re-Draft” is full of imagination and prog-inspired energy. I found a captivating album that I could listen to and enjoy over and over. Indeed, I’d say it’s the band’s best work so far.
(8/10 Andrew Doherty)