Follow-ups are always a bit of a risky affair. There’s fan expectation, and if the artist doesn’t evolve at all, there’s earlier material to overcome- many bands can’t rise to the challenge, and either break up or put out a flop of a second album. Terminus, hailing from Belfast, had more of a hurdle than most due to the fact that their debut album, The Reaper’s Spiral, is one of the absolute best albums of the last decade. How does one live up to that?
As it turns out, the answer is heart, grace, and a hell of a lot of riffs and charisma. If you’re not familiar with Terminus, the closest comparison here is to Isen Torr, which was a short-lived supergroup of sorts featuring members of bands such as Solstice, Twisted Tower Dire, and Falcon. If the name Isen Torr stumps you, get to checking them out- the name of the game here is epic heavy metal, with a strong focus on pounding riffs, catchy vocals, gorgeous guitar layering, and killer leadwork, though that’s a somewhat empty description that doesn’t capture the majesty of either band.
A Single Point of Light carries on right from where The Reaper’s Spiral left off. Almost nothing has really changed sonically; the songs could practically be from the same session, though most of the songs on this one feel a mite slower. The guitarwork is front and center, matched only by the vocals. The drums and bass never really do anything but complement the rest of the package. The core of the guitar is strong, consistent rhythms that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Manilla Road or Omen song, with nearly constant melodies or harmonies playing either as a dual lead kind of affair or as a spice to strengthen whatever rhythm is playing at the moment.
Though most of the rhythm playing could easily work in any sufficiently epic American power metal band, the lead guitar writing and melodies are far more reminiscent of folky heavy metal and doom bands from both Ireland and England. It’s no mistake that the man who engineered the record is the same Richard Whittaker that has produced the last few Solstice releases, as there’s a striking resemblance here.
The vocals, alternately, are reminiscent of nobody- James Beattie is absolutely unique, approaching his songs with a mixture of melancholy and aggression as befits whatever he’s singing about in a way that would steal the show in any band. Almost every vocal line is monstrously catchy, and the passion with which James delivers the lyrics is amazing. There aren’t many albums where I can sing along to half of it before the damn thing even comes out. It is a rare album indeed that makes me want to actually pick up a lyric sheet, but that’s something I’m looking forward to this time once the album is in my hands, and vocally at least, it’s all because of James. I can’t believe he hasn’t been stolen by someone better known by now, but it’s a great thing that he’s here, because Terminus out-muscle the competition; my sole regret about him is that Terminus have ceased playing shows, and I really, really want to catch the guy live.
I have certainly said a lot of nice things here, but that’s not to say that there are no negatives. There are some rather bizarre transitions and lead-ins scattered throughout, and this comes very literally right from the incredibly jarring intro to the album, which sounds as if it starts halfway through a song. I’m also not a particular fan of the long interlude in the second song, and some of the album could do with some trimming- though I’m not against longer albums, and 42 minutes is hardly a crime, a couple songs could have been tighter. All of that being said, with each re-listen the strange transitions and the jarring intro get more and more familiar, and I dislike them less- it may be Stockholm syndrome, but I think that soon I won’t be able to imagine the album any other way.
Ultimately, I do not know yet if this album is equal to The Reaper’s Spiral. How much really is? The list is short, and A Single Point of Light at least comes close, and as I said it’s growing on me with every listen. My guess is that the few issues come down to multi-instrumentalist and Terminus songwriter David Gillespie having taken over the band completely in between the debut and now, forcing him to write all of the songs alone in his bedroom. I can say that it’s tough to nail everything without a full band playing together in the room, and that’s what the pitfalls here sound like- but don’t take that as a condemnation. This is still easily one of the year’s best albums, a rising recent favorite in general, and one that I’ll be listening to for years to come. It’s just a lot easier to find things to complain about when your reference is as good as The Reaper’s Spiral.
My one last complaint is about the artwork, which feels a lot better suited to a crappy melodic death metal band than to one of the genre’s best epic heavy metal bands. I suppose you can’t win ‘em all, but I’d definitely be happier having the vinyl displayed if it had something better on it! And buy it I will, for while I had some small complaints, this truly is an accomplishment, and one everyone should check out.
Favorite track: Flesh Falls From Steel
Album rating: 92/100