A Cell To Call Home is the third studio album released by American outfit Advent Horizon, and their first for eight long years. The band consists of founders Rylee McDonald (vocals, guitars, and keys), Mike Lofgreen (drums), together with Cason Wood (bass, keys, and trombone), and Grant Matheson (guitar, keys, and vocals).
The album has been three years in the making and the concept deals with someone battling through addiction, and told in the first person, a common affliction in the 21st century. You can both listen to and purchase it from the Bandcamp page at https://adventhorizon.bandcamp.com/album/a-cell-to-call-home Before discussing the work, note that there are some fine guest artist appearances, including the mighty Jordan Rudess who leads on synth on Calling It Off and Porcupine Tree tourist, Randy McStine, who provides the second guitar solo on How Did It Get So Good.
We open with Water. I love the opening piano, with Jared Roswell Hill providing for a somewhat grandiose introduction to the album’s proceedings. The riffs here are fresh, and there is some especially sublime bass guitar work on a track which has a stark description of how a loved one must go through hell sometimes to support an addict. The water visual reminds me in parts of Trainspotting, a work with, of course, a similar theme. There is a very good guitar solo, and this is a strong opener.
Snow Child is a short intermission type of track with some more very impressive piano work by Roswell Hill who clearly delights in creating atmospheric tones. It leads into How Did It Get So Good, the second longest piece at just over seven minutes. Dig the atmosphere this band create with a fine acoustic guitar overlaid by sumptuous synths. The vocals are dripping with feeling and overall, this is a very good pop/rock track carrying hints of class psych in places, with the mid-section instrumental passage recalling classic 70’s heavy rock giants, which invites commercial radio airplay. The guitar solos are worth the entrance price alone, with McStine leading the charge hauntingly on his stint.
It is followed by Rain on Open Water, a gloriously expansive rock track which perhaps above all else here exemplifies how good the recording and mixing of McDonald is. The questing of whether the subject’s love will stay close to him in the event of the storm breaking out is evocative. Hugely enjoyable hard rock with a very clever short passage featuring voice and riffs set right back in the mix before exploding in your ears again.
Your Flaws takes the mood into a reflective one and features the lovely voice of Kristen McDonald for the first time on the album. Her and Rylee make for a talented couple. Sit back and allow this pastoral wonder to wash over you. The lyrics talk of a symphony in the heart, and this is reflected very strongly in the music.
Truth follows and is dark with its confessional lyrics and opening keys before the riffs blast out and Kristen returns with a far harder edge to her voice – it is the contrasting moods, by the way, on this work that make it truly progressive and make you appreciative of a talented group of musicians and writers. The guitar riff midpoint reminds one of some of Rabin’s harder work and Lofgreen & Wood provide a rhythm section tour de force, especially in the rollocking closing passage which follows the stark “mess of me” lyrics.
Calling It Off features the talents of Rudess. Talent always shines through, and the man has it in abundance, but it is a measure of how good Advent Horizon are that he doesn’t overshadow the main participants. The track itself owes more to Tree than Theater, and features some magnificent guitar riffs, with the vocals really soaring in parts, and a spoken series of words adding to the dystopia surrounding the listener. This is an exceptionally good orchestral heavy rock piece of music.
Control again lowers the volume levels and highlights once more the psych sensibilities this band have in the opening sequence. There is some very good keyboard work, and the percussion is to die for in parts. The track builds cleverly in intensity as it progresses and some of the vocals really do make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when the high notes are hit. The dark chords just over a minute and a half out from the end make you sit up, a very clever and forceful change, and this introduces a strong saxophone solo by Hayden Payne which leads a chaotic and extremely disturbing denouement.
It is followed by Maybe. I love the bassline on this, accompanied with panache by a deep-set drum pattern. The lead vocal once again evokes deep emotion, there is some wonderful acoustic guitar work and more exceptional piano by Roswell Hill.
The penultimate track of the main album is the title track. It is the longest, and only epic length of ten minutes plus. Justin May plays a very mysterious, almost Eastern in its texture, guitar introduction, and he also provides some vocals here. There are interesting contrasts in noise and mood. I particularly like the lyrics evoking his angel, in peace at last, and making the connection between the desperate cell situation and the self-harm which directly led to that incarceration. There is a fine extended guitar solo, quite unique and absolutely putting the listener in mind of the situation of the unfortunate victim. When the band introduce the closing segment, it is a fine noise, with McDonald then singing of an ending to the song before the angel segment is reprised and the whole track takes you to a completely different plain, surprisingly uplifting given the nature of the words and album theme. The bass chords at the denouement are exceptional.
The main album ends with Hold Me, a track which speaks of hope, of the protagonist coming out the other side, with any luck for good. I think you will really enjoy, as I do, the textures provided to us and the message of hope not just lyrically, but also musically with some wonderful vocal harmonies and keyboards effects, combined with another very strong guitar solo.
There are three bonus tracks not available on Bandcamp, namely High Expectations, Maybeline, and Half Afraid. The latter is a fine anthemic piece.
This album is one of the real pleasures of 2023, and it comes very highly recommended.