It should come as no surprise that, given enough time in the creative process and studio, Eric Clayton would create a musical masterpiece par excellence. What is surprising, however, is how palatable the music is compared to his body of work with Saviour Machine. Clayton and company have always crafted perfect notes and well-placed melodies, rests and bold, chilling statements, but it always came with a price. Like a Brandenburg Concerto, one had to commit to Saviour Machine and dive in to really experience the grand majesty of it all. It certainly wasn’t trite pop music for the masses. You don’t have to commit to more than 79 minutes of music in one sitting here, but the investment is well worth it.
True to form, Clayton produced 15 songs here that are best heard in one sitting. It just won’t be necessary to show your membership credentials in the prog rock fan club to enter into the joy set before you here. Of course, if you are a fan of Saviour Machine, this will be about the best thing you’ve heard all year. Only this time you’ll be able to welcome fans of Queensryche, Pink Floyd and Trans-Siberian Orchestra to your party.
The musical journey you’ll take with A Thousand Scars is epic with ebbs, flows, crescendos and diminuendos. You’ll visit the Middle East with loud, building percussion in “The Space Between Us,” West Texas landscapes with Explosions in the Sky chiming guitars and the outer reaches of the atmosphere with cosmic sound effects as well as some rootsy, clap-like percussion before the bombastic Metallica groove meets the James Bond theme-like guitars sweep in with “Revelation Mine.” By this song, the listener is likely captivated as Clayton turns narrator makes his confession and states his goal of finding the man behind the mask.
This album would surely not work as completely if the lyrical excellence did not match the musical adroitness – effectively feeding both hemispheres of the human brain. Unlike the massive theological and apocalyptic undertaking of the Legend trilogy, Clayton instead turns the microscope inward. While past work might have favored John the Revelator as companion reading, this work might have been mentored more by Saint Paul, who penned quandaries like, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” in Romans 7:24.
A Thousand Scars is surely autobiographical and painfully introspective. Heavy metal hasn’t been this therapeutic since Queen and Pink Floyd were touring with mostly original members. Clayton’s pen seems to lie down on the couch and express his yearning for love and answers from his mother and father in “Where it Starts.”
“I have seen the monster’s eyes and they are mine.”
Clayton confesses losing his way, becoming a monster, letting anger fuel a violent addiction, living with a lifetime of shame and being someone that he regrets.
“A Man’s Heart” reveals a redemptive hope that tugs hard on the heart. The listener is only a third of the way through the album’s journey, but he is pointed towards a grace that will love him despite his flaws – no matter how deep. My only reference points are both Christmas-themed: TSO’s “Old City Bar” and Paul Q-Pek’s “A Heart Can Change” (from his one-man musical, The Story of Scrooge). Seems the best redemption stories are tied to God’s gift to mankind in Christ.
Before the story gets better, however, there’s “Cages” and “Lacerations,” the latter of which features powerful choirs that bring lines suddenly and loudly a la the dramatic moments in Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime. It’s chilling and awesome. The lacerations and wounds are self-inflicted (“by my own design”). Then “Chasing Monsters” reveals the main character caught “between the shadows and the light,” between “the silence and the violent refrains of the night.”
“I’m dying again. I’m lying again… I’m hiding again. I’m fighting again. Inside of me it’s broken. Inside of me it waits. Chasing monsters never ends.” Accompanied by piano, Clayton’s voice and story is gripping. One can’t look away during this poignant moment. This glimpse into his heart is a touching gift.
After this bloody confession, armed with knowledge, Clayton announces that, while chasing monsters never ends, it only begins. Thus he moves on in the journey, now two-thirds complete.
Is that a children’s choir leading the way in “A Subtle Collapse?” The guitar tones are ominous and perfect, inciting memories of Legend’s refrains in “The Sword of Islam.”
“Turning in. Burning out.”
By the eve of the end (track 14, the title track), Clayton asks if you’ve heard his story. “Can you see the man behind the mask?” He’s been vulnerable for a reason. Perhaps his pain will help our healing if we listen. It sure feels like he means it.
Then, armed with only piano, he goes in for the kill. “The Greatest of These.”
“For the lost and the broken. All alone in the fight. For the hope of the hopeless sinner, who is lost between shadows and light. The faithfully wounded remain. Love is a whisper, not a shout. For the hope of tomorrow, can we not be afraid? Can we hold back the floodgates of hate? For the sake of our broken places, we stand, we fall and we wait.
“In a way, you’ve all saved my life.”
This epic moment is a showstopper and tear-jerker. “Love is the healer. Love is the light. Love isn’t blind. Love shall remain.”
Wow. Unlike most concept albums or rock operas, I am immediately ready to hit repeat and feel it all over again. Epic. Magnificent. Bravo!