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Ex Libris - Medea

Ex Libris - CD Review

Ex Libris Medea

CD Info
9 Tracks
The Netherlands
English Lyrics

The long-promised full album Medea is now available. As it is a self-released album, a modest successful crowd funding campaign (40% over the set goal), supported the realization of this project. The required additional budget was limited because most of the work is done by the band itself. Keyboards, rhythm, solo guitars and bass are recorded by Koen Stam (keyboards). Graphic Design and artwork are by Dianne van Giersbergen (vocals). She’s also the lady of the lyrics. All music is written, arranged and performed by Ex Libris. The not yet mentioned members are Peter den Bakker (bass), Paul van de Broek (guitars) and Eelco van der Meer (drums). According to Peter, Eelco as the ‘newest’ member added some new flavors to the songs.

In earlier reviews of gigs, I already indicated the little pearls in each song that makes this band very attractive for me. This album is meeting all expectations I had based on the three songs that were already published on the EP Medea and played on gigs. The ‘old’ songs are newly mixed and mastered and sound also more sparkling and impressive. Maybe the Italian mastering had some influence.

Medea is fully based on the Greek tragedy with the same name. Medea (Ancient Greek: Μήδεια, Mēdeia) is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Jason and Medea and first produced in 431 BC. The plot centers on the barbarian protagonist as she finds her position in the Greek world threatened, and the revenge she takes against her husband Jason who has betrayed her for another woman.

The album can be seen by that as a ‘concept’ album or even as a Metal Opera. In fact there is a real opera: Médée from Luigi Cherubini. The songs on this album however are not really interdependent in that sense, so there is no need to listen always in the given sequence.

The play tells the story of the revenge of a woman betrayed by her husband. All of the action of the play is at Corinth, where Jason has brought Medea after the adventures of the Golden Fleece [refers to track 1, 2, 3 and 4]. He has now left her in order to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon. The play opens with Medea grieving over her loss and with her elderly nurse fearing what she might do to herself or her children.

Creon, also fearing what Medea might do, arrives determined to send Medea into exile. Medea pleads for one day's delay, and Creon begrudgingly acquiesces. In the next scene Jason arrives to confront her and explain himself. He believes he could not pass up the opportunity to marry a royal princess, as Medea is only a barbarian woman, but hopes to someday join the two families and keep Medea as his mistress [tracks 5,6]. Next Medea is visited by Aegeus, King of Athens; he is aggrieved by his lack of children, and does not understand the oracle that was supposed to give him guidance. Medea begs him to protect her, in return for her helping his wife conceive a child. Aegeus does not know what Medea is going to do in Corinth, but promises to give her refuge in any case, provided she can escape to Athens.

Medea then returns to her plotting how she will kill Glauce and Creon. She decides to poison some golden robes (a family heirloom and gift from the sun god), in hopes that the bride will not be able to resist wearing them, and consequently be poisoned [track 7]. Medea resolves to kill her own children as well, not because the children have done anything wrong, but because she feels it is the best way to hurt Jason [tracks 8, 9]. She calls for Jason once more, falsely apologizes to him, and sends the poisoned robes with her children as the gift-bearers.

Ex Libris plays progressive symphonic metal and with that not that far off progressive symphonic rock. The length of the number is also more referring to that. Excluding the instrumental interlude “A Tale told …” to the closing song “From Birth to Bloodshed” which is the longest song too (duration 10:26); the shortest one is “A Mother’s Lament”) with a duration of 5:35.

As you might expect Dianne sings the role of Medea. Jason plays a role in “Song of Discord” and that required some male vocals. For this record Jason is interpreted by Damian Wilson, a man with a great history in progressive (symphonic) rock with links to Landmarq, Treshold. Rick Wakeman and Ayreon.

1. Medea
In the first song (and title track) of the album, Medea, Daughter of King Aetes of Colchis, betrays her fatherland by helping Jason steal the coveted golden fleece.

It’s hard to describe this song. After a heavy and at first instance disordered sounding opening where drums and guitars battle over the lead, Dianne appears with a metallic voice starting to tell the story. The song moves into a softer mood with fragile guitars, rhythmic drums, subtle bass and an operatic voice. Then the guitar takes over the lead story again by nice solo work that goes over in a more straightforward metal part. Now the keyboard tries to take over and Dianne’s voice get more operatic again. The solo guitar comes in again and Dianne goes in more opera mode and then back to a mix with a metal sound. Solo guitar again with opera highlights and then back to the disorder of the opening to close the song. I assume you’re now lost and do not have any clue what kind of song this is. The only solution is to listen to song. If you then already like this one, you will not disappointed with the rest; if you’re not yet convinced, stay on a little longer anyway.

2. Murderess in Me
Upon fleeing her Birth Ground Medea kidnaps her brother, dismembers his body and scatters his body parts into the sea. All to distract the Fleet of her Father, King Aetes, and escape.

The story the song what’s to tell is not the most pretty one. The music aligns with the story (not with an unpretty sound), but also refers to the Sirens that distract sailors. The voice of Dianne in the reprise sounds like a Siren (‘Sirens of the Sea, You shall not thwart me! How cruel you wish me to be, make a murderess of me?’). If I would try to analyze again the song, it would be similarly confusing as the description of the first song. Impressive is the way Dianne uses the range and possibilities of her voice. It changes so quickly, that is has some resemblance to Formula 1 racing. But it’s not only the voice that make the song great. Also the playing of the others keep up with her. The great support of keyboard and drums combined with the almost continuous solos of Paul complete it.

3. On the Ocean’s Command
Jason and Medea thank the Ocean for helping them escape. Together with the Argonauts they celebrate their victory and set sail to Corinth, Land of King Creon.

This songs opens a little more “ordered” but then goes over in similar surprising structures. Interesting is the small ‘duets’ of Dianne with the guitar and keyboard (in the high end). In this song, I also heard some similarity with the progressive symphonic rock of Landmarq (The Vision Pit). I could not find a song that I could use as a referral, but the combination keyboard, drums and guitar still gives that feeling. Overall this song might be qualified as progressive symphonic rock.

4. My Dream I Dream
Jason and Medea come to live in Corinth. They marry and welcome two sons.

The opening with intriguing piano and the takeover by the guitar and vocals and structure brings again the resemblance with Landmarq. However, midway it moves more to the metal direction. Again sufficient time for excellent keyboards and great guitar.

5. Song of Discord
Their happiness soon comes to an end when Jason falls in love with Glauce, daughter of King Creon. He blames Medea for their break-up and announces that she is to be banished.

Now for an interesting song. It opens almost directly with a duet of Damian and Dianne. The voices match very nicely, and Damian can compete with Dianne in variety. The argument/discussion is a mix of singing and speaking from both, and reflects perfectly the mood that is the discussion. The music aligns very well, and gives it an additional dimension. With Damian (previously lead singer of Landmarq) on board, there are fewer flavors of Landmarq, but it’s not purely metal either.

6. A Mother’s Lament
Medea refuses to leave and begs Jason to return to her and their sons. Jason denies Medea’s Lament and announces to marry Glauce.

This song has a nice balance with up-tempo and slower parts. Now Dianne opens directly full speed, and the guitar takes over before the songs goes is to a slower more sensitive part. And then back to up-tempo and back again. The last section of the song already prepares for what will come (‘For now and to Forever. We’ll share this Pain together! Even Death won’t part us!’).

7. Daughter of Corinth
Medea says to have forgiven Jason’s new bride and give her a wedding veil. As Glauce puts on the veil she, and all who touch her trying to rescue the bridge, perish and turn into dust.

This was the third song already published on the EP, a little less new than most other because this is also played live already. This track also accurately portrays the emotions of jealousy, rage, and pride – all emotions that Medea would experience as she exacts her revenge on Glauce and Jason. All the musicians get the space to show their talents. And all have lots in their hats. The song fades out into….

8. A Tale told ...
After murdering Glauce and Creon and leaving Corinth without a ruler, Medea sets out to commit the ultimate revenge.

This short (2:06) instrumental prepares the stage for the big finale. Very subtle guitar, bass and drums create in first hearing a ‘lounge’ / jazzy mood, but when hearing it more often, underneath the tension is building up for was has to come.

9. From Birth to Bloodshed
Medea commits the ultimate revenge when she murders her own two sons and leaves Jason with his immense grief. Tormented and haunted by her deeds she flees Corinth never to return again.

Heavy guitar riffs open the song, and after a short soundless break, keyboard and drums join almost battling for the lead. When Dianne joins, you know it’s wrong (‘Filthy Scum! You shattered my World! Your bloodline dies, I will be heard!’). Drama and aggression is expressed in voice and music. Midway is an almost natural break where Medea almost start to apologize for what she will do, but the ‘I Medea will be not be dethroned’ that opens that part also closes that part, but now is aggressive and angry. And that brings everything to an epic finish that fades out into silence.


Note: the three songs from the EP are refreshed and newly recorded for the album.

With this masterpiece, 2014 makes a great start. It brings a new level to progressive symphonic metal. It’s not straightforward metal -- but progressive, renewing, sometimes complex, tickling and refreshing music with a lot of hidden treasures that gets revealed when listening more often. It will be interesting for the progressive rock fans as well. Maybe this fusion attracts me because I’m originally coming from the symphonic rock. .

Conclusion: An epic album that uses the highs and depths of the ancient tragedy to full effect. The great musicians, with among them an extraordinary singer and a fully undervalued guitar player, delivered a jewel.

9.5 / 10