REVIEW: DANIEL TOMPKINS – “Ruins”
Lending his voice to Skyharbor, White Moth Black Butterfly and, most notably, the global, progressive metal sensation, Tesseract, Daniel Tompkins’ handsome resumé suggests he’s more than just a pretty face. Often, within these complex and earnest collectives, Tompkins is the crack where Cohen’s proverbial light gets in. His performances guiding listeners through labyrinthine structures yet always keeping them grounded. 2019 saw the release of his debut solo album, the well enough received, pop-rock offering ‘Castles’. An album whose ‘pop’ quality, in hindsight, seems to have haunted the singer. With his upcoming sophomore release, ‘Ruins’, Tompkins reworks and rewrites the majority of ‘Castles’ in pursuit of truer, darker tones while remaining faithful to its original concepts. Yet if “Ruins” goes over old ground, it explores far more new terrain than it retraces old footsteps.
At first glance track titles such as “Empty Vows”, “Stains of Betrayal” and “A Dark Kind of Angel” suggest a solemn Goth poetry reading rather than a progressive musical reimagining. Fortunately, the opening track, “Wounded Wings”, featuring guitarist Plini, debunks such suspicions. Setting the foundation with a seductive melody encompassed within a hypnotic loop, a soaring chorus itches to explode. But if the engine revs, it never quite takes off, teasing instead with what is to come; a piano-led, melancholic finish. In contrast, the title track and single “Ruins” pulls no such punches, being far grittier musically as Tompkins shifts effortlessly between clean and harsh vocals. Leading single “The Gift,” featuring Matt Heafy of Trivium, tries to offer more of the same but with less success. Its brutish delivery may well wind up being fan favourite, but as the only brand-new track on the album, expectations were admittedly higher. Whereas “Ruins” displays a depth and versatility “The Gift” simply cannot rival.
Much like Tompkins himself, ‘Ruins’ is best in the cracks where the light gets in. As in “Empty Vows,” which not only serves as the album standout track, it also clarifies why Tompkins felt compelled to take on this project. In its original form “Empty Vows”, originally entitled ‘Saved’, has all the power of a dull, electronic trudge. Now, alongside producer Paul Ortiz (aka Chimp Spanner) Tompkins picks the song apart and makes it euphorically explosive. With gripping melodies injected into this part ballad/part powerhouse anthem, “Empty Vows,” stands among the best of Tompkins work. Likewise, “A Dark Kind of Angel,” which reimagines the song “Telegraph”, propelling it to new heights with its emotive, intoxicating atmosphere.
Fear of the new, correcting a mistake, or a quest for perfection? It almost certainly has to be the last. Tompkins is smart enough to know that you can’t just slap a wig on a pig and send it to the ball. Not that “Castles” was any sort of pig. Yet feeling constructed rather than reconstructed, ‘Ruins’ is much more than a renamed album and a collection of songs retitled. Essentially it’s an entirely new work. Clever, and often compelling, ‘Ruins’ is a commendable, multi-faceted testament to the level of care Tompkins invests in his art. It may not be perfect, but, like Tompkins, it’s a sincere attempt at striving for greater perfection. And, at moments, it gets there.