Four-and-a-half years. That’s how long it’s been since Reflections graced us with The Color Clear, an absolute ambient masterpiece that, even to this day, still holds up as one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to. Shortly after release, however, they went on hiatus. That is, until now. The day is finally upon us to listen to the Minnesota progressive outfit’s fourth full length effort, Willow.
As I said, The Color Clear was primarily an atmospheric record with heavy, progressive accents that delved into the pain of being stuck in a dark space and dwelling on negativity. As anyone who suffers from depression or any other mental illness knows, emotions gathered that way build up like a bow and arrow. The farther back you draw the arrow, the more force the bow fires with and that’s the idea behind Willow: You cannot dwell on the negativity forever. You must not only release what has built up, but also move on and find balance afterward, which is where vocalist Jake Wolf says the name comes from:
During the beginning of the hiatus I was living at a place in the heart of the city and often I’d walk a few miles away to a lake where there was a willow tree. I’d sit there to try and sort my thoughts out and get a handle on everything that was going on.
I’d always been drawn to willow trees and found they are commonly viewed as symbols of balance and strength. Oddly enough that was almost the purpose it was serving for me.
Willow is definitely a different direction from their past work and it detonates like a nuclear bomb. However, if you’re looking for a comparison, taking the heavy parts of Exi(s)t and mixing them with the proggier elements of The Fantasy Effect will put you in the ballpark. That alone doesn’t do the album justice, as Reflections have given Willow its own distinct flavor of being their heaviest record to date, and that’s saying quite a bit. Rather than poisoning you slowly with anger, Willow is content to kick your door in and beat you to death with its bare hands. Once it starts, it doesn’t let up and the only breather you get is “Samsara” in the middle of the record. But even then it’s more of a rest period in between sets at the gym than an actual chance to relax. When “Samsara” fades out, your face goes straight back to being steamrolled by monstrous riffs that will keep you on your toes through the entire listen.
I don’t even have the words to express how happy I am that Reflections are back. Even with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, I still find myself lacking to describe how deep this band’s music really hits for me. If you enjoy Willow even half as much as I do, then you’ve just found one of the best records of the year.
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