Review | Eric Clayton – A Thousand Scars (Gallery Edition)
Little over two years ago, our world dramatically started changing. Slowly but surely, we lost our freedoms to contain the global outbreak of Covid, with many suffering its consequences.
In its slipstream damaging the music scene overall, with tours cancelled and releases postponed. One of the most defining releases of the decade `A Thousand Scars’ the debut of Eric Clayton lost serious momentum of release, missing major connection with the masses. Whether or not masses would pick up on this masterpiece is to be disputed, but it would have generated more attention and a possible distribution deal. A supporting tour would have launched this gripping album for sure. Bordering with the illustrious ,,The Wall”, the album tells the story of Eric’s growth and struggles as performer and person. The daunting circumstances growing up, his direction lost, he battled the deepest of emotions, delving in agony to find answers.
His faith questioned, dreams shattered, Eric Clayton rebooted and found new roads around the horizon. The darkness and doom of the album, the torment and despair, captured in a grewsome story with tasteful subtle musical interplay adding to the welling emotions of his lyrical wordplay, make this album a journey and masterpiece.
Passing by in desolate silence, the initial album release sold out completely on CD as well as on vinyl, reaching fans of Eric Clayton’s previous work as the charismatic frontman of the controversial Saviour Machine. Though not reaching its full potential, lacking a (global) record deal due many companies withholding from signing during the pandemic, Eric served his devoted fan share. Crossing paths with illustrator and concept artist Niall Parkinson and his company Dark Age Design, Eric found inspiration for this second edition of `A Thousand Scars’. Their mutual appreciation of each other’s work made this collaboration almost inevitable. Music, words and images line up in this spectacular piece of art.
This ‘Gallery Edition’ is pressed on white 2LP vinyl and CD, features 15 spectacular paintings by Parkinson, perfectly capturing the grim atmosphere and darkness of the story. Its white vinyl contrasting with the dark labels on both labels, while Niall’s art is printed in color on the white matte cover of the album. The dour art meanders in the darkest of mind and soul, while vibrant colors enhance the imagery on display. From his catalogue I was able to find the paintings ‘Where is the Soul’ and the remarkable `The Undertow of God’, blending perfectly with Clayton’s story.
THE STORY OF ERIC CLAYTON
The story and music on `A Thousand Scars’ benefit from this new makeover. Released originally with black and white, sepia brown and bronze colors, the artwork matched the album’s tenure, but lacked appeal towards a wider audience. The depth of this edition is elongating the content and design.
In the meanwhile, `A Thousand Scars’ has not lost an inch of its impressive appeal. Growing to be benchmark for the current upheaval in these desperate times, it might well be the soundtrack of the present and future, which many will be able to relay to.
“… to free us of the places, that have us crawling on the knife”, Eric drones with his Baritone voice over the cinematic meandering ,,The Space Between Us”. It subtly opens taking you on a journey through Eric’ life and times, from childhood to the present. Light in its musical approach, the story soon takes its dramatic course with ,,Revolution Mine” barging in, and Clayton questioning his faith and believes. Questioning his position and his created alter egos as a performer often dubbed “prophet”, “healer” or “priest” and “preacher” referring to his controversial stage presence and adoration by fans worldwide. Questioning and calling out the “Tyrant” in his personality, revealed by the revelation of times, reaching out and clinging to his faith. “Solemnly he stands and claims the prophets time”, he sighs with frail narration in his voice, weeping in despair.
It is the lingering towards the outcall at the end of the song, taking you to the middle of the agony towards his quest.
It is the collapse of him refraining to his childhood, searching for answers growing up. His younger years with tormented children echoing “help me…” in the opening of ,,Where it Starts”, before piano takes the song forward. Vocal and piano interaction are frail, percussion is timid and warm. There’s so much agony welling, and Clayton imposes deep emotions in your heart and soul. You literally feel his pain rolling onto you in waves, with the reverbing “help me…” returning to the fold. Seeking direction and affection, he calls out to his parents on the following two refrains depicting the balance in his upbringing, the love and affection vs the fear of an unpredictable other half.
Transferring the two onto himself he whispers tormented “…I have seen the monster’s eyes, and they are mine”, to conclude with sighing tone “…they are mine”, to contemplate his horror. And it is not finding solace, but the opposite rather. More ominous ,,In the Lines” opens with Clayton’s deepest roaring vocals, narrating. His childhood introspection welded to the carcass of his inbred rage and pain bursting out. How a person is crafted along the mould of what we inherit. The good and bad, and how we deal with everything inbred “in the lines”, growling “There is madness and fear” before confirming the innate of his internal brooding, recurring in the phrase “There is malice in here” sung with increasing anguish.
MAN VS FATHER
,,A Man’s Heart” is one of the best and most gripping performances of a rock ballad ever. Not the typical tearjerker about love lost, but the conformation of man vs father, and the sorrow and remorse within. How our lives evolve following the paved paths of ancestors, how we can break root and steer away from all ‘in the lines’ we inherit. It is remorseful and timid, Eric calling out forgiveness. “To hold a man’s soul in the palm of your hand as he breaks” condenses the pain of someone losing grip on himself, with his child present. It is the love of father and son, mother and daughter, under the veil of forgiveness as we find solace in our history.
As love is granting someone power over your heart in the hopes, they will not use it to break it, this piano pulled song constantly taps your emotional vein, oozing love and affection, while questioning the standings of the elder. Gripping, emotional.
With his forgiveness in place, the artist seeks confrontation with his faith and believes on ,,Initiated”. The indoctrination of the child recommenced. Proclaiming himself reborn Eric Clayton looks for the doctrine of his faith, discovering it all worked towards his person shaped. An immersive view of his fate towards faith itself, almost condemning religion’s imposing postures as Eric sings “Child of the faker, betray the maker of lies”. The atmosphere is lush, but there’s a constant of melancholy and withheld anger oozing in, perfectly drawn up by luring arrangements and fine drum and percussion elements. Guitars color the atmosphere with Eric’s brother Jeff pitching a colorful guitar melody that links to the opening of the album on ,,The Space between Us”.
THE PAIN AND LONELINESS
Whether or not he delves the void of ‘the space’ with the space amongst them as brothers, or the stillness of his lost fate, is the question, but on the following ,,The Cages” he ensures the anger gets to the front. “I’m standing at the corners of thee mind. I’m playing with the infinite design”, sums up just how broken and lost the singer is.
The song is packed with energy and discharges frequently with Eric Clayton pawing in the darkest of his mind. Condemned to the cages, Eric also sees his religion dissolve being lost, fearing to cross the lines imposed by his past. “All in Hell ignites the monster’s eyes. All in Heaven dies…” he sings as love lost from anger, faith gone. Tormenting himself Eric delves into thee ominous ,,Lacerations” embracing his pain on claiming ,,All the scars are mine… once forsaken” to conclude in sheer agony and pain ,,By my own design”, on the dying notes of the song, slowly meandering in another piano ballad.
Eric’s voice is dark and deep, casting serene pain and sorrow, drawn away from the light. The loneliness of someone suffering one can easily relay to. Lyrical, it pitches perfect with emotions scattering and scorching heartache. “I’m frightened when the sadness calls my name” is the absolute agonizing phrase that embodies the pain, but it is the haunting and painful statements in the song’s daunting chorus that summing up the pain, agony and shame arising. “Inside of me it’s broken, inside of me it waits and then…”, you instantly hold your breath for the ,,Subtle Collapse” that follows. The low bass feeding towards the rhythmic shuffles of drum and percussion gradually build tension before singer starts to question everything lost.
MEDICATION AND DRUGS
Stop and go motion with deep bass pull forward for his claim of “Turning inward, burning out”, seeing his person destroyed over self-imposed illusion no longer covering his (well) being, seeking redemption “…kneel before the dying of a stranger”, time and time again. The distortion when he belts out “Kneel before me now!” in distress. Touching the senseless suffering, delusions and seclusion, the song is static but driven, emphasizing the place he finds himself in before overloading and numbing himself with medication and drugs on the following ,,American Whore”. Harsh lyrical content Tipper Gore would label with ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers, it definitely covers the breakdown of the artist desperately seeking pain relief.
Turning to mediation and drugs, the overload is complete and addiction kicks in and numbs. “She’s got me… she’s got me begging for more”, he roars violently on the Saviour Machine reminiscent song, eventually stating “I’m lost in the American dream”, referring to the drugged-up state of society suppressing all pain with medication and drugs which need to be medicated in infinite circles.
It is then that Eric finally finds refuge and asylum in his faith and his past. Taken in by his father he sobers up cold turkey in the heat of the desert. ,,Faithful Son” is a short intermezzo on piano fusing the past to the future, opening towards the wonderful, almost introspective resurrection of the artist on ,,New Man”. The in between place of old and new, solitaire in his own mind, trying to find the new him. The struggle and internal void of the past lost and a new man arising from its ashes, combusting on a powerful pompous note with intensifying melodies and impressive hook. Bells tolling for the new man to arrive with the glorious powerful phrase “When madness claimed the faithful son, the new man took his place”, injected with uplifting piano swirls.
It is the first song of the closing trilogy about Eric Clayton reborn as a man and finding his new paths diverting from the root of his past. On the title track he repeats all the questions of the lessons learned in the previous chapters. Like a repetitive question mark droning the song is tastefully arranged with a wonderful nesting guitar melody and powerful hooks. Clayton’s vocals are morphing from frail to persistent positive, determined towards the end.
Nice angelic choirs reverb `A Thousand Scars’ as the questions summarize the story line. Delving deep in the end the last section is extremely powerful uplifting with Eric belting out in fine form: “All that I want to face. All that my heart embraces. All that I live to see. All that I hope to be”, concluding in the statement “…in a thousand scars”, fading in lush string arrangement with the choir returning to the fold, leading us into the mesmerizing and equally glorious ,,The Greatest of These”.
Another low-pitched ballad that oozes love and devotion. Eric’s voice dominant and powerful. The narrative tone is exquisite. Instrumentation is tasteful, and the angelic choir returns for the emotional chorus “Love… love is a whisper not a shout”. Interaction between choir and Clayton is impressive with towering allure. Gradually building towards its Grande finale, the song keeps welling and ebbing with emotions. The triumphant last part is noble and unforgettable with Eric’s echoing baritone switching registers “and it lives and breathes in the space between” making the lyrical content going full circle, and the proclamation of love as guidance of him as the ‘new man’.
`A Thousand Scars’ is the masterpiece that will swipe you off your feet. An album with gripping story depicted by artful wordplay and cinematic musical performances. The band (The nine) surrounding Eric went all in together with Eric conveying the dark and ominous story. Ludo Caenen shows his abilities as pianist and songwriter, balancing Eric Clayton and providing the needed depth and structure in the arrangements. Twan Bakker is the right drummer for the gig, able to lay down downward heavy beats and interchange with subtle rhythmic time changes or subtle polyrhythms and lush percussion. The dynamics are impressive with Rob Dokter’s bass deepening the atmosphere. The interplay is marvellous and over all this musical craftsmanship guitarist Bas Alberson and Jeroen Geerts ensure the Saviour Machine legacy is pulsating present. Switching 6 and 12 string guitars and eBow, he enriches the musical palette, with occasionally Jeff Clayton guesting.
Immense, intense and grim the album progresses, making this a Grimtense musical experience orbiting on this warm and organic sounding vinyl version, with artwork matching the music.
Post Scriptum: please note that I interpret the art and music following my personal feelings. Zooming in on its content, aligning lyrics and words, impose emotions on me that were transferred onto my well-being and challenges of the last 2 years experienced. It is there for my interpretation of Eric’s thoughts and music on `A Thousand Scars’. In short: listeners might be subject to entirely different interpretations being exposed to this records lyrics and music. Make it yours!