Shadow Gallery Digital Ghosts
Released: October 28 Genre: Progressive metal Label: Inside Out
Shadow Gallery will always be a group that'll qualify for my list of underappreciated bands. With album like Room V and Tyranny on their resum, they really should have been able to reach a wider audience than they have. It seemed the group suffered a fatal blow with the passing of vocalist Mike Baker, who died of a heart attack almost exactly one year ago, on October 29.
When the rest of the band announced that they'd carry on, I must say I grew a tad skeptic. Baker was one of the best vocalists you'll ever come across, and following in his footsteps would be an incredibly difficult task. The band eventually recruited Brian Ashland to handle the vocals, and the finished product is Digital Ghosts.
Shadow Gallery is a progressive metal band in the vein of early 1990's Dream Theater and similar acts. Heavier sections are mixed with softer, often piano laced sections. As they draw much more on classic 80's metal than modern progressive acts do, the heavy sections are reminiscent of Queensryche and late 80's Iron Maiden. Over the course of the album, Brian Ashland turns out to be an exceptional vocalist, even if he sounds annoyingly similar to Geoff Tate.
What's pleasing with Digital Ghosts is that it's good enough on all fronts to keep your mind from drifting into the band died with Baker-territory. I obviously miss him and wish he'd been alive, but Ashland manages to hold his own just fine. The material is strong, through not as mesmerizing as on Room V, but despite a pretty slow start Digital Ghosts comes through with the finishing trio of songs and ends up being a pleasant surprise. If you're into classic progressive metal, then this album should suit you just fine.
Savage Circus Of Doom And Death
Released: October 23 Genre: Power metal Label: Dockyard 1
Savage Circus was formed by former Blind Guardian drummer Thomen Stauch and have prior to Of Doom And Death only released one studio album. Unfortunately for Thomen, he was fired from Savage Circus in 2007 and eventually replaced by Mike Terrana.
Savage Circus is musically very similar to 1990's Blind Guardian, with high pitched operatic vocals, harmonized guitars accompanied by speed metal riffing. At times Savage Circus sounds annoyingly similar to Blind Guardian on all possible fronts, with the exception of the guitar leads not having that little wah effect which has become one of Andr Olbrich's trademarks.
If one focuses on the songwriting, Of Doom And Death is a pretty strong album with a handful of songs that strike a chord with me. There're only 9 songs on the album, but with the majority being around 7 minutes long, the album manages to go on for nearly an hour. While about half the album is very good, the formula doesn't hold up for an entire hour. There're average songs scattered throughout the journey, but I'd argue that the glass is half full, and not half empty.
Baroness Blue Record
Released: October 13 Genre: Sludge/Progressive metal Label: Relapse
Occasionally you stumble across albums where the non-metal moments are just as crucial as the metal ones. Blue Record is one of those albums, and while Baroness have their fair share of heavy riffs, it's the acoustic/clean sections that help tie the affair together. Without the gentler side of the band, this album would be a much less enjoyable listen. Bullhead's Psalm, The Steel That Sleeps The Eye and the other soft songs that are scattered through the 44 minutes of Blue Record give some air and respite to the listen. I'm not saying that the metal moments aren't worthwhile most of the songs are indeed very good, but it's the calm between the storms that manage to stick in my head.
Blue Record is one of those albums that manage to balance the dynamics beautifully, so that the album maintains an enjoyable flow through the duration of the record. While I find myself wanting to skip a track or two here and there, Blue Record is a lovely listen full of fuzz and feel-good songs.
Between the Buried And Me The Great Misdirect
Released: October 27 Genre: Progressive metal Label: Victory
There have been many great 1-2 punches in the history of metal. Metallica's Ride and Puppets, Iron Maiden's Number and Piece, Dream Theater's Images and Awake, to name but a few. I will jump the gun here and say that Colors and The Great Misdirect is indeed one of the best 1-2 punches in many, many years.
Much like Colors, The Great Misdirect opens with a soft, mellow song and then burst into something a bit more aggressive. Obfuscation might be one of their best songs to date, which sounds something like a merge between Selkies and The Sun of Nothing. What is apparent is that this is more or less the same band, the same group of guys as the ones who penned Colors. Stylistically The Great Misdirect isn't much different from it's predecessor, but I mean that in a good way. BTBAM struck pure gold with Colors, and this album is just the same thing, except more refined. If you'd told me a few years ago that they'd release an even better album with the same formula, I'd laughed out loud.
The difference between the albums, at least to these ears, is that The Great Misdirect is a bit more, no pun intended, direct. As odd as that sounds, I'll just say that The Great Misdirect comes off as a more catchy record, which also is a bit of an odd statement, as Colors despite all its progressive off-the-wall wizardy also was extremely catchy.
Just as Colors, The Great Misdirect possesses admirable flow, taste and restraint when it comes to picking what piece to put where. At times it is facemeltingly brutal, and at times it is so soft and tender that you could put your baby asleep to it.
The pair of albums that were in the running for album of the year just got a new rival.