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Ahh, Strange and Beautiful. One of the more maligned entries in the progressive metal canon, brought forth as yet another example of a formerly-powerful band brought to its knees at the feet of commercialism. It doesn't take much to get metalheads down the "sellout!" rabbit hole, and the album's title does it no favors; the number of times I've heard the "not beautiful, but definitely strange" puns grows ever staggering.
To be sure, the music on Strange and Beautiful bears little resemblance to that of its predecessor, the truly towering achievement of Transcendence. Consequently--let's get this out of the way up front--if you go into this album expecting to hear music in the vein of its predecessors, you're going to emerge quite confused by the experience. I certainly was when I first became a fan of the band--my first pass through this stuff, I found "Deep Inside Your Heart" to be a high-quality power ballad and little else to be worthwhile. Judged as a successor to Transcendence, this album is indeed a miserable failure; the decision to turn away from the landmark powerprog stylings of Crimson Glory's past work still stands as a bad one.
But, like so many albums that fall into the "sellout" black hole, Strange and Beautiful is actually quite misunderstood. For one thing, while there is a huge stylistic shift at play and it suspiciously coincides with the shift to a major label, the shift is not an inauthentic one--it actually, in retrospect, isn't surprising when you consider the band members at the time. Second guitarist Ben Jackson left after Transcendence, and bandleader Jon Drenning apparently seemed content to let Jackson take Crimson Glory's signature dual-lead sound with him, opting to take sole six-string duties here. Drummer Dana Burnell, who only sort of played on Transcendence anyway, also left and was replaced with Ravi Jakhotia, who a) isn't a drum machine and b) has a much different style than that of the parts the Transcendence drum machine (or, on the first album, Burnell himself) was playing. Midnight, for his part, was always more of a folk singer than a metal singer at heart--just look at his subsequent solo output. Take the shift in personnel, throw in the desire to try something a bit new, and you end up getting a mishmash of everyone's ideas that doesn't quite please anyone. In later times, Drenning went on record to say Strange and Beautiful was effectively a Midnight solo album, and Midnight himself didn't even stay in the band long enough to even go on the following tour. Ahh, the dangers of compromise.
So, what results from that compromise? It's actually kind of hard to pin down what Strange and Beautiful is trying to do, which is why we see so much reflexive snickering at the first word of the title or lazy labeling of the music as "glam," just because anyone accused of selling out in 1991 gets lumped in with "glam." I listen to a lot of "glam metal" and don't view the term as a pejorative in the slightest, and so I wouldn't at all mind if that was the style here...but it isn't. Sure, we've got songs called "In The Mood" and "Make You Love Me," and the lyrics of those two songs read as glam, but that's about as far as it goes. Nothing on here is even as glam as Transcendence's "Lonely," though the single, "The Chant," kind of tries. "The Chant" was written by outside writers, which is the one thing about this album that is kind of sellout-y, but whatever overt pop appeal the song has (mostly in the stop-start guitar riffs), Midnight's edgy delivery pulls it out of the glam arena, for better or worse. The man was many things, but there was nothing glam about Midnight.
If this music is not the glam it's accused of being, and it's not the band's previously pioneered powerprog, then what is it? The sound on Strange and Beautiful reaches in several directions--something that is, in its own strange (heh, there it is) way, more "progressive" than the fairly unified, monolithic sound of the prior two discs. In one sense, its more hard rock-oriented sound is a nod backward to the '70s, as if they've traced the famed "In Dark Places" riff all the way back to its roots in Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." But the record is oddly forward-looking as well, with the hard rock guitars, soft/loud dynamics, and Midnight's aggressive delivery sounding ahead of the alternative curve. If they sold out, they sold out to 1993, not 1988.
Whether the album looks back to the '70s, forward to the mid-'90s, or even touches on the band's metallic past, the one unifier is Midnight's vocals. No, they aren't the crazy wails we got on Crimson Glory or Transcendence, though he's still quite high-pitched at times and overall admirably rangy. Still, even taken out of the mystical realm of power metal, Midnight sounds as otherworldly as ever here. While retrospective focus on Midnight tends to revere him for his role in popularizing high-pitched wails and overall prowess, the man was really never all that much of a technician, just an incredibly emotive folk singer who happened to be able to hit high notes cleanly too. And so that aura of mystery that surrounds the first two albums stubbornly persists here, even though the music below it is considerably more modest in scope and ambition. This has the effect of pulling everything into a vaguely psychedelic mode.
Beyond that, the thing that really saves Strange and Beautiful is that Drenning and Midnight are both great at what they do, and while the overall musical direction here isn't optimal, neither of them has run out of ideas or passion. In a lot of ways, the progressive edge of Crimson Glory is still there, as the song structures are still anything but straightforward in many cases, especially the title track and "Starchamber." There's even some world music influence courtesy of Jakhotia's sometimes tribal-sounding approach to drumming, dovetailing with Midnight's folk instincts. The singer's delivery, as noted before, is impassioned as ever and, due to the nature of the material, even more hypnotic than before. While his highest register is missed somewhat, songs of this nature don't really call for it anyway. Drenning's guitar leads actually sound like guitars on this album, which is nice after the weird, flangy leads on Transcendence, and he gets more room to wield the axe than you might think given the album's reputation. The title track and the excellent "Deep Inside Your Heart" both have great solos. Outside of solos, though, his presence is more subdued; some catchy riffing pops up here and there, but it's devoid of the same inspiration as the band's previous material. Again, this isn't the sort of music that needs five good riffs a song, so if you don't go in looking for the Transcendence sound, you don't feel it as much as you'd think, but it is still a loss nonetheless. Jakhotia's drumming, as noted before, has some world music elements at times; otherwise, he's competent but relatively faceless here. The only other notable thing about his performance is really that his snare is almost obnoxiously loud here, and I say that as somebody who generally likes loud snares. Bassist Jeff Lords, always the band's forgotten member, has his usual tasteful lines that subtly move the songs in positive directions, and he is mixed quite high.
I feel like I've spent the majority of this review fiercely defending Strange and Beautiful, to the point where I may be running the risk of overshooting my target. Make no mistake, it is a big step down. This is music that never aspires to reach the heights of Transcendence, and so it never does, no matter how well-executed it is. The production is better than previous albums, but the instruments still sound frustratingly hazy, but that kind of meshes with Midnight's voice anyway, so maybe it's just as well. "Dance on Fire" is easily the worst thing the band ever did, a song with zero good ideas, a complete lack of flow between sections, and a very pitchy vocal performance. Acoustic ballad "Far Away" is fine but completely unnecessary on an album that already has "Deep Inside Your Heart" and the piano-led "Song For Angels."
Discouraging weaknesses, to be sure. But Dream Theater fans have the luxury to dismiss Falling Into Infinity (a similarly-misunderstood release) because they have twelve (okay, eleven...we'll forget When Dream and Day Unite is a thing) other releases of DT-brand music to enjoy. Given the comparative brevity of Crimson Glory's run, it's wiser here to try to meet this album on its terms, because frankly it was Midnight's swan song when it came to metal or even rock music. If you go in without the burden of the band's past and just want to hear one of prog metal's most legendary vocalists sing good material, the album delivers pretty consistently. Perhaps Drenning's comment is right, then--the album is best appreciated as a Midnight album rather than one that has to carry the burden of the Crimson Glory back catalog on its slumping shoulders. As a Midnight album, it works precisely because it's hard not to get caught up in his trance, whether on the touching ballads, the psychedelia of the extended pieces, or the alternative-prog-glam-pop-metal hybrids. Such awkward genre mashups are indeed a strange place to go from the, er, transcendent achievements of the band's past, but with Midnight at the helm and plenty of good Drenning ideas behind him, Strange and Beautiful lives up to both halves of its title more often than not.
Strange and Beautiful- 1991
So now we come to one of my personal favorites in my CD collection, Crimson Glory’s 1991 masterpiece “Strange and Beautiful”. This album was special in many ways. It marked a stylistic departure into somewhat of a Queensryche meets Robert Plant- esque musical style. There is definitely a lot of heart and soul poured into this record by the core members of the band, Jon Drenning and Midnight. The way I acquired this CD is quite a funny story actually. I was up in Escanaba MI, (Upper Peninsula) and I stopped into this record store and browsed through their selection with my dad who used to work for and knew a lot of the guys in CG. He actually was friends with them because he mainly worked for a band that opened up for them a lot of times around the Detroit area called “Halloween”. But after a disappointing run through of their selection, I returned to him and he had, what I would later find out is a German imported Digi-pak, gold CD copy that fetches quite a pretty penny nowadays. I popped it into my CD player and I must tell you that I was not all that impressed by it. It was not the CG that I knew and loved. But after a few days, it began to grow on me. To this day this recording, along with the debut and Transcendence, have to be my favorite CD’s of all time
Strange and Beautiful - this is quite an atmospheric song. It opens up with a sort of a reverberating, echoing acoustic guitar and around 15 seconds into it, Midnight’s eerie vocals just make it an awesome listen. The electric guitars kick in around 45 seconds or so and they just kick ass. Some amazing work if you ask me. This album is really one of the best guitar albums of all time to me. The drumming is hard hitting, seeing that it is probably a drum machine like the one used on Transcendence. Most people do not know that it was a machine but it was. It was a hell of a good machine too. It sounded like a real set.
Promised Land - it starts off with some sort of freaky tribal chant and tribal dance beat. It is definitely not my favorite CG song, but it is alright. The guitar work on this song is AMAZING! There is some heavy picking going on in this track. The vocals are loud and clear. It also features some gospel-style vocals in the background which make for an all around good song. My only complaint is that it could have done without all of the tribal chants at the start, but I usually fast forward through that part anyway so it would not make any real difference.
Love And Dreams - it’s pretty good. It starts off with a catchy acoustic guitar riff. The lyrics, from my point of view, are about a person and his/her lover. I could be wrong, but that is the way I put it. Hell, I borrowed the lyrics to ask a chick out. I even told her that it wasn’t written by me, yet she still loved it. It is mainly an acoustic track with a cool laid back solo in the middle. I've always thought that this kind of sounded like Queensryche a bit.
The Chant - PURE PERFECTION!!!!!! It is just amazing. It hits you in the face and continues to pound!!! It features a riff that is groovy as fuck, simplistic, yet extremely enjoyable. The Wurlitzer organ is a bit loud, but who the hell cares? The gospel vocals are also a prominent feature in this track, giving it dynamism and distinction. The drums are loud here, making it even more pounding. Drenning’s production is extremely clear and has stood the test of time very well.
Dance On Fire - to tell you the truth, I have never really listened to this one at all. I just do not like it all that much. It is nothing really mind blowing or amazing, but just a song with a good, crunchy riff and that is about it.
Song for Angels - again, PURE PERFECTION, yet slowed down to a ballad speed. I love this song. What is there not to love about this track? Midnight is on the piano and it just makes for an amazing show-stopping ballad. My jaw was on the floor when I first took a listen to this song. I LOVED IT! The main guitar is just soft acoustics that just makes it a really emotional song. The solo is also real good, just to mention.
In The Mood - again, I never really gave this track a true listen. I just skip over it every time it is on, but it is really a good heavy track. Then it breaks down into a freaky Arabic beat after about 20 or so seconds. It is really nothing to rave about. The guitar, as always, is amazing, being very groovy and catchy. They drumming is heavy and loud, but other than that, no real stand out moments, and also very Robert Plant solo-esque in some places, I must mention.
Starchamber - at last the eerie 7 and a half minute epic. It is very Queensryche-influenced. It starts off with a clean guitar playing against some sort of freaky, spacey sound effect, then almost suddenly explodes into a fully-fledged, heavy metal masterpiece. It is a very odd song that can never really jive with me, yet despite its weirdness I still find it to be a smashingly great song.
Deep Inside Your Heart - sadly, this song has been called many things. “Deep Inside Your Fart” and “Lonely Part II” just to name a few. Like 'The Chant" and "Song for Angels", this is PURE PERFECTION! This song is perhaps my favorite on the album. It starts off with the sound of a clean, reverberating guitar with the ride cymbal chiming it in. Then Midnight’s vocals slip in with the opening line. If that is not enough to persuade anyone in the right mind to love this song, it features a very bluesy, emotional guitar solo. What is there not to love about this track? Come to your senses and just open up your mind.…
Make You Love Me - another one of those ones that I just never listen to. I find myself skipping this once “Deep Inside Your Heart” is over, but it happens to be a pretty good track overall. It clocks in at a little over 4 minutes. “Make You Love Me” has somewhat of a constant groove. It tends to stick on you like a leech on your brain. I have found myself walking up and down the hallways of my school, humming the main riff and the riff at the chorus line. Overall, a truly great song.
Far Away - what a way to end an album. On this track it is just Midnight and Drenning. It is somewhat reminiscent of “Someone Else?” by Queensryche except instead of a piano, it is an acoustic guitar while Midnight’s vocals just soar here. They are just excellent. Whenever I hear this track I think of Midnight who sadly passed away from a stomach aneurysm in 2009.
Final Thoughts - overall, this is a truly underrated classic by an amazing metal band. It marks a true stylistic change. Jon Drenning’s crystal clear production surely stands the test of time. The groove-based riffs may get annoying to some, but this is indeed a lost gem in the CG catalog.
Best Tracks: Strange And Beautiful, Promise Land, The Chant, Song For Angels, Deep Inside Your Heart, Far Away.
If you are considering purchasing this album, you should check these tracks out first, seeing that they are perhaps the strongest on here. P.S. steer clear of "Ass"tronomica. It is not classic CG and is just terrible when set up against the first three records.
A lot of people know when looking at Crimson Glory's discography to keep the first two and screw the last two. But why is Strange and Beautiful really that bad? Well it depends on who is listening to this album. This album came out in 1991. I think we can all agree that Crimson Glory "sold out" and commercialized on this album, a lot of because of the time period. On the first two album there was heaviness and awesome guitar riffs. Now it just sounds like low budget glam rock. Safe to say this isn't metal? Yes. Safe to say it's not good album, well it depends on who is listening. Whether or not you want to believe it; Crimson Glory has a lot of guitar riffs, songs, vocal performances, etc. on this album that hints toward bands like Lynch Mob. Note I picked Lynch Mob since the timing is appropriate.
Let me just make a short list of some of the glam moments in this album and you can decide for yourself. The chorus and verse (specially lyrical content) on Strange and Beautiful. After the strange intro and the riffs and drum style of Promise Land. Song for Angels represents the glam ballad, with piano playing and never real heavy guitar riffs with a moving, touchy guitar solo. The whole song In the Mood, specially the beginning (George Lynch anybody with the pinch harmonics???). These songs aren't really bad, I enjoy them.
But there is one reason why I kind of enjoy this album, and that is because I am into some glam metal. It's kind of like this; allow me to give an analogy. Metallica came out with the black album, which wasn't good but still had some decent songs. Then they came out with Load, which in my opinion was still kind of good, but they sold out -commercialized if you will. Same thing with Crimson Glory. Awesome metal to wanna be glamsters. So if you are the type of metal head that is unforgiving to bands that sell out, you know to stay away. But if you enjoy glam rock with a mix of semi-prog, then check it out and decide for yourself.
First of all I would like to state that it is my opinion that this particular album is not a metal album, but closer to along the lines of what a band like Mr. Big or Firehouse would do. The screeching guitar duos from the Self-Titled album and Transcendence are no more. Without Ben Jackson contributing, the guitar work and song writing has been very week. From the band that gave us Mayday and Red Sharks, we are forced to sit through virtually an entire album about cheesy sentiments of love.
This album isn't all that horrible though, mainly because the production is incredibly good, especially for the drums, which have been taken over by another drummer who has a very similar style of that of Dana Burrell from the Transcendence album. Not even the production to this album can make Midnight's voice sound like it used to. There is no shrieking on this album, nor are their any remotely aggressive songs.
Strange and Beautiful is probably the best track, simply because of a rather catchy chorus, which is accompanied by a rather memorable bass groove. The lyrics to this track, just like many other tracks are about women, which seems to be the main lyrical them of the album, which is kind of odd to expect from Crimson Glory after hearing their previous work.
Promised Land and The Chant have got to be the most poppy songs I have ever heard from bands that are on the metal-archives. I am reminded of Tesla's midpaced songs for The Chant, and Promised Land fades to sounded eeriely similar to a Firehouse B-side.
Song for Angels, although not one of Crimson Glory's better songs, it is probably one of their only true ballads, and it is indeed quite enjoyable inspite of an abundance of love and cheese in the lyrics. If you have ever heard Timo Tolkki's Key to the Universe, i find it rather similar, except for there is no guitar virtuosity in this song.
Strange and Beautiful is not really all that bad of an album if you are a fan of pop metal, but if you're looking for the raw metal edge of the previous Crimson Glory albums this may make you want to question your own sexuality listening to this. If you cut down on the lyrics of love for just a moment, then this album would be rated rather higher. Not much has changed about the band line-up, so I'm assuming that the change of direction is related to the departure of Ben Jackson. But for those who have heard the Midnight solo albums, it is likely that he is the main influence.
Strange and Beautiful brought many changes to Crimson Glory as we mainly know them from their self titled Debut and Transcendence. This release brings a new drummer to the forefront named Ravi Jakhotia who does a fine job behind the kit, and Ben Jackson had left CG for this album for some reason or another. So basically this left Jeff Lords, Drenning, and Midnight to the writing and arranging of this album. With Jackson gone Crimson Glory almost seemed to take a different direction musically altogether, with their unique almost romeo and juliet esque masks off now and their faces revealed i knew the moment i saw the cd it was definatly going to be different just by skimming through the song titles.
Strange and Beautiful blends many different elements of metal and rock but yet still attains that classic Crimson Glory trademark sound, still extremly spacy in essence. Midnight's vocals are not nearly as powerful or as fitting as Transendence and their debut. At times he almost sounds like Robert Plant, due to some weird ass moaning (see Strange and Beautiful and Love and Dreams). This album really deserves more credit than the average Crimson Fan gives it. It more or less attains a bad rep because this is easily their least consistent album relatively speaking. There are "some" commercial elements on this one although this is not at all what i would call a commercial album. The emence creativity that Crimson Glory has always had, really jumps up on this one as it has in the past. This is almost kind of experimental, and thats probably what brought this amazing group to its demise after this album for nearly 8 years. Drennings guitar playing is some of the best and most outstanding riffery i've ever had the pleasure of listening too in my years of existence on another note.
This is really something to be heard, and OMG listen to the "The Chant" track that almost sounds like a classic Motley Crue type song. Gospel vocals are present for the background which is something really weird to be in a hard rock song, but somehow it fits nicely. The riffs on this album are groovy as hell and catchy as fuck. The vocals are also quite infectious, although not nearly as good as Midnights job on Transendence. Jeff Lords highly talented bass playing is as always a pleasure to hear and a great member to have in any band. Although this album has a bad rep SAB is by no means a bad record by this respected band. They wanted to try something different and that is all there is to say. I totally respect their choise to experiment with different types of metal and rock. If you want to hear some of the best riffs you've ever heard listen to the title Track, Promise Land, The chant, and Make you Love Me. Basically this is enjoyable from start to finish with no exceptions. It's really to bad Crimson glory has to disband after this was released but what they would unleash in the coming years would be highly worth the long wait. Clocking in at neary one hour of amazing solos, orgasmic riffs, pounding drums, groovy fucking lead bass, and great vocals most of the time, Strange and Beautiful is a must have for any Crimson Glory fan. With rumors scattering around of a reunion of all the original members I can't help be feel excitement in my body of whats to come.
p.s avoid Song for Angels its almost completly worthless
Best Tracks: Strange and Beautiful, Promise Land, Love and Dreams, The Chant, Dance on Fire, In The Mood, Deep inside your Heart, Make you Love Me