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Wow, this was the surprise of the century. - 92%

hells_unicorn, February 11th, 2007

“Fate is not without its own sense of irony” (Morpheus, the matrix); that is the reaction that one has when they hear this album. Mark Boals had just left Malmsteen’s recently resurrected Rising Force in order to record this, and when one considers the album he put out this year with Boals at the microphone, it is hard to blame the singer of Trilogy fame for jumping ship. Essentially this is the first solo album put out under this name that is worthy of the banner of Power Metal, and a lot of it owes to the amazing musicians that Boals has currently surrounding him.

“Ring of Fire” is remarkably similar both in musicality and subject matter to Malmsteen’s “Alchemy”, though with better lyrics, a denser dimension and a more varied approach to soloing. Such tracks as “The Quest” marry the infectious groove approach of “The Stand” with the epic fantasy style of bands like Human Fortress and Freedom Call. “Betrayer” and “Bringer of Pain” are cut from upper mid tempo work such as “Daemon Dance”. We also have a sizable collection of speed metal classics littering the mix that are somewhat similar to Yngwie’s approach, but actually faster and more aggressive.

Some songs on here are actually quite a bit different from the work that Mark Boals did with Yngwie. The most obvious example being the keyboard driven and quasi-Symphony X inspired heavy epic “Atlantis”, which is formally and stylistically much more adventurous than anything ever put out by the Swedish shredder. “Keeper of the Flame” has a nice gloomy acoustic intro that is somewhat similar to Edguy’s earlier power ballads. “The Hunted” sounds like a better produced, more keyboard oriented and more vocally apt version of Nocturnal Rites classic “The Pentagram”.

But the true strength in this project is found in the songs that really bring out the abilities of the virtuosos working with ex-Malmsteen vocalist. The intro to “Death Row” showcases a brilliant classical piano demonstration by Vitalij Kuprij, while the rest has showcases the heavy end riffs and soloing brilliance of current Steve Vai backup guitarist and shred metal veteran Tony MacAlpine. Likewise, the title track and the album closer “Battle of the Titan” showcase the amazing solo abilities of both players and the remarkable precision of drummer Virgil Donati.

I must admit that when I purchased this album I was expecting a half assed attempt at Power Metal by a singer who never could get out of Yngwie’s shadow, as was the case with the last album under his name, but I have been proven wrong. This is the real deal; the musicians show a level of competence worthy of a Power/Prog band and the songs are absolutely brilliant. If you like Stratovarius, Symphony X, Yngwie’s work with Mark Boals, and shred then this masterpiece is definitely for you.