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After two albums that were solidly written and performed but considerably underproduced, Royal Hunt exchanged Danish singer Henrik Brockmann for then-mostly-unknown American D.C. Cooper; this was the first album of any note that Cooper appeared on. The addition of an in-his-prime Cooper and massive production upgrades propel the band to soaring new heights.
Opener "Last Goodbye" immediately cements this fact. Cooper unleashes a soaring vocal performance that's arguably the highlight of his career, on top of the typical soaring neoclassical keyboard-driven backdrops of Andre Andersen. Ballad "Far Away" is another timeless classic; its vocal-and-keyboard coda is the most famous moment of Cooper's and Royal Hunt's career. "Makin' a Mess" marries a big 6/8 groove to some appealing neoclassical melodies. Closer "Time" features a massive ethereal C#5 from Cooper in the intro, igniting the track from acoustic ballad to urgent neoclassical rocker. The swinging "Step By Step" adds a rare element of welcome looseness to the band's sound, and "Stay Down" and "Give It Up" are competent second-half midtempo numbers.
Throughout, Cooper gives the tracks a soaring flair, accompanied by layers of propulsive keyboards, boomy, driving drums from Kenneth Olsen, and atmospheric guitar work from Jacob Kjaer, who gets somewhat overshadowed here as Cooper and Andersen jockey for the center. The instrumentation is very tight throughout, with not a note out of place and none of the more extended pieces the band would come to write soon after. The band is given a lush, reverb-drenched production that would seem to remind one of the '80s, except the pile-of-synths sound actually gives this a fairly '70s-ish sound. If a '70s prog band stayed together in the '80s, got blown away by the neoclassical boom, cut their songs down to size, and released a big-budget album in 1988, the sonics would end up a lot like this.
The album does feel a bit slight after a few listens--instrumental "Autograph" and the wandering "1348" don't add much, and the album barely runs over 30 minutes without them. While this was Royal Hunt's coming-out party, it isn't their most essential release, as a result--followup Paradox and 2001's The Mission are their career high points. But Moving Target isn't far behind. Cooper never sounded better, and the band never topped the greatness of "Last Goodbye" and "Far Away," which have a solid case for being the best two songs in the band's thirteen-album catalog.
With the much needed addition of singer D.C. Cooper (now gone solo), Royal Hunt released 1995's "Moving Target", the band's third full-length album. Although the music does not depart radically from the band's earlier work, i.e. keyboard-laden, classically influenced progressive metal, the overall quality has increased significantly.
The leading track, "Last Goodbye", lures you in with a mysterious loop of classical strings accentuated by bursts from the rhythm section. It builds and builds, finally bursting through with a full-blown rolling beat and layered harpsichord effects. The sound is rich, the production crisp. It *does* sound a bit like the soundtrack to a Castlevania game, but only in a good way. After an instrumental breakdown, Cooper's powerful, clean voice shines through at mid range. The tempo slows and the instrumentation backs down to showcase this new member. As his voice builds, the music grows with it, until it they both reach full volume and glorious heights. From here on out, the band really starts to groove, jamming to a relentless stream of neo-classical keys and strings. The one thing that's odd about the track is the subject, which is drug abuse. it's a bit difficult to understand the significance of lyrics like "Last, last goodbye, bitter as the silent cry / Blowin' out the chance for a second try" when they're crooned out over relatively jovial Baroque riffs. The song ends with a spoken outro which happens to be The Lord's Prayer ("Give us this day our daily bread...").
The second track, "1348", continues along the same compositional vein as the first, including the seemingly disjointed feel/theme. This one's about the Black Death of 1348, and it talks about "Undertakers working hard" and "rotten bodies is where it's at, / Friends are gone and rats get fat". Pretty bleak, but you'd never know it if from the music. Sure, it's in a harmonic minor key, but that doesn't really mean anything.
After these two tracks, the lyrics become less disjointed but, well, more banal. They don't really seem to be about anything. To be sure, the music continues to please, with imaginative composition and tight performing, but I got a little lost as to the point of many of these tracks. They don't help the album retain cohesiveness.
"Autograph" is an intrumental track that showcases the keyboardists' chops quite well. It's a tour de force of classical strings, harpsichords, and even woodiwnds. It would fit very welll in any fantasy video game or fantasy movie action sequence. Yes, it's incredibly cheesy, but it's clear that the band just wants to rock, and we can't hold that against them...
The following two tracks pull back a bit and opt for mid-tempo, ballad-like tracks. They're not particularly remarkable, but inoffensive if you've liked the almbum so far.
The last track, "Time", masquerades as yet another mid-tempo track, beginning with a solemn acoustic guitar round and low-mid range lamenting vocals. That is, until it blasts you, rather unexpectedly (and pleasantly) into an peppy, up-tempo number like the first two. It helps bring the album full circle, encompassing the middle tracks with powerhouses. Although Cooper has been singing excellently throughout, this track also lets him shine quite nicely, with overdubbed harmonies and mid- and high-range sections. The song also features one of the better of the few guitar solos.
There is a release of this album which contains a wonderful acoustic version of the 4th track, "Far Away". I recommend obtaining a copy with this bonus track if resources permit.
All in all, "Moving Target" does not disappoint, save the lyrics in a few fo the songs. However, D.C. Cooper's voice is so good that it truly helps ameliorate this deficiency. Seriously, this guy can SING.
This album shows that the band's new line-up has serious potential, and it is a solid effort all around. Luckily, the band's next album, "Paradox", is even better, so iif you like this, give that a spin for sure.