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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.