without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Rarely has a band that deserves as much credit as Shadow Gallery received so little. I know that's kind of a bold statement to make, especially considering just how many great bands never get any kind of mainstream exposure but I assure you that even in comparison to many of those bands Shadow Gallery still stands tall.
I've been a fan for a while, but in all honesty I (much like a lot of their recent audience) wouldn't have known of them if it weren't for the ever promising yet consistently disappointing device we all know as the internet. Being that the musicians in Shadow Gallery are so talented and complete in as many ways as they are, it truly is surprising how little effort they seemed to put into spreading their name around, because with no live shows until over 20 years into their existence along with minimally promoted studio albums they unfortunately haven't left much of a mark amongst your average underground metalhead. But in the hearts of fans everywhere they hold a special place, and as cheesy as that sounds it definitely appears to be true.
But enough of that, onto "Carved in Stone". This being the band's second album, and the follow up to what was quite a debut it seems logical to assume that they must have put a definite extra amount of effort into this one. There are people who claim it is their magnum opus (despite frequently being out voted by the consistently more popular follow up album "Tyranny") and when listening to it there is definitely a basis for that. With the addition of multi instrumentalist and master songwriter Gary Wehrkamp as well as a live drummer for the first time in the form of Kevin Soffera, the band definitely received an upgrade for this album that gives this album a more raw, and in your face feel in comparison to the very polished debut.
Granted, that doesn't mean that the general feel or mood has changed much. Anyone who has heard the first Shadow Gallery album is aware of the extremely prominent 70's prog influence that was heard there, particularly in the Camel and Genesis influenced clean sections to be found in songs such as "The Dance of Fools", "The Queen of the City of Ice", and "Say Goodbye to the Morning". That musical leaning and approach is still visible on this album, but the metal elements have definitely become more prominent as they would become more and more through the following years. The unique, almost Elizabethan atmosphere that the debut projected is also found on this album but with a definite twist. What distinguishes this album the most in their discography is it's the most equal marriage of atmospheric melody, mood, and jangly technical metal that they have done in their career. Though these main elements are to be found on each of their albums, this one is the most equal.
The album begins with an all time classic in "Cliffhanger". I've always considered this song a battle of the guitars, and indeed Gary Wehrkamp and Brendt Allman produce searing lead after searing lead all laid over an almost "Stargazer" type groove as the haunting vocals of the late Mike Baker tell the album's first story. I've always consider Carl Cadden-James to be one of the finest lyricists in progressive music period (not to mention quite a skilled bassist) alongside John Arch, and right from the get go here you are intrigued.
"I remember there were
Fights and screaming in the
Streets that night
I had to run from the
Insinuations all about my life"
Despite being perhaps the simplest passage on the album, the words along with Baker's delivery catch your attention immediately. It's definitely one of my favorite songs on the album, and a great song to introduce a newcomer. As a whole there's roughly 7 guitar solos to be found on the song each as creatively crafted as the next, and the way they fit it into the fairly technical instrumental section without sounding convoluted is quite an achievement. The final closing statements of Allman and Wehrkamp (the last two solos that flow as one) are so good that it kind of paints both of them into a corner: how will they possibly top that? Well they don't necessarily "top" them, but the great thing is that they know when to play and when not to play. The feel of this song supported numerous leads so they are there, whereas other songs such as the moody "Alaska" are left primarily without them.
Between each song is a beautiful keyboard interlude from Chris Ingles, that serves a connecting piece between the songs and as an introduction to each one. Admittedly this does weigh the album down a tad, because regardless of how good they are and how remarkable of a keyboardist Ingles is (kind of a cross between Kevin Moore and Keith Emerson), they do ever so slightly drag the flow down towards the end of the album. While they do give the album an overarching "journeying" feel, if there were less of them in the 22 minute epic "Ghost Ship" the song would be more effective.
One of the biggest draws of Shadow Gallery musically is their mystic, almost alluring character that defines their sound and the two songs that follow "Cliffhanger" sum up that aspect very well. "Crystalline Dream" has one of the most divine choruses you can find, in addition to be gorgeously constructed and having some of the best keyboard work as well as the fact that it's by far their most well known song. But I'd like to give special mention to "Don't Ever Cry, Just Remember" because I just love the lyrics in it. Definitely open to various interpretations as it should be, but still tells an interesting fictional story at the same time. It also is a great showcase for the vocal talents of Mike Baker in both his operatic soar and his artful, almost playful singing approach he frequently used.
They turn up the heat on "Deeper than Life" which is the most in your face song, and then also have two more sentimental ballads in "Warcry" and "Alaska". I definitely prefer the former over the latter because while "Alaska" is pretty good it doesn't have the sentimental feel and sorrowfulness that "Warcry" has. Again, my only slight beef with this album is "Ghost Ship" which despite actually being a very good song, and having an equally "blow away" collection of guitar solos as the opener it simply starts and stops too much. It doesn't flow as much like one song as it could because of the various keyboard interruptions, despite the last of which being quite spectacular on it's own. I'd definitely say as far as very long Shadow Gallery songs are concerned, I'll take "First Light" over this one any day, despite it's finer qualities.
While I wouldn't quite call it their best, "Carved in Stone" is still perhaps the best introductory album for newcomers as well as just being a great album. If you play any of the instruments featured here you're in for a treat technically, because these guys stand toe to toe with Dream Theater in that regard, but if you're more of an atmospheric or song oriented kind of guy you'll no doubt appreciate the subtle songwriting and Marillion type touches that permeate throughout the songs. Basically I recommend this to any fan of progressive music. If you're mainly a metal person, it may not be as appealing despite having plenty of riffs. Primarily because its also loaded to the brim with keyboards and soft moments so a later album such as "Digital Ghosts" would be more up your alley, but if you have an open mind for these elements or just like prog, there's no better place to star than "Carved in Stone".
Shadow Gallery is a band that has somehow passed me by until recently. They have a small but devoted legion of followers who really dig their brand of catchy, relaxed prog metal, and this is my first taste of them. Carved in Stone often seems to be considered their best, and while I can’t say that as it’s the only one I’ve heard, I do think this is a pretty cool album.
Shadow Gallery’s style is very much rooted in a rather stylistic and unique set of aesthetics. They write long songs full of pianos and the great voice of the now-late Mike Baker, who has a set of pipes to rival James LaBrie or Ray Alder any day. Their songs are often as much about the pianos and keyboards as the guitars, even moreso at some points. I’ll go ahead and get my main problem with this out of the way right now – a lack of dynamic. This is a band with a huge, deep understanding of songwriting, but they also pretty much stick to the same mood and emotion for the entire disc, and being that it’s over 70 minutes long, becomes a little tiring after a while. They pretty much always have the same pleasantly intellectual Royal Hunt-esque mood throughout the whole thing. It still sounds good, but they would be even better if they injected a greater emotional presence.
The first two songs here are the best ones, as they have the best of both worlds – ethereal melody and strong Maiden-esque riffing. The build-up and nuance is just stunning, and the band blows open the gates with grandeur. The songwriting in general is very well done, although at times they get a little TOO mellow for a little too long. But even that isn’t a deal breaker when you have the attention to detail and style that these guys have. Baker is a genius with vocal lines, as strong tunes like “Warcry” or the ballad “Alaska” attest to with their powerful subtlety and sweeping grace, and the guitarwork of Allman and Wehrkamp is nimble, inventive and constantly interesting.
The only real fault here is the last song, which is engaging at times, but a 20 minute prog epic is tough to get right, and mostly this one just made me want to listen to Dream Theater or Rush instead. It’s got some great moments, but at the same time, it kind of wears out its welcome.
It’s hard to argue with such awesome music, though, and Carved in Stone, despite being a little overly long, is an engaging album full of heart and pomp. There are ways that it could be improved, but I still enjoy myself every time I put this on, and so for that I will recommend it.
I have wanted to write a review for Shadow Gallery for quite some time but certainly, it is not the same as reviewing a Skylark album (which I have done before) because power metal is rather simplistic in its basic form. Reviewing Shadow Gallery is like trying to fly an airplane with blinded eyes. I use this metaphor because S.G’s music is so complex and so majestic that is really hard to come up with a fair review. Everything is in place, everything is masterfully performed and if you are going to review a 21min. song that has a lot of movements, twists and melodies, you better make sure that you know what you are going to say, otherwise it would become a flat review and I don’t want that for these guys.
So what we have with Carved in Stone is nothing but almost perfection itself. Thus, if it is no perfect, why the 100% score? Because it depends on what prism you are using to be fairly objective with it. There are only two complaints that I have with the band in general: 1. the fact that the rhythm guitars are barely heard. 2. The rather flat vocals of Mike Baker. Maybe I am too picky and that is, perhaps only me. Since I like some punch and the rhythm guitars cannot be heard I guess it takes away some crunch (which does not happen with Dream Theater latest releases, but they are more metal focused), and the vocal style I prefer is certainly high pitched singers well, I guess this style although perfectly fits the music does not move my feet that much. But even so, that is just me and that does not take, by any means, any points to this album if I am fairly objective as it is supposed to be.
First and foremost this is what you will get: 1.Walls of keyboards, whether interludes, solos or rhythm sections accompanying the guitars. 2. Lots and I mean lots of guitar solos with a sense of melody hardly found on any other band. The emotion transmitted with these two instruments is yet to be surpassed by any other progressive rock or metal band. The final seal to this perfectly performed progressive album is the vocals of Mike Baker. He has a very wide range of vocal style, whereas he can go from hard rock to heavy metal to subtle progressive rock style. He has it all. He does not need to scream or use falsettos since he is not that kind of singer which perfectly fits the music of S.G. Although, again, I am not bond to this style of singer he is definitely the voice of the band.
In regards to the song writing forget about pop style because in here, I am so sorry to say, there are no catchy tunes, no hits, so in other words, nothing; just pure complex structures which will take a lot of time to try to decipher. Actually, one of the best things about S.G. is that no matter how hard you try it will never get you bored, simply because there are so many twists, too many surprises that you are always finding new things every time you put in on your cd player.
One of the other interesting things is the big pile of styles thrown in the mix with the amazing tight musicianship these guys show. We have classical heavy metal, symphonic metal, progressive rock, jazz fusion and virtuoso shredding metal. As such, you cannot compare them to any particular band. Nevertheless, remarkable resemblance to the epic-lengthy progressive passages from Dream Theater and Symphony X can be found. This album in particular is quite amazing in every single sense. I like it more than ‘Tiranny’ because I find that one too commercial (so to speak).
Carved in stone is, for me, the epitome of progressive music along with ‘Divine Wings…’ from Symphony X. The basic formula is that they focus on concept stories, much like Trans-Siberian Orchestra so almost for every song you get an intro, providing continuity throughout the album. After a short piano and electric guitar intro the melodic solos begins with ‘Cliffhanger’. The song is really ballades-que and quite slow after we get to the rhythm and solo section where things speed up. The vocals in here are really soft but Mike switches tones and varies the vocal lines constantly. The choruses are really melodic and amazing. You can clearly listen to the keyboards and they unfortunately overpower the rhythm guitars. By the 5min. mark you get the simple yet effective metal section and guitar solos that are outstanding, interlude with keyboard solos as well. Around the 7min mark we get a drumming driven section. It is a pity that it does not have a little more power but surprisingly enough it fits very well the music since it is the perfect balance between progressive rock and progressive metal.
‘Crystalline Dream’ is far better effective in the melodies. Since it immediately begins with the verse and lots of double bass drums it is more recognizable than the first tune. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is less virtuoso or melodic song than the first one and more groovy. However, it does not mean the solos are less impressive. I’d dare to say it resemblance the style of song from ‘Images &words’ from D.T. The vocal melodies for the choruses are, well, for the lack of a better word: perfect!
By the time we arrive to ‘Don’t ever cry, just remember’ things are definitely improving. This one is100% a ballad and Mike begins singing really soft, much ala hard rock with a piano. Then you get the rhythm & classical guitars in the chorus and continual stops in the verses which are keyboard driven. I must mention that is also has a flute solo section, much in the vein of Dead Soul Tribe. One of the things with this band is that they master the ability to create awesome ballads, even though they have ‘fast parts’ (for Shadow Gallery’s standards) so the albums flow slowly. You need patience and they are not like those from D.T. or S.X because of the speed. These albums need time to discover all the surprises they hold.
‘Warcry’ begins in the same vibe and mood as ‘Don’t ever cry, just remember’. This song is a little heavier although not faster. It is still a ballad but the excellent violins give it an extra classical feeling. When you get the fast rhythm sections and delicious guitar solos and begin to accelerate your heart they change the speed to ballad again and then they speed up a little again. The switches of pace might need some time to get used to, especially if you come from power-progressive bands. The drumming sections have a lot of textures and hard jazz fusion techniques which will need a lot of spins to decipher.
‘Celtic Princess’ is another intro and I’d say the best one here because of its (obvious) celtic influence and base melody although it is keyboard driven instead of the regular guitar driven instrument on celtic songs. If you pay close attention to it you will notice how the guitar is following the piano and in some instances is very intricate.
‘Deeper than life’ is the fastest track of the album and we get two types of vocal styles. The first one is basically the Alice Cooper raspy throat delivery and the high pitched choruses that work perfectly. The powerful rhythm metal sections are worth mentioning since this is really heavy and I’d dare to say that they are very much alike Metallica’s ‘…& justice’ due to the constant changes of pace and lengthy passages.
‘Alaska’ begins in the same vein of ‘Celtic princess’. It is basically an acoustic song with flutes on the solos adding a nice folky touch and completely different from the rest of the album but it doesn’t sound, at all, out of place. The vocals have been added with a nice eco to give it a more emotional atmosphere.
Finally we have the outstanding ‘Ghost ship’ which its length surpasses the 20min. mark. It follows the same vein of ‘Divine Wings’ from Symphony X and the sort of songs where epic is the word. Contrary to what you might think it rapidly begins with the verses and it does not build that much on its own at the beginning. However, the interlude of keyboard and guitars in the first solos is just a taste of what is coming. There are constant changes of pace and tempos and I dare to say even more than on a D.T. song. Thus, if you are not bond to constant changes and soloing you better skip (last chance) to a different more regular band. This is not, I repeat, not for the faint of heart. This might sound silly but with this song you basically get everything that S.G is about: melodic sense, epic sense, beautiful acoustic passages, guitar driven sections, keyboard driven sections, keyboards and guitars soloing interludes, great choruses, constant twists in the speed and tempos, great vocals and the entire variety of vocal range from Mike for example in the ‘Approaching Storm’ section due to its doom feeling he sings in a rougher and creepier tone and really low; great effects and great metal rhythm sections. One the very interesting things about this song and different from others is that normally, lengthy songs like this one try to follow the same melody throughout the song so it can be considered one song. It does not change the fact of the many ideas thrown in like the changes of pace. With this one it actually sounds very similar to the other and previous songs. It does not follow the same melody throughout the song and yet it does sound like one big song. You never forget you are listening to ‘Ghost Ship’ but trust me when I say there are many, many twists on it plus the exquisite soloing over and over. As far as I am concerned I am a sucker for instrumental wankery in progressive music. I despise Yngwie (for example) constant soloing because it is repetitive but with these guys that NEVER, I repeat NEVER happens. What else is there to say?
So my friends, you have seen the other reviews and most people agree that this is band that should get the status of legends and worldwide recognition because of the prowess in creating beautiful melodic and progressive masterpieces. I agree with all of them. This is a MUST HAVE album for those progressive music lovers. You will not regret it and it will constantly defy your knowledge of music to keep you pushing over the rift. Get it and do yourself a favor. Let it carve into your heart because once it is there, it will never leave you. S.G. is one more contender to best progressive band in the world.