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A very promising debut - 80%

prezuiwf, July 9th, 2007

The Cage was a match made in Heaven. Tony Martin, fresh off his departure from Black Sabbath, was looking to rebound with a killer record after his last outing with Sabbath, Forbidden, was a critical and commercial flop. Dario Mollo, erstwhile guitarist of 80’s Italian metal outfit Crossbones and occasional producer for the likes of Aldo Giuntini (with whom Martin would later work), was in the market for a talented singer to perform on Mollo’s first album in nearly a decade. Throw in ubiquitous keyboardist Don Airey and you’ve got a recipe for something special.

This, Mollo and Martin’s first outing together, doesn’t sound much like Martin’s previous outfit at all. The sound quality is crisp and loud, a product of Mollo’s widely praised production style, and the style is more traditional than Sabbath’s. Indeed, there is no doom to be found here, but rather catchy hooks and skillful guitar parts that cater to the strengths of both featured men. Martin hadn’t sounded this good since his 1993 Misha Calvin collaboration Evolution, evidence that the new musical partnership had revitalized him and allowed him to freely sing what he wanted instead of what someone else had written for him.

Opening track “Cry Myself To Death” might sound like it would be an emo tune, but it is actually a fantastic song punctuated by Martin’s soulful vocals and Mollo’s creative riffing. “Time To Kill” sounds a lot like Sabbath’s “The Lawmaker,” though without the mystic tinge. The real gem of this album, though (at least for the open-minded) is the emotional ballad “If You Believe,” which follows the instrumental intro “The Cage.” Martin shows off his chops as well as his authenticity, sounding genuine where others might just go through the motions.

The second half of the album is where it falters a bit. “Dead Man Dancing” is alright, though it sounds like they lifted a bit from Whitesnake. “Stormbringer” is the album’s biggest misstep, a Deep Purple cover that goes nowhere and makes very little sense (why bands that sound nothing like Deep Purple continually insist on referencing them as an influence is beyond me). They do bring it all back together, however, with the epic “Soul Searching,” another ballad so poignant, it makes sense that it’s the last song on the album because it would have been quite difficult to follow up.

Make no mistake: this album’s sequel is The Cage’s true masterpiece, and for all intents and purposes, this one was just a warm up. But it was a fantastic warm up nonetheless, giving listeners a taste of what was to come and showing that a replacement singer and a part time guitarist could truly make some unexpected magic.