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Breaking Above Ground Was Nearly an Option - 85%

bayern, October 10th, 2017

Believe it or not, but this is one of the very first heavy metal acts on US soil, having started alongside Riot in the mid-70’s, when the guys were barely 14/15 years old. That feat alone deserves a toast although one can only be mystified as to what took the band so long to produce something provided that the first effort coming out of their hands was the “Breaking Ground” EP in 1987, nearly 10 years after the band’s inception…

No idea about the style on that EP, but on the album reviewed here the band have chosen the progressive power metal idea to follow, and they have done a fairly good job. A timely appearance of this cool album, if you ask me, provided that the Big Four of US progressive metal (Queensryche, Crimson Glory, Fates Warning, Savatage) were all slowly but surely losing the plot until the whole brotherhood hit the very bottom with Crimson Glory’s embarrassing “Strange & Beautiful”. No strange stuff here of any kind as the guys dexterously combine power, speed and complex arrangements on the eagle-fly-free opener “Mind Over Money”, a fairly optimistic way to start this opus with insistent keyboards and virtuous leads duelling for a large portion of the time, recalling the future exploits of Dream Theater who had already started at the time, but were still on a pretty basic, more comprehensive level.

“Shining Prize” is an atmospheric combination of lush keyboards and hard-hitting mid-paced riffs, the bass player unusually overoccupied at times, especially on the more hectic Watchtower-esque passages in the second half. The instrumental piece “Deal With It” brings back the speed recalling late-80’s Helstar, nearly reaching thrashy proportions at some stage before the more complex configurations settle in, those coming with delightful melodic lead sections that take almost half the space here. “Etched Images” is a heavy more linear stomper with dreamy overtones, but “Users and the Used” returns to faster-paced territory, another angrier number with aggressive lashing riffs boldly bordering on thrash again recalling Nasty Savage and Have Mercy, the intense rifforama brought to an untimely end by a lengthy balladic stretch. Not to worry as “Masque of Sincerity” enters with mighty impetuous gallops the band marching onward with the watchful participation of the otherwise quite good clean emotional vocals. “Manning the Point” is a short acoustic respite, and “Watchful Eye” follows suit in a friendlier, more relaxed Queensryche-sque mode with a soothing semi-balladic vibe at times. “Out of Place” is by no means out of place here, being also the closer, the guys shooting blazes of gorgeous melodies into the aether as a finishing touch, and as their density is quite big there’s simply no room for any more dynamic arrangements to develop here.

A somewhat downbeat finale, probably not very deserving having in mind the numerous lively moments encountered earlier, but still far from a disappointment as the guys don’t exactly betray their established elaborate delivery. Yes, American progressive metal wasn’t going to kick the bucket so early with young budding newcomers like Lethal, Recon, Brothers Grimm, Dream Theater again more than willing to keep it alive… our friends here couldn’t be placed in the same category provided they weren’t young, and they weren’t newcomers, but they by all means shared a place with those acts during this short-lived renaissance period. Sadly, the majority of those acts were history by the middle of the decade, but I guess it felt good at some point in the band’s career when the possibility of leaving the underground felt like a very tangible one…