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The Oracle speaks. - 95%

hells_unicorn, February 11th, 2007

Ring of Fire is the brainchild of ex-Malmsteen vocalist Mark Boals, whom like many other singers who collaborated with the Viking of shred, has found his own musical identity and is now expanding the same genre that Yngwie pioneered. The phenomenon of Power/Prog is the consequence largely of Yngwie’s fascination with odd time meters, non-conventional song structures, and a complete lack of hindrance in the soloing department. In the same manner, Boal’s solo release “Ring of Fire” saw the expansion of this sound with the addition of a more symphonic approach to arrangements through the use of keyboards (though not nearly as much as bands like Rhapsody and Dark Moor) and a more riff steeped and more non-conventional approach to song structure inspired by the likes of Symphony X and Ayreon.

“The Oracle”, like any album falling under the Power Metal umbrella (an umbrella that has expanded quite a bit since the late 90s), is loaded with plenty of melodic and epic sounding speed metal tracks like “Circle of Time”, “Shadow in the Dark”, “City of the Dead”, and the amazingly riveting album closer “Face the Fire”. However, the presence of Vitalij Kuprij’s very unique approach to keyboard usage as well as Malmsteen-like shredder George Bellas is a far different beast from anything that you’ll find on a Gamma Ray or Blind Guardian release.

Various outside influences are always a staple of the Progressive sound, and on here we have plenty of them, ranging from Neo-Classical influences in the form of a Bach-like Organ solo titled “Prelude for the Oracle” to the far eastern influenced down tempo metal track “Samurai”. “Land of Illusions” and the title track are probably the most non-conventional Power Metal songs I’ve heard, the former having some deceptive sectional changes that make you think the song ended and a new one began, while the latter is a towering Prog epic loaded with technical intrigue that it rivals the craziest stuff Michael Romeo has ever concocted.

Although musically this is only a slightly more Progressive evolution from the amazing solo album that bears the band’s name, this one also has the edge in production, particularly as far as the drums go. In addition, bassist Phillip Bynoe is much more technically proficient at the instrument than either Boals or Macalpine is, thus creating a much more varied instrumental texture that is a bit more befitting of the Power Prog format.

If you are a fan of the Ring of Fire release by Mark Boals, or if you’re a Prog metal fan who loves melodic and fast paced stuff such as Symphony X, but also can take some slower Ayreon interludes, then this album will not disappoint. I never thought I’d say it but Mark Boals has actually surpassed his former mentor Yngwie here. I will always recognize Malmsteen as the one who first broke the mode, but like any proud father, I hope he will take the same pride in knowing that he had a hand in all that went on both here and in the Power Prog scene in general as I did when I first sampled my purchase.