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Carved in our hearts - 100%

Kalelfromkrypton, February 9th, 2010

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.