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Definitely a journey to behold. - 93%

Whackooyzero, February 22nd, 2012

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".