DOCKER’S GUILD – THE MYSTIC TECHNOCRACY (SEASON 1: THE AGE OF IGNORANCE)

Released 15 June 2012 on Lion Music

Now here we have a bit of a treat for all lovers of progressive rock.  Written and led by the keyboard dazzle of Douglas Docker, the cunningly named Docker’s Guild sees a whole host of first class musicians involved in this, the first part of a series of albums.  How do the following grab you? Vocalists John Payne (Asia), Goran Edman (ex Malmsteen, Karmakanic), Tony Mills (TNT) and Amanda Somerville (Avantasia, Epica),  guitarists Guthrie Govan (Asia) and Jeff Watson (Night Ranger), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder) and drummers Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth / Joe Satriani) and Magnus Jacobson (Miss Behavior). Not bad eh and fortunately the album sees good use of all amongst captivating compositions that have depth and soul.

The sound of The Mystic Technocracy results from the mixture of several music styles. Progressive rock is the main driving force with reference points in sound being Yes, ELP, Dream Theater and Genesis.  Whilst the songwriting and vocal arrangements have an air of more traditional melodic rock and AOR acts, mostly Asia and Journey about them.

Couple this with more subtle and unusual influences from the likes of David Bowie (including a great cover of “Loving The Alien”) and Jean-Michel Jarre and you will start to see how this is a big sounding record.

The Mystic Technocracy is perhaps, to be expected, a concept album (or first part of). It is the fictional outcome of a very simple observation: for 4000 years man has tortured, murdered, waged warfare and committed genocide in the name of the same God worshiped by Christians, Jews and Muslims, the three monotheistic religions. It is not a story against religion, but it is a story about the madness of man when he falls under the influence of fanatical dogmatic faith. This religious premise has then been plugged into a science-fiction universe, in which religion was created by a silicon-based life form, the Mystic Technocracy, in order to control, manipulate and eventually destroy humanity.

Song wise the album contains complex multi-section suites, more straightforward rock songs or ballads, as well as more unusual instrumental or groove-oriented tracks.

Highlights are pretty much all over, and whilst it make take a few spins to fully take stock of all on offer there are many moments of instant gratification such as the driving rock of the title track “The Mystic Technocracy” home to chugging riffs, parping keyboards and big vocals.  The 8 minute epic “Darwin’s Tears” showcases some of the more obscure influences mentioned but really works being a very compelling composition.  “Judeo Christian Cosmogony” and the 11 minute 3 part-er “The Secret Of DNA” have everything plus the kitchen sink in them but are no worse off for it.  Overall its compelling stuff with great performances from all involved.

Negatives? Not many, perhaps the guitars sound a little digitised being devoid of midrange but in a way this helps create a more “space age” quality to the music and is a small gripe.

Sonically the album is big, perhaps to be expected where keyboards (and variants of) make up a big part of the sonic landscape but its well mixed by Simon Hanhart (producer of Asia, Marillion and Arena) and mastered by Mike Lind (Dio, Talisman, Candlemass etc) so no complaints here either.  The artwork inlay also promises to be a lush affair designed by the excellent Carl-Andre Beckston (aka monowasp).

Fans of any of the classic big prog names, or indeed newer variants ala Ayreon etc are urged to check this album out when released.  A work of art is here with the emphasis firmly on songs and it promises to be a superb journey on future releases.

Rating – 94%

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TNT – A FAREWELL TO ARMS

Released 21st January 2011 on Metal Heaven

TNT’s recent output has been patchy to put it mildly. Long gone seemed the days of their classic albums such as “Tell No Tales” or even more recent efforts like “My Religion”.  The pre-release talk of “A Farewell To Arms” suggested the classic sound was back with this new release. But not is all as it seems 

For the most part the album sees the band adopting a more “modern” sound (i.e. down tuned guitars), but there’s still plenty of room for Tony Mills’ soaring vocals. “Refugee” is a strong track. “Don’t Misunderstand Me” and the title track sound almost like classic TNT.   But closing track “Not Only Lonely” takes stupid to the next level… This song knocks five points off the score all by itself. 

Granted Ronni LeTekro does put in more effort than he did on recent releases, yet his playing is still nowhere near the level of his heyday, but it’s a step in the right direction. Check out the quirky lead in “Like A Ship In The Night” or the opening riff of “Take It Like A Man – Woman”. Unfortunately though most of his solos are a disjointed jumble. “Someone Else” is a good example to the contrary. Fortunately Mills’ vocals add a real 80s vibe to what could easily have become bland contemporary melodic rock tunes.

Not a bad album, but not a classic by any means.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

VEGA – KISS OF LIFE (REVIEW)

Out now on Frontiers Records

British band Vega deliver their first album through Frontiers Records.

Melodic hard rock is the order of the day, drenched in big keyboards, reverb and chorus. And it has to be said, the band have a respectable go at it. There’s even the odd proggy influence, most noticeable in some of the arrangements and song structures. Choruses are eminently hummable for the most part and there’s more than enough guitar flash to keep the aficionado satisfied.

Singer Nick Workman is the weakest link in the equation. When he soars in the higher registers, there’s no problem. He reminds me a bit of early Tony Mills in this field. But he lacks power in the lower range. And is that a lisp I hear? He sounds downright weird in the intro to “Too Young For Wings”… Fortunately he spends most of his time in the upper regions, so it barely distracts from the enjoyment.

Dennis Ward took care of production duties, and it shows. No issues in that department whatsoever.

A good melodic rock album for fans of (early) Shy, PC69 and similar bands, even if not all songs are equally strong.

Rating – 80%
Review by Sancho

 

ACACIA AVENUE – ACACIA AVENUE (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

Released 15th January 2010 on Lion Music

A new band in the melodic hard rock mold from Danish guitarist Torben Enevoldsen, who along with several instrumental releases is involved with the bands Section A and Fatal Force.  For Acacia Avenue Torben has decided to have some fun with some good time melodic rock n roll and invited some fine rock vocalists in the guise of Tony Mills (TNT, Shy), Geir Rönning (Radioactive, Prisoner), Torben Lysholm (Pangea, Mysterell) and Lars Säfsund (W.O.A.) to front the tunes, whilst Enevoldsen himself takes lead vocals on a brace of tracks.

The album gets off to a strong start with Tony Mills’ Geoff Tate esque vocals on “Don’t Call Me Tonight” and its a fine opener, rich, melodic, catchy chorus and nice riffing from Torben before Geir Rönning adds his more accessible vocals for “Hold On”, another fine track in its own right with a quite glorious chorus.  Lars Säfsund crops up next for the pure AOR laid back mid tempo groove of “An Illusion” which harks nicely back to the mid 80’s with its jangling keys, its quite Toto in feel and another fine success.  “Jamie’s In Love” sees Enevoldsen handle lead vocals and he has a perfectly fine voice for this LA hard rock style melodic groove with a slight Van Halen feel to the main riff.  Granted the lyrics maybe clichéd but it all adds to the vibe of yesteryear. Torben Lysholm lays down some smooth vocals over another very strong AOR tune in “Can’t Make You Stay” which is a great track from start to finish.  The instrumental “Mad Antenna” is maybe not quite fitting with the rest of the material, but there is no denying the first rate fretwork, this one could have been made into a vocal track as it has a very strong hook.  Tony Mills appears again for “Wait No More”, a more laidback number than his other number and a little more pomp in its approach, but once again there are enough hooks to hang a whole classroom of coats on.  “No Looking Back” sees Geir Rönning back at the mic and his vocals sound a little reminiscent of Kings X’s Doug Pinnick here.  There is a nice mix between major and minor here and another heavy dose of 80’s American melodic rock about the track and it’s a nice modern throwback to that time.  “Just Wanna Be With You” sees Torben Lysholm rock a little more on his second track and this track wouldn’t be out of place on a Bad English album.  Enevoldsen’s appearance at the mic for “Let Go” is home to a darker vibe than his other vocal, but again the result is good.  Closer “Digging” is to these ears the weakest track on offer, its not a stinker but seems to lack the overall quality of other numbers so the album doesn’t quite end with a bang.

With their self titled debut Acacia Avenue has delivered quite a surprising album.  On the first few listens the album may appear quite one dimensional but give those numerous melodies and hooks time to sink and and the album really reveals itself.  Given that this band comes from someone best as a highly technical guitarist its really shows the talent Enevoldsen possess as the guitar work plays second fiddle to the quality of song and that is to be praised, many a guitar name falls at this hurdle when in a band format so kudos go out to Enevoldsen.  If you like your rock full of hooks, with a melodic slant and an 80’s feel yet with a modern and powerful production then check out Acacia Avenue, it might just be the surprise melodic rock album of 2010 already.
 
Hot Spots : Hold On, An Illusion, Can’t Make You Stay, No Looking Back
Rating : 90%