Year of Release: 2002
Label: Century Media
Catalog Number: 8105-2
Total Time: 54:49:00
I first became aware of Onward at the inaugural ProgPower USA festival in February 2001. Reawaken is their second release, following on the heels of 2001's Evermoving.
Onward have two sides, one is power metal, one is prog metal. The first draws comparisons to Jag Panzer and Iron Maiden ... loping rhythms where bass (Chris Payette) and drums (Jon Pereau) are the dominant instruments (other than voice), and a heroic, warrior-like vocals. Thematically, we could bring Blind Guardian and Rhapsody, but Blind Guardian would be the more appropriate reference of the two. As you might expect, the hero is sullen and dangerous -- evil follows him in "Where Evil Follows" for example. Haunted by demons, whether real or imagined (that is, external or internal) as in "Eye Of The Nightmare." So, instead of the triumphant hero going off into battle, fighting off only external demons (a la Rhapsody), the themes are darker. This is the tortured and conflicted hero - the flawed hero. As a result, the music is darker, heavier, more simply drawn. Ex-Apocrypha vocalist Steve Plocica guests on "...Nightmare".
The other side of Onward reveals itself less often, but is exemplified by "The Seven Tides Of Labyrinthine" and the closing track "The Next Triumph." We have, through out, heard how adept Knapp is at screaming leads. In "The Next Triumph" we hear that he's equally adept at the more subdued tones. This is a two-part suite where a gentle guitar phrase introduces and underscores the vocals of Michael Grant. I'm reminded of the first part of Metallica's "One" but also of what might expect from Shadow Gallery -- Grant sounds neither like Hetfield nor Baker -- nor Dickinson, for that matter. Actually, on the first section of the suite, "Remembrance," he reminds me more of Clive Nolan. This leads into the catchier "Reawakening," which to me eschews comparison, though there is a more accessible prog element to it. Knapp's leads cascade in beautifully glistening waves. "The Seven Tides Of Labyrinthine" is a little less heavy, the guitars taking more a front seat, the drums and bass sitting back a little bit. The arrangement is a little more dynamic for it, and this track will perhaps appeal a little more to the prog metal crowd. Knapp's guitar lines often have that clean, shimmery sound of Dream Theater's John Petrucci. But other than that particular tone, used sparingly, Dream Theater come to mind not at all. The vocal arrangement is a little more complex than the two tracks that precede this one, a little less straightforward. Interestingly, the dynamics make the track feel a little bit busy... I'd compare it to some very ornate... well, I see jewel encrusted gold goblets, shining in greens, reds and yellows.
In between, we get the upbeat "In Due Time." A piece that has single written all over it, that has the lyrical simplicity of the first side, and the ornateness of the second side (simplicity isn't to imply simple lyrics but that their pattern is more direct). "Clockwork Toys" is cover of the Loudness track, which gives us yet another flavor of metal, which has the speed of the other pieces, but here guitars and drums rather than bass and drums drive it. Not familiar with Loudness personally, I can only liken this to the Judas Priest style of metal -- though weren't Loudness Japanese? A check says that I'm right, which only means that they weren't part of the NWBHM that Priest were.* ("Clockwork Toys" appears on Loudness' 1985 album Thunder In The East, their US debut).
Though stylistically "Who Saw The Last Star Fall" would fit in with the former, thematically we have a very gloomy topic - essentially, the coming of the Apocalypse. Like the other tracks, the heroes - protagonists - will die as one. Only here the protagonists are not a band of warriors, but the entire population of the planet. Though this easily could be an ecological statement as well, the explosion at the end sort of suggests the former. Not all perish, as "The Next Triumph" indicates. Though I don't know that we can really look at Reawaken as concept album per se.
Reawaken is a solid album with very good performances. Being reflective of metal styles of the past, there's nothing that seems especially fresh about it -- there isn't that thrill of metal entering new areas -- but at the same time, it doesn't sound dated and it's far from boring. I mean, it is a ho-hum rip off any band mentioned. There is enough modernity injected into the style that both sustains and gives it new life. The true highlight is Knapp's guitar playing which is very solid throughout. Grant's vocal style does give a new voice to metal, though there are times when he does remind me of someone else (other than my Nolan comment), though can't put a name to it. It's a release that will bear repeated plays.
*Interestingly enough, as I'm checking Allmusic.com for some references on Loudness, their featured genre is ... yup ... New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. This whole web thing's gettin' weird.
Reawaken (5:19) / Night (3:42) / The Seven Tides Of Labyrinthine (5:43) / Where Evil Follows (5:57) / Eye Of The Nightmare (5:01) / My Darkest Room (5:00) / In Due Time (4:31) / Clockwork Toy (3:57) / Who Saw The Last Star (6:23) / The Next Triumph - Part 1: Remembrance (4:53) / The Next Triumph - Part 2: Reawakening (4:23)
Michael Grant - vocals
Toby Knapp - guitars
Chris Payette - bass
Jon Pereau - drums
Genre: Progressive-Power Metal