Friday, July 22, 2011

SERPENTINE "Living And Dying In High Definition"

(c) 2011 Victor Entertainment

  1. Deep Down (There's A Price For Love)
  2. Philadelphia
  3. Dreamer
  4. Love Is Blue
  5. Where Do We Go From Here?
  6. Cry
  7. Best Days Of Our Lives
  8. Heartbreak Town
  9. Nuremberg
  10. Forgotten Heroes
Tony Mills--Vocals
Gareth David Noon--Keyboards, Vocals
Christopher Gould--Guitars
Gareth Vanstone--Bass, Vocals
Roy Millward--Drums

Occasionally I will put in a new CD without even really looking at who the band is, let alone who is in it; I just grab one or two new discs off the review stack, pop them in, and let them go.  Such was the case with Serpentine, a band that I had never even heard of.  I put the disc in, turned it on, and SWORE I had read the packaging incorrectly in my quick glance.  This HAD TO BE a new Shy CD that was titled Serpentine, because that is exactly what popped into my head when I heard the music, and especially the vocals kick in.  Of course, the reason for my initial reaction is because Tony Mills, the former singer for Shy (and also for Siam), and the current vocalist for TNT, is also the lead singer for Serpentine, and his voice is one that is unmistakable.  However, the similarities don't stop there.  This CD could very easily be mistaken for an updated version of Shy with modern production qualities, as the style of the music is uncannily similar: keyboard-fronted, yet still guitar-driven melodic hard rock with Mills' soaring tenor vocals and a solid rhythm section.

While I generally shy away (pun intended!) from albums that are this heavily keyboard laden, I have to admit to really liking this disc!  Yes, there are keyboards literally everywhere on this album, but they are mixed properly, not overpowering the rest of the band, which is key as the driving guitars are part of what keep this band and album from drifinting into the keyboard-heavy AOR territory that drives me bats.  This is not proggy or fluffy AOR...this is hard rock through and through....and it is performed exceptionally well.

The album starts off with, what else, a keyboard intro for the uptempo, melodic "Deep Down (There's A Price For Love)", and I will admit I was concerned, but once the drums and guitar kick in, and Mills cuts loose with his vocals, that Shy comparison just blasted me in the face.  "Philadelphia", one of the hardest rockers on the disc, continues in uptempo fashion with a solid drum-and-guitar intro and layers of vocals leading up to one of the catchiest choruses on the disc.  There is a Journey-esque quality to this song's melody that will leave a lot of listeners wondering if they haven't heard this classic feeling song before.  "Dreamer" has a galloping rhythm that carries it forward, again somewhat reminiscent of the more rocking moments of classic-era Journey.  Three tracks in and all three are solid rockers, much to my liking.

"Love Is Blue" is the first ballad on the album and it is a strong one with still more Journey mixed with Shy comparisons being evident here, with some very powerful lyrics similar in style to those you might find written by Shawn Pelata of Line Of Fire.  Excellent stuff here!

"Where Do We Go From Here" is a mid-tempo, somewhat proggy song that finds the band using some vocal phrasing that reminds me a bit of classic Queensrhyche, but not nearly as heavy and probably more keyboard influenced than the rest of the album.  There is a nice guitar hook in there, and an above average solo, but this song just gets too...lush is a good word...for me to really enjoy it.  It's not necessarily a skipper, but it really fades into the background for me.
"Cry" is a rocker that has Shy written all over it, with Mills really powering through the vocals on this one.  The keyboards are pushed back a bit and the guitars are allowed to come across as more aggressive and out front than on some of the other songs.  Excellent song that is one of the highlights of the disc for me.  "Best Days Of Our Lives" also sounds like it could have come out of the Shy catalog, as this mid-tempo rocker again showcases Mills' strong voice and a more melodic sounding guitar.  The same can be said of "Heartbreak Town" which, at first, deceives the listener into thinking this is going to be a very slow ballad before upping the tempo into a surprisingly driving rocker. 

"Nuremberg" is a song that I am not really sure what to make of.  It is the darkest sounding song on the album and the chorus sounds a bit clunky to my ears, possibly because it sounds like the middle syllable of the word Nuremberg sounds like it is cut out to make it fit.  It's just odd to my ears.  Additionally, in such a rocking song, it is frustrating to hear a keyboard solo where a ripping guitar solo would have sounded so much more powerful.  Much like "Where Do We Go From Here", it is not a skipper per se, but it is not my favorite by any means.

The album closes "Forgotten Heroes", yet another hard rocker with a deceptively mellow, piano-based intro that once again has Shy fans perking their ears up in appreciation.  Gould rips through a particularly tasty solo near the end of the record that has emotion just dripping out of it, and I can't think of a better way to end a suprisingly great record.

This unexpected album may have wormed its way into my Top 10 releases of the year so far, and to say I am shocked would be an understatement.  Somehow I missed the boat on this band because after doing some additional research, I found out that this is actually the band's second album (Touch Of Heaven came out just a bit over a year ago).  Sadly, I have also read that this will be Mills' last album with the band, which is too bad because I honestly prefer this to the music that he has been making with TNT which has, thus far, been somewhat disappointing for me.  For now I will definitely be enjoying this CD...and hunting down their Serpentine is a truly great melodic hard rock band with excellent songwriting and outstanding musicianship.  Hats off to these guys for Living And Dying In High Definition is one of the absolute gems of the summer...I am greatly impressed!

Rating:  Crank this shocker to 8.5, with just a couple of minor misses holding it back...

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