|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By: Roland Dale Benedict|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website: Gregorian Rock|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 40:03|
A band that introduces a completely new hybrid of hard music styles is something to celebrate, but the launch of an entirely new hard music genre is an ever rarer and more special occasion. Enter San Antonio, Texas based Gregorian Rock and its spring of 2015 independently released sophomore album Gregorian Rock 2, which, as its namesake implies, explores the previously uncharted musical waters of Gregorian chant and modern musical styles. The brainchild of keyboardist Roland Dale Benedict, Gregorian Rock got its start when Benedict, at the inspiration of his father, who suggested that the best way to become successful in music is to come up with a new sound, posted the song “Sanctus” to a songwriting message board. The constructive feedback and encouragement from listeners that ensued led to Benedict moving forward with the self-titled Gregorian Rock debut (also independent) released in 2013.
In terms of modern musical styles, Gregorian Rock does not give rise to the consistent heaviness to fall within the metal and hard rock categories. Rather, the group takes an approach more in line with its rock namesake in melding Gregorian chant with contemporary instrumentation such as electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, organ, bass and drums. The aftermath is a melancholic and subdued sound that I can see appealing to those with an affinity for the Gothic side of things- Saviour Machine devotees should particularly be drawn to the swarthy feel that Gregorian rock brings to the table. Yet, at the same time, tying everything together are some distinct 70’s progressive rock nuances and medieval to classical art rock leanings certain to tempt the ArkAngel meets Jimmy Hotz crowd either way.
From the standpoint of Gregorian chant, the group makes use of processing to achieve that ‘multi-layered choir-like baritone monks coming from the subterranean depths of a monastery’ feel associated with Gregorian vocals. Results are mixed. On one hand, front man Scott McCullor is a solid performer with a rich and melodic middle register timbre that aligns well with the darker nature of the music at hand. On the other, the processed vocals are noticeable, although not to the point of significantly distracting from or holding the project back. My thought is that it might have worked better if the group had layered the vocals instead to achieve that choir-like feel while minimizing (if not eliminating) the vocal effects at the same time.
In no way does this imply you will not find you share of quality musical moments to Gregorian Rock 2- the album really shines in places! Consider how opener “Deus Lux” almost comes across mesmerizing in placing prodigious choir vocals over a backbone of life like bass, piano and hints of rhythm guitar. A symphonic aspect comes to the forefront in the process. Immediate impression is the transparent production, which allows room for all instrumentation (especially bass) to breath in the mix. Give credit to the group for a very fine job on an independent release.
Likewise, “Love Is Standing Near” proves quintessential Gregorian Rock with its atmospheric and airy tinctures (melody is bountiful) creating a stately setting in which tasteful organ and soaring lead guitar abound. I am almost reminded of Art Of The State era AD. Another favorite is “Where Did The Time Go”. Starting to keyboards and classical instrumentation (sort of like Kansas), the song establishes an upbeat demeanor its remaining distance in playing up bountiful keyboards and generous doses of scintillating lead guitar. Credit the talented guitar team of Jay Pilkington and Pat Neil in this regard, who combine throughout the project for playing that walks a fine line between the fusion and jazzy side of things.
Gregorian Rock also succeeds with its non-conventional songwriting approach in which it employs a single verse (often taken directly from scripture) to create a progressive effect. “The Battle” highlights a pensive if not wistful milieu in maneuvering its length to discordant piano and aesthetic soloing, while “As Water Reflects” lightens the mood to airy accepella vocals as rhythm guitar and placid keyboards decorate the backdrop. Former derives its lyrics from 2 Chronicles 20:15 and latter Proverbs 27:19. Ominous and pointed, “Sempter Et In Perpetuum” emphasizes enchanting keyboards and a big as it gets melody as lyrics in both English and Latin decorate its lone verse. I appreciate the grand and stately qualities the song brings to the table.
Any album with a Gregorian chant basis is going to have its hymn like moments and Gregorian Rock 2 proves no exception. “I Call You Friend” worshipfully plods at a relaxed and laid back tempo to profound church organ joined with guitar feedback as does “O The Deep” from taking a similar moderate tone as a towering bass line merges with added church organ to put in place a sublime environs. “Reflection”, almost an interlude piece at just two and a half minutes, gives prominence to equal parts worshipful and medieval with its use of flute and viola.
Lone track to fall a bit flat is instrumental “The Good Guys Win”. Not that it is a bad song musically (which it is not) but rather it is keyboard driven its entire length. Yes, credit Benedict for his solid work in this capacity (on all the albums material), but perhaps for an element of variety the group could have mixed in some of Pilkington’s and Neil’s exquisite lead guitar with said keyboard basis. The two are such solid players that I wish Gregorian Rock 2 had found them cutting loose a bit more, and not just soloing but rhythm guitar as well. I cannot help but feel Gregorian Rock would potentially expand upon its fan base from occasionally imbuing its sound with the guitar driven fortitude to touch upon the metal and hard rock side of things (noting how in its press material Gregorian Rock describes itself as ‘serene, yet pummeling’ but you will find no pummeling here).
Gregorian Rock 2 leaves little doubt as to the Christian basis of its lyrics. As previously noted, many songs base their prose on scripture, such as “Reflection” (I Corinthians 13:12):
For now we see only a
Reflection as in a mirror
Then we shall see face to face
Now I know in part
Then I shall know fully
Even as I am full known
and “I Call You Friend” (John 15:15):
I call you friend
I am beginning and the end
You receive it as you should
I made all and called it good
“O The Deep” takes a worshipful tone:
O the deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to thy glorious rest above!
O the deep love of Jesus , spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches over His loved ones, died to call them all His own
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth over them from the throne!
“Love Is Standing Near” talks of hope:
I know your pain too well, helpless to help you at all
Brutal denial of hopes, shaking the world as you fall
Bleed, but don’t be stained
Take, the blows sustained
Learn, but don’t remain
Though you may not hear, love is standing near
It would be an understatement to say that Gregorian Rock left a positive impression with this reviewer. Yes, I understand there is nothing new under the sun, but when was the last time you heard a band combine Gregorian chant with contemporary music styles? Keep in mind the group is no novelty either in that Gregorian Rock 2 proves a strong release musically; I appreciate how the non-conventional songwriting lends to the groups signature ‘medieval Gothic to progressive meets classic art rock’ flair (the best way I can think to describe what is going on here musically). While the future no doubt looks bright for Gregorian Rock, on any project it records in the future I would like to see it place emphasis on a heavier guitar sound and back off from the processed vocals. Still, if interested in something different then give Gregorian Rock the chance it deserves.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Deus Lux” (3:21), “Love Is Standing Near” (6:26), “I Call You Friend” (4:03), “Where Did The Time Go” (3:36), “Reflection” (2:42), “O The Deep” (4:19), ‘The Good Guys Win” (3:17), “The Battle (3:35), “Sempter Et In Perpetuum” (4:22), “As Water Reflects” (4:22)
Roland Dale Benedict - Keyboards, Vocals, Chapman Stick & Electric Wind Instruments
Scott McCullor - Lead Vocal & Percussion
Jay Pilkington - Guitars, Drum Programming & Bass
Pat Neil - Guitars
Ramon “Suro” Lopez - Drums
Raul Reyes - Bass