|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website: Reign|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 69:18|
The independently released spring of 2015 self-titled sophomore album of Clarkston, Michigan based Reign draws deeply on past and present. In many ways, the group is a throwback to the best things that came out of the eighties metal scene, such as a leaning towards the technical and intricate (I can see fans of Iron Maiden and Barren Cross finding Reign of interest) and manifold heaviness not unlike traditional metal (as will those into Judas Priest and Saint). Yet, Reign is also not afraid to reflect strong influences of modern power and progressive metal with both its lengthy and unconventional song structuring (Dream Theater comes to mind in this regard) and occasional outbursts of all out speed and aggression (fill in the name of whatever classic US power metal band you want).
Helping Reign further stand out is its duel male and female lead vocal approach. In terms of the former, the group eschews a high-end crooner as is typical of the power and progressive segments in favor of the lower register flavorings of Scotty Miller. Miller specializes in reaching down deep with a powerful style that walks a fine line between the guttural and all out soulful emotion. I find his gruff touch a welcome change of pace in light of a scene that at times can be somewhat predictable in terms of vocal direction. When factoring the lower range vocals and progressive nature to its songwriting, Reign reminds somewhat of America Gomorrah, keeping in mind the Reign songwriting is at a much higher (and more interesting) level in comparison. Also noting how Reign has been more active, with its debut full-length The Greatest Story Ever Told seeing release in 2013 (America Gomorrah put out its first and only album in 2000).
Latter features the soprano vocals of Kari Stein and keyboardist Jaimi Grumblatt. While the two play mostly a lighter harmony back up vocal role, they can also take on lead vocal duties, such as on “Tunnel Vision” and “Liar”. I do not know which of the two fronts either song, but I cannot help but be reminded of Barnabas during its prime Approaching Light Speed & Feel The Fire period. Yes, the female vocals and musical direction play roles in this regard but so does the crazy good playing of guitarist Jarrod Grumblatt. The guy is nothing less than a wizard behind the fret board, who while having his own intricate and fast fingered style (and takes ample opportunity to exhibit his abilities throughout the album) suggests somewhat of Barnabas guitarist Brian Belew (or at the very least a slightly out of control Carl Johan Grimmark pumped up on Chris Impellitteri steroids).
Ten-minute opener “Undertow” represents a good indicator of the progressive Reign songwriting abilities. The song throws everything at the listener but the kitchen sink: Galloping riffs galore, robust kick drum action, emotional overtures, wiry refrain and over half its length instrumental (ranging from slower and ethereal moments to others upheld by fiery lead guitar). “Sing”, coming in at seven and a half minutes, also delivers its variances from contrasting lighter and more melodic passages (keyboards play an airy role) with those in which full on guitars lead the way (and deliver bone crushing heaviness in the process). Guitars, at the same time, also reflect an almost fusion-like feel in places.
Reign also delivers a couple ballads in the eight to nine minute range. My favorite is “Forever And A Day”, the more reserved of the two with its gentle acoustic lacings but also upholding a keyboard and piano presence that lends to the heartfelt (almost folk like) scene. Of note is how Miller’s poignant vocal delivery plays a complementary role. “Tunnel Vision” highlights a semi ballad touch with its stauncher rhythm guitars while also allowing keyboards and piano to make generous statements (it cannot be understated the accenting work of Jaimi Grumblatt). Female lead vocals allow for a crystalline effect. Lone complaint is that while far from bad, I find “Tunnel Vision” a bit too long winded for my taste- it could have been cut by a couple minutes and not lost anything in the process.
Hence, the only potential constructive comment I can levy at Reign is how on its lengthier material, which while technically sound and well constructed, my attention occasionally wavers with repeat listen. Four songs in the ten minute range (not to mention four others hovering at around six) is a bit much. Yes, I like progressive music as much as anyone and I marvel at the groups technical licks and chops, but I also cannot help but feel a higher level of accessibility would be achieved by abbreviating its songwriting somewhat.
Every bit progressive but truncated at just over six minute, “Liar” slowly drifts its first minute and a half in placid fashion only to abruptly take off at a furious tempo of a speed metal influences power metal variety. Heavyset backing vocals drive the aggressive chorus, while Mike Klaiber sets the bludgeoning tone on drums. “Grateful” takes an inverse approach, starting strong and decisive as chunky guitars and prodigious bass of Scottie Parker lead the way before gradually tapering to a driving and bluesy essence of its final half. The larger than life female backing vocals (in a positive sense) play a soulful role.
Some of the better Reign moments are mid-paced. “Fallen” proves a hulking powerhouse, as massive guitar walls (it would be difficult to get much heavier) and no-nonsense mentality (stern and barbed is the demeanor at hand) align to establish a straight on metal heading. The low-end groove hits like a ton of bricks. “I” plods with the best of them, almost doom-ish with its churning undercurrents and grinding, bottom heavy mentality. Interestingly, keyboards help lighten the acerbic scene, with an understated catchiness coming to the forefront in the process.
Albums upbeat moments shine as well. “Enough”, albums shortest at just four and a half minutes, proves a turbulent monster in which a knife-edge mentality and pummeling rhythm section reign supreme. Yet, a more melodic aspect comes to the forefront in the placidly flowing chorus. “Awake” suggests of up-tempo straightforward hard rock, as gritty rawness manifests itself in the bluesy sensibilities and incessant energy front to back. Am I out of line to suggest a somewhat technically minded Resurrection Band? Inherit to each song are extended stretches of Grumblatt’s audacious lead guitar work- blazing, fervid and creative, I wish more guitarists would cut loose in similar fashion.
While I appreciate the CD mini booklet with lyrics, it can be difficult to discern the dark blue font over a black background (for the same reason the blue tinted band photo does not stand out). Likewise, liner notes make no mention as to which of the female vocalists fronts “Tunnel Vision” & “Liar”. Production, on the other hand, is solid for an independent release (plenty of guitars in the mix and nice separation of instrumentation).
Reign is not shy about making its faith known. “Forever And A Day” stands out in this capacity:
Every night I pray
The Lord will keep you safe
I’m down on my knees
Beggin’ for His grace
You’re searching for the way back home
And I’ll wait for you
Forever and a day
“Awake” deals with the testing of faith:
No I will not… forsake what I believe
No I will not… be careful what you say
(I am strong; I will not falter)
See the truth here now I pray
(And my faith you will not alter)
Subject matter to “Liar” is self-explanatory:
Fear of the dark and a thief in the night
Haunting my mind and my dreams
Blinding the fool with your shadowy light
I’m on to all your schemes
You, you’re telling me there’s no way out
But the truth will bring you to your knees
Blurring the lines between wrong and right
Choosing your way leaves me empty
“I” is written from the standpoint of God:
I am the one you left behind
I am the path you did not choose
And I am the one you stand to loose
Can’t you here what I am saying to you?
Time is short He’s coming for you (He’s coming for you)
Believe in me (believe in me)
And I will set you free (and I will set you free)
Overall, Reign has done a good job on its independent self-titled sophomore release. Credit the group for staying true to the past and present in giving rise to a sound I can see appealing to those into both the eighties and current metal scenes. Well-rounded variety is the upshot, with plenty of technical progressiveness abounding but also leanings towards a more straightforward direction, whether metal or hard rock. Performances are impressive as well, as evident in the nice contrasts between the lower register male vocals and lighter female vocals not to mention the fantastic guitar playing and not to be overlooked rhythm section. In the end, Reign proves the future is bright for this talented six-piece unit.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Undertow” (9:53), “Fallen” (6:35), “I” (5:24), “Tunnel Vision” (8:53), “Grateful” (6:11), “Awake” (5:49), “Liar” (6:15), “Forever And A Day” (8:06), “Enough” (4:37), “Sing” (7:34)
Scotty Miller - Lead Vocals
Kari Stein - Vocals
Jarrod Grumblatt - Guitars
Jaimi Grumblatt - Vocals & Keyboards
Scottie ‘Reno’ Parker - Bass
Mike Klaiber - Drums