|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Gary Wehrkamp|
|Record Label: Inside Out||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website: Shadow Gallery|
|Tracks: 7||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 55:29|
The origin of Shadow Gallery dates to the mid-eighties and a Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania area group named Sorcerer. Featuring vocalist Mike Baker, bassist Carl Cadden-James and guitarist Brendt Allman, Sorcerer started as a cover band but later changed its moniker to Shadow Gallery and recorded a demo that led to a deal with Magna Carta Records in 1991.
After releasing its self-titled Magna Carta debut in 1992, Shadow Gallery recruited guitarist/keyboardist Gary Wehrkamp prior to putting out its sophomore effort, Carved In Stone, in the spring of 1995. The critically acclaimed concept album Tyranny was recorded in 1998 while Legacy, the group’s final on Magna Carta, hit the shelves three years later. Shadow Gallery proceeded to sign with Inside Out and release Room V in 2005, another conceptual work that continued the storyline set out in Tyranny.
Shadow Gallery soon began work on new material but was rudely interrupted by the sudden and tragic passing of vocalist Mike Baker to a heart attack at age 45. While a significant setback that takes time to get over (if ever), the band, nevertheless, persevered and introduced its new vocalist, Brian Ashland, on its second Inside Out release from late 2009, Digital Ghosts.
Shadow Gallery has always impressed as being progressive but song orientated at the same time. Digital Ghosts traverses similar musical territory - the bands trademark melodies are still present (as can be found on “Gold Dust”) – but with a bit more emphasis placed on the progressive this time around. Shadow Gallery explores and pushes the boundaries of the progressive on “With Honor”, “Digital Ghosts” and “Haunted”, three nine minute “epics” characterized by their technical intricacies and sweeping instrumental excursions.
Digital Ghosts also introduces a heavier element to the group’s sound. Credit the guitar team of Brendt Allman and Gary Wehrkamp for the manner in which they imbue the project with their tight but muscular harmonies and stalwart riffs. The two flex their muscles on ‘Venom”, “Pain” and “Strong”, “shorter” pieces - none come in at over seven minutes - blending the best aspects of heaviness and melody (again, those anticipating the group’s penchant for catchy melodies will not be disappointed here).
While Brian Ashland has some big shoes to fill (I do not think it possible to “replace” Mike Baker), his voice blends well with the Shadow Gallery sound. On first impression he has an uncanny resemblance to Geoff Tate (Queensryche) but brings his own dimension and personality to the band with his sense of emotion and occasional edge of aggression to his delivery.
Rounding out the album are guest vocal appearances by Clay Barton (Suspyre) and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), who lend their grittier flavorings to “Venom” and “Strong” respectively.
Digital Ghosts might not be a concept album (unlike past Shadow Gallery releases) but does have a common theme of loss; or having something and then suddenly noting its absence; or wanting something that is not easy to acquire or no longer attainable. With that in mind, Shadow Gallery is not a Christian band; however, its lyrics mirror the faith and “Christian worldview” of its members (as such is the case on Digital Ghosts).
“With Honor” is the albums longest track at just under ten minutes. Quintessential Shadow Gallery, the song borders on majestic with its pronounced melody and luxurious vocal harmonies underpinning a flowing chorus. Several instrumental excursions help extend the song, the first fusion based with keyboard and guitar interplay and second, almost bringing a new age feel, covers the final two minutes with a blend of piano and guitar. “With Honor” reflects the thoughts of a soldier longing to return home from war:
Guns slung low and taught
Iron fists re-grip and tighten down
Pressing hard and close
Scanning eyes alive search all around
Unleash hell and fire
Raining chaos crashing in
The screaming in the streets calling far away
I taste the shock
The perfume of this war
Far away - Far away
I stand and dream of going home
Far away - Far away
I lay down in this mess
I'm scared and brave as stone
The coarse vocal delivery of Clay Barton complements “Venom”. The song ranks with the albums heaviest, bringing an upfront guitar driven presence along with occasional hints of organ and big choir-like vocal harmonies. But it isn’t all aggression in that the chorus at the two minute mark is quite catchy (I wish it had been repeated another time or two). “Venom” confronts the issue of greed:
All the riches all the gold
"Why so bitter mortal man?"
Gain the world loose your soul
"I am lion you are lamb"
Stallions from the sky
Hellfire rain and demons fly
From those of us sent here
To kill your false religion now
All the riches all the gold
"Into the wasteland of my life"
All the riches all the gold
"I lie in waiting here"
Day turn endless night
Burned alive and scream
The end of days you're all alone
When Jesus mighty from His throne
Drowns you in Venom
“Pain” stands out with its technical time changes. The song begins its first minute acoustically prior to the rhythm guitar fading in. As it moves ahead, “Pain” drifts between keyboard laced verses and an emotionally charged chorus- all the while a driving guitar riff proves the seamless bond that holds everything together. Aptly entitled, “Pain” is a song of lost love:
And what of all that talk of
How two become one and
I hope you understand
Just need to find some grace again
There seems to be no reason
Rejected off and away
On the battlefield
You were never there beside me
Who will I be should I recover from this?
There are no enemies
Just death of love inside me
The bitter truth of this has come back home
A near perfect melody characterizes “Gold Dust”. The song comes mesmerizing with its amalgamation of the ethereal tinged and all out aggressive: its slower verses resonate a haunting feel while a chorus carried at the more steadfast tempo gives rise to a touch of the commercial. Shadow Gallery, again, showcases its instrumental propensities throughout the final moments.
Ralf Scheepers gritty vocal presence aligns well with the hard rocking “Strong”. Vintage Shadow Gallery, the song starts to some eerie keyboards before breaking out for a powerful blend of guitars and drums. The staunch milieu is maintained as “Strong” advances, muscle and melody delivered in needed amounts as the bands trademark vocal harmonies join with hints of Hammond B. “Strong” deals with holding up under times of trial:
There are those that talk the talk
But fail when fire burns them
(They are weak)
What gives you strength
What gives you courage for tomorrow
We learned to let experience go turn us into men
Concrete running through our veins
And it's the still of the morning long
Before dawn has broken
Hangin' so listless
Deep in the wilderness
We ride so silent and focused
All the rest of the world
Can fade to grey
“Digital Ghost” shines with its over the top progressiveness. Lush and regal, the song highlights the group’s penchant for the instrumental with an extended guitar driven introduction and closing to a three minute “jam band” excursion that brings to mind Spock’s Bears or Neal Morse. In between, Shadow Gallery’s renowned melodies reign supreme along with plenty of piano and keyboards reflecting a jazz-fusion feel. I might describe this one as progressive rock as opposed to metal. “Digital Ghost” was written in tribute to a lost loved one:
I believe in the afterlife
We walk the ancient pathways of the sky
Through the Heavens hallowed halls
Cross the epochs and the eons carved in time
Our drift through life is mist
A smoke filled mirror gone
Returned to dust
There's a chill in the air tonight
As what once was has passed on through
Ashes to ashes they say
Then dust to dust
And what was unbroken divides
And the answer to this mortality walking on by
The circle remains here my friend
We guard it with trust
And cast what remains to the sea
In our wailing we will suffer
No last goodbye
The progressive tendencies are maintained on “Haunted”. The song opens its first four minutes in a calm – almost angelic – manner as a joining of keyboards, piano and sweeping vocal melodies give way to a Queen-like guitar solo. A storm of rhythm guitar soon prevails as “Haunted” takes a darker heading, driving riffs and an equally pointed tempo holding sway until the pace slowly taper to the atmospheric setting that carries things to their close.
Digital Ghosts adds up to another quality effort from Shadow Gallery. Heavier and more progressive in form, the album proves the bands strength still resides in its songwriting and ability to put together well structured compositions. Brian Ashland, again, fits well with the Shadow Gallery sound while guest appearances from Clay Barton and Ralf Scheepers round things out.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “With Honor” (9:58), “Venom” (6:21), “Pain” (6:21), “Gold Dust” (6:45), “Strong” (6:49), “Digital Ghost” (9:36), “Haunted” (9:36)
Brian Ashland – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Gary Wehrkamp – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards & Drums
Brendt Allman – Guitars, Bass & Keyboards
Carl Cadden-James – Bass & Lead Vocals
Clay Barton – Lead Vocals
Ralf Scheepers – Lead Vocals
Srdjan Brankovic - Guitars
Vivian Lalu - Keyboards
Joe Nevolo – Drums