|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Darren Mullan|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Australia|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website: Sonic Divide|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 44:08|
From the lushly textured complexion of the songwriting to the throwback sound drawing upon the best aspects from the seventies and eighties to the impeccably flowing track listing, every detail about the late 2013 self-titled debut from Adelaide, Australia based Sonic Divide grabs our attention and holds it with repeat play. This is a surpassingly special album.
Sonic Divide can trace its origin to when vocalist Wayne Holden saw guitarist Glenn Johnson playing in church one Sunday, with the two later getting together to see if “a couple of blokes having just scaled the summit of 40 years old might be keen to rekindle their musical passions by jamming together” (as taken from the groups press material). The first Sonic Divide jam session (performing mostly covers) soon followed, in which keyboardist Andy Young and bassist Ian Slade participated. After recruiting a second guitarist in Steve Pirie and drummer Evan Johnson, Sonic Divide turned into a writing project when individual members started presenting with the material that would form the basis for its debut album.
On a side note: Several Sonic Divide members cut their teeth playing in various metal ministry bands in the eighties and nineties. Most notable are Johnson, part of the Australian version of Disciple (releasing a full-length album entitled Sacred Knights in 1988 in addition to opening for Stryper on its In God We Trust tour) and Holden, a member of Covenant (putting out a five song demo, Fall Of Rome, in 1993).
More trivia: Johnson had an older brother named Russ that played in a local band called Mississippi, which later went on to evolve into Little River Band!
Musically, Sonic Divide walks a fine line between melodic rock, commercial hard rock and AOR. The groups press material, as a result, lists MSG, Toto, Boston, Journey and Bon Jovi as points of reference- and rightly so! I might have also included several others taking a similar musical heading - Giant, AdrianGale, Line Of Fire, Liberty N’ Justice and Action - in addition to those pursuing a metal sound on the lighter side of things: Stryper, Joshua, Guardian and Shout. Regardless, one can see how that previously noted “throwback sound drawing up the best aspects from the seventies and eighties” comes into play.
Standing out about Sonic Divide is how they compose some of the best ballads you will hear- or at the very least the best this side of Shadow Gallery (no Sonic Divide are not “prog” but quality is comparable). My favorite is “The Healing”, with its dreamy, ethereal tinges and wave-like guitar tones, but I can see how others might favor “When The Morning Comes”, joining a bluesy guitar proclivity with abundant overriding emotion. “I Wonder” also does not disappoint from its piano basis and bigger than life backing vocals (one of Sonic Divide’s staples).
In terms of heavier material, “So In Love” ranks with the albums more commercial with its immediately recognizable melody, while “Driven” merges moments ranging from the lighter and airy to stauncher and bottom heavy. “Too Much” emphasizes a high-energy and spirited sound and “Shattered Fortress” a funky and groove based focus. “Stepping Stone” represents the albums heaviest (from its forward mix of hard rocking guitars) and “Horizon” the most progressive (with some complementary time signatures present).
Serving to tie everything together are the wonderful mid-ranged vocals of Wayne Holden. Yes, he sings in a lower register in comparison to some melodic rock vocalists - occasionally reaching low to add some tough hints of grit to his delivery - in helping lend to the trademark emotional Sonic Divide sound. Otherwise, he displays significant power in trending towards the clean and smooth side of things.
The group reflects its vast experience from a musicianship standpoint. I particularly enjoy the soloing of Glenn Johnson, whose work touches upon the shred-like (“Too Much”), bluesy (“The Healing”), classical (“I Wonder”) and fluid (“So In Love”). Tony Polacios (Guardian), David Zaffiro (Bloodgood) and Joshua Perahia (Joshua) cannot help but come to mind when inviting comparison. Keyboardist Andy Young performs ably as well. Of note is how many songs feature piano (and hints of Kansas accordingly), while on keyboards he accents but not to a fault. You will find tasteful hints of organ throughout as well.
Please note that Sonic Divide is not a Christian ministry band but rather falls within the category of Christians creating music. Hence, the goal of the group to take its God given talents and musical abilities and create the best music it can. The group best sums things up when it states: : “God is VERY much a part of who Sonic Divide is and our journey thus far, and will continue to be so into the future” and that “our individual Christian faith is still what carries and guides the six of us as we journey through life”.
When grading an album in the 90% range, it can be challenging to come up with anything constructive. That said, perhaps the group could have added another heavier piece along the lines of “Stepping Stone” or further explored the more progressive side to its songwriting abilities. Either way, I cannot help but feel Sonic Divide achieves its goal of being a group of “old mates jamming together to spark up our musical passions again as well as (supporting) one another spiritually and practically in our roles as men, husbands and fathers” (once more, the groups press material). Sonic Divide proves every bit successful with the variety of its material (slower and faster songs in addition to those heavier and ballad based lend to that immaculately flowing track listing in question) in presenting with the total package therein. Throw in choice musicianship and top notch vocals and Sonic Divide adds up to one of the better new groups to have hit the scene in 2013.
Track By Track
Opener “So In Love” flows with its commercial propensities. An uplifting disposition combined with pristine keyboards and defining melody play lead roles in a song that has eloquent written all over it. The lower register of vocalist Wayne Holden shines as well (he really reaches and stretches here). Stryper could not have done it any better.
“Driven” maintains the classy melodic hard rock heading. The song maneuvers its opening verses to piano, not picking up impetus until a charging rhythm guitar cuts in and leads the way to as impassioned a chorus as you will find (one of the albums strongest). The overall effect is over the top moving and emotional. Also, the quieter parts to “Driven” provide foreshadowing for the two ballads that ensue. Lyric snippet:
Take me back to yesterday
Thoughts of what was meant to be
Fate itself is no mans’ redemption
Innocent yet tantalized
Step away into a fantasy
The face in the mirror still so exotic
Wandering round without a care at all
Reckless in the wilderness
So strangely comforting
“I Wonder” proves a classic ballad with light and airy touches in the form of piano and prodigious backing vocals defining the ardent setting. Guitars make their presence felt but not to an overriding extent. An emotional leaning comes to the forefront in the process. Of equal note is the classical flavored guitar solo.
“When The Morning Comes” might be the best of the lot. This one takes a reserved tone not unlike “I Wonder” with piano and bluesy guitar traces carrying things front to back. Atmospheric is the feel at hand with more full on backing vocals interweaving the poignant chorus and soloing taking a moving tone this time around. Lyric snippet:
Waiting by the side of the road
Watching the world go by
Take a look over my shoulder
Al all the reasons why
I should have stayed away
Or took an earlier train
Gonna hold on to tomorrow
When I’ll be back home
“Too Much” rollicks its distance, as mirthful piano and crisp rhythm guitar form the backbone of what amounts one of the albums more upbeat tracks. Inspired is the upshot, with the high-energy impetus certain to draw you in at once- the hooks are catchy front to back. Lead guitar rips and shreds in aligning with the songs spirited approach (reminding somewhat of Joshua Perahia).
“Shattered Fortress” takes the momentum of “Too Much” and runs with it. Yes, every bit focused with the forthright demeanor and non-stop spirit to match but this time emphasizing staunch low-end groove with quirky (but very well done) keyboards. Chorus, once more, is over the top with the group’s trademark backing vocals lending the hook-filled aspect. An almost funk based feel can be found here. Lyric snippet:
Looking down at my shattered fortress
It used to be enough to hold me in
All the chaos that surrounds me
The reassuring place I’ve never been
How do I face another day
Good intentions won’t help me to break away
The loneliness consumes me
Somebody please exhume me
There’s go to be another way
“Stepping Stone” proves the albums heaviest. This one finds guitars powering to the front of the mix, maintaining a near metal based mentality while keyboards and organ decorate the backdrop (Andy Young gets quite the workout here). Chorus, fittingly, hits hard while drumming exhibits quite the technical flair.
“The Healing”, final of the three ballads, starts to keyboards and ethereal guitar (I am somewhat reminded of U2 as a result) prior to gradually gaining initiative with rhythm guitars taking the more prominent role. Emotion exudes the full distance, reflected in the moving vocal performance and generous stretch of bluesy filled soloing (particularly closing out the final seconds). Lyric snippet:
I was praying for a healing
For a feeling deep inside
Looking for a miracle
For the waters to subside
And I felt the Spirit rising
Like a gushing from within
He said take the Healing
And the Healing shall begin
As “The Healing” fades out, “Horizon” fades in. A hint of the progressive can be found here, as the song comes in at over six minutes in featuring its share of variety: Slowly building opening, multi-layered chorus, multiple instrumental interludes that play up a jam mentality and ethereal keyboards that take things to their close. In the end, “Horizon” is a decisive closure to quite the consummate album. Lyric snippet:
“Lead me on to greater things,” that is what they’d say to me
Carry me forward as far as I can plainly see
Keep on driving me closer to the line
I should have realized that looking out so far
Would get in the way of taking hold of where you are
One step at a time – one step at a time
Over the mountain (over the mountain) is where I see the road
Over the horizon that is what I need to know (what I need to know)
All in good time (all in good time) got to find my destiny
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “So In Love” (4:01), “Driven” (5:08), “I Wonder” (4:19), “When The Morning Comes” (4:11), “Too Much” (4:42), “Shattered Fortress” (4:38), “Stepping Stone” (5:31), “The Healing” (5:02), “Horizon” (6:29)
Wayne Holden - Lead Vocals
Glenn Johnson - Guitars
Steve Pirie - Guitars
Andy Young - Keyboards
Ian Slade - Bass
Evan Johnson - Drums