|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Stride & Gregg Gill|
|Record Label: The Laser's Edge||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2005||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 50:55|
It is without question that today’s music scene is imbued with several high quality progressive metal bands, with Dream Theater, Symphony X, Threshold, Shadow Gallery and Magnitude 9 standing out as many of the more noteworthy. One act that deserves mention with the genres very best, nevertheless, is Houston, Texas based Stride. Getting started in 2001 with its instrumental release Music Machine, Stride recently added vocalist Gary Belin to its line up and recorded its 2005 sophomore outing Imagine. Without a doubt the album does a laudable job combining the best elements of progressive rock and metal, a prevalence which shines on the anthem-like “Role Model”, the creative “Face The Day” and the ballad “Time”, a stunning piece standing out with its numerous time changes. But progressive metal would only be telling part of the story here in that more melodic based tracks such as “Imagine” – with its catchy chorus – and “Alive” and “How Far” – two numbers accentuated by lush backing vocals – give rise to an AOR feel as well. Stride even mirrors the instrumental leanings of its past on two very well done fusion based instrumentals in “Endeavor” and “Ion Drive”.
Gary Belin is quite the talented front man who contributes a smooth sounding, classic tenor vocal style while occasionally adding a raspy element to his delivery. I enjoy how the classic rock flavoring to his voice at times brings to mind Steve Perry (Journey), Steve Walsh (Kansas) or even Lance King (Avian). Guitarist Joel Gregoire, of course, helps lend to the bands all around heaviness and proves a more than above average talent on lead guitar. He cuts loose best on the two instrumental tracks in addition to showcasing his fiery playing on “How Far”, “Role Model” and several others. Rick Flores creates some effective keyboard and lead guitar interplay with Gregoire (check out “Imagine”) while his use of piano on the quieter portions of several tracks – “Face The Day” comes to mind – reflects a noticeable Kansas-like feel. Mike Martin (bass) and Matt Kanzler (drums) round out the rhythm section.
Production values are big budget-like in capacity in allowing all the instrumentation to rise above the mix.
While all the members of Stride are believers, I would hesitate to call Imagine a Christian album but rather an album by a group of Christians. Lyrical themes, for example, are positive in speaking of hope and perseverance and the journey that life puts us through.
“Imagine” gets underway to an even blend of rhythm guitar and keyboards, picking up in pace for its first verse before moving on to a sweeping chorus with a hook that will pull you in and refuse to let go. A keyboard and lead guitar trade off bolsters a minute long instrumental section. The melody here is quite copious and you will be challenged to rid it of your mind. “Imagine” talks about doing exactly that:
Imagine a cherished moment,
Let your mind be free
Just close your eyes, and breath in deep
Imagine a simple notion,
To set your mind at ease
Now open your eyes,
Begin to believe
“Alive” opens to the sound of stations being changed on a radio prior to launching into a quickly moving riff that borders on speed metal. The song tapers off at the start of its first verse as the rhythm guitar takes a backseat in the mix, not gaining momentum until the rhythm guitar returns to shore up a rollicking chorus highlighted by a touch of catchy backing vocals. Again, the melody here is pronounced and helps give the song that AOR-ish radio friendly feel.
“Endeavor”, the first of the albums two instrumental tracks, takes off in mercurial fashion, the upbeat tempo maintained as Flores decorates the scene with a well timed keyboard solo. The pace slackens somewhat, however, as Gregoire steps forward with a nice stretch of blazing lead guitar work. An amalgamation of keyboards and guitar carries things forward until the song returns to its up-tempo ways over its final minute.
A determined mid-tempo pace is maintained during the verse portions of the immaculate “How Far” as the rhythm guitar crunches its way in and out of the mix. Breaking out in catchy fashion, the song moves on to a majestic chorus accentuated by the bands trademark lush vocal harmonies. Several seconds of keyboards opens an instrumental section bolstered by another skillfully performed run of lead guitar. What we have here is another track taking the best elements of AOR and combining it with guitar driven progressive rock. The focus of “How Far” is on life’s journey:
I’ve come a long way, traveled so far,
To be where I am today
I can finally see, a beacon in the mist,
And it’s calling me
Miles and miles I’ve come
Through some stormy seas
Fought the rain and found the breeze
I’ve charted a dream, open sails for me
It’s my destiny
The ominous sounding keyboards at the start of “Role Model” give way to an anthem-like riff, further initiative gained as the song takes off in a double bass driven manner. Stopping dead in its tracks when the rhythm guitar drops from the mix, keyboards play a prevailing role as “Role Model” slowly moves through its first verse. The rhythm guitar soon returns, however, and leads the way to an emotionally charged chorus giving rise a hope based message:
Now it’s time to fly, so free your heart
And those who follow
Know their lives will turn to gold
Cause everything you do affects us
All the same
And if you fail to try it answers with pain
The anthem-like riff returns at the start of an instrumental section shored up by a neo-classical influenced guitar solo.
“The Waiting” kicks in to a swirling blend of guitar and keyboards, tapering off to a near standstill as the rhythm guitar plays a reduced role upon acquiring its first verse. Once the rhythm guitar bounces back hard and heavy, it compels things to a lofty chorus in which a grand and stately environment is put in place.
The energetic “Ion Drive”, in my opinion, is the better of the albums two instrumental pieces. This one really gives Gregoire the opportunity to display his licks and chops, his tight as a nail riffing and lightning-like leads mixed with passages fortified by rapid double bass and even an occasional touch of organ. The crystal clear feel to the albums production really comes to life here as well.
“Face The Day” immediately jumps out of the gate at a fast paced tempo only to gradually decelerate as a piano gracefully holds sway over its first verse. After the rhythm guitar returns with just the right amount of edge, the song evenly advances to a resounding chorus in which Belin adds an element of grit and gravel to his vocal delivery. Double bass sustains the mix at the start of an extensive instrumental section featuring an aggressively played guitar solo. “Face The Day” is aptly named:
Anxiety weighs on my mind
I’m living life on borrowed time
Never one to walk away
Taking time to face the day
And as the hours pass,
A feelings drifting over me
If dreams die its’ such a travesty
The progressive rock ballad “Time” begins its first verse gently in a keyboard driven manner, the laid back chorus that follows interwoven with layered backing vocals that cannot help but bring to mind Yes. Subsequent to a brief passage carried by a quietly played guitar, keyboards continue to propel the song through its second verse until the rhythm guitar crashes into the mix and drives its second chorus at a more determined and upbeat tempo.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Imagine” (5:07), “Alive” (5:28), “Endeavor” (4:16), “How Far” (6:30), “Role Model” (7:41), “The Waiting” (5:31), “Ion Drive” (3L41), “Face The Day” (6:30), “Time” (6:07)
Gary Belin – Lead Vocals
Joel Gregoire – Guitars
Rick Flores – Keyboards
Mike Martin – Bass
Matt Kanzler - Drums