|Musical Style: Progressive Hard Rock Fusion||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website: Visual Cliff|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 85%|
Visual Cliff got its start around the turn of the century when guitarist Rob Perez, drummer Rick Mals, keyboardist Rob Klan and bassist Eric Fuller came together to record the Visual Cliff Project demos. Later adopting the Visual Cliff moniker and recording two instrumental albums, Lyrics For The Living (2003) and Key To Eternity (2004), the four proceeded to initiate a search for a vocalist with the goal of “adding another dimension to their music”. The end result was the recruitment of Shane Lankford (Orphan Project), who contributed vocals to three tracks on Visual Cliff’s 2005 release Freedom From Within and five on the 2007 follow up effort Into The After.
For its fifth full length album from 2010, Collective Spirit, Visual Cliff presents with a revamped line up: Gone are Mals, Klan and Fuller; replaced by drummer Thomas Schuffert, bassist David Michael and keyboardist Mike Florio. The lone holdovers remain Perez and Lankford.
The CD version of Collective Spirit features eight tracks (three vocal and five instrumental). Visual Cliff, however, will be offering three singles for free download throughout 2011- and turning Collective Spirit into an 11 song release in the process. The first two singles, “Soul To Find” and “Acts Chapter 5,” were released in the spring and summer of 2011, respectively. The third, “Sabbath”, came out in the fall of the same year. The three can be downloaded at: www.trinityrecords.net/2011_Three_Singles.html
Musically, Collective Spirit finds the group continuing to walk a fine line between hard rock, progressive rock and jazz-fusion overtones. I particularly enjoy the three vocal tracks, in which Lankford shines with his rich and warm tinctured vocal style. Mid-paced hard rocker “Exposed” stands out with its joining of heaviness and melody while “Perceptive” heads in AOR and melodic rock influenced territory. The haunting acoustic based “Turning Of The Gears” gives rise to a pronounced melody that borders on the commercial.
The five instrumentals also present with high quality. “Confessions” and “Bone From Morrow” take a hard rocking approach, with the latter making a cool transition to a jazz-fusion based direction at its halfway point. Jazz-fusion might also be the best way to describe “Sweet Conviction” and “Shema”, two slower tracks on the more relaxed and laid back side of things. “In My Saviors Arms” is almost given the ballad treatment with its use of keyboards, strings and acoustic guitar.
“Soul To Find”, the first of the bonus tracks, bridges the gap between the groups vocal and instrumental material in that it highlights aspects of both, including an extended instrumental opening and hard rocking direction the rest of the way. “Acts Chapter 5” is a hard rocking instrumental in the vein of “Confessions” and “Bone From Marrow” but with a hard rocking edge. “Sabbath” is also instrumental but heading in a fusion based direction with a crisp rhythm guitar and atmospheric keyboards in the backdrop.
Musicianship remains a Visual Cliff strength. It all starts with guitarist Rob Perez, who layers things with his tight sounding riffs on the albums heavier pieces while excelling with fitting melodic harmonies and acoustic lacings on the quieter material here. Soloing wise, he heads in mostly jazz-fusion-blues based territory, such as on “Sweet Conviction” and “Shema”, although “Bone From Marrow” finds him cutting loose in more radiant fashion.
It also must be noted the adept keyboard work of Mike Florio. The project finds him accenting and adding the fitting highlighting touch – whether keyboards, organ or piano – without getting in the way or coming across heavy handed.
Production values, similar to those on Into The After, are polished and transparent in allowing all instrumentation to stand out in the mix.
Track By Track
“Soul To Find’ brings a progressive based sound that ranks with the Visual Cliff best. The song opens its first minute and a half instrumentally to a fusion filled blend of keyboards and guitar. “Soul To Find” turns into a vocal piece the rest of the way, with ethereal tinged verses and a hard rocking chorus carried in the more forthright direction. In between you will find some tasteful seventies influenced keyboard work.
“Acts Chapter 5” also delivers an element of variety, taking a hard rocking foundation while mixing in eerie keyboards and a stretch of fiery soloing from Perez. Momentum slows at the halfway point for a passage reflecting the gentler and more tranquil feel.
Relaxed and ethereal would be the best way to describe “Sabbath”, as can be found in its slower tempo and proclivity for some fusion-like elements (sort of like “Sweet Conviction” and “Shema”). The main difference is that “Sabbath” is the heaviest of the three in that a distinct rhythm guitar carries its distance.
“Bone From Marrow” hits hard and heavy from the get go with its metal laced guitar riffs, pounding drums and scintillating lead guitar. The song, however, makes a transition at its halfway point to a calmer – almost fusion-like – direction upheld by some soloing with an almost jazzy feel to it. A nice contrast is presented in the process.
“Exposed”, the first of the vocal tracks, is a driving hard rocker characterized by a snarling rhythm guitar presence and resounding low end. When things smooth out, it is for a deep and swarthy chorus accented by Lankford’s textured vocal flavorings. Again, this one proves heavy and melodic. Reaching our potential in life is the message at hand:
The pain builds up but do not stop
You're getting close to your goal
Within you know as you're exposed
They'll see the light by your soul
Scraping to the inner core
It may take all night to open up your deeper scars
It may take your life
You're found out and you've found out
What it is you're here for
To be what you were made to be
By our great Creator
Things return to an instrumental direction on “Sweet Conviction”, a calmer and gentler track with some fusion-ish elements that bring to mind the second half of “Bone From Marrow”. A very well done blues-jazz-fluid guitar solo (call it whatever you want- it is good!) is one of the songs highlights while touches of atmospheric keyboards contribute to the laid back scene.
Mid-paced AOR with a heavy rocking edge might be the best way to describe the second vocal piece, “Perspective”. The song slowly drifts through its verses in tranquil fashion only to pick up in pace for a decisive chorus backed by a touch of rhythm guitar. Organ and keyboards are added to taste. “Perspective” deals with maintaining the proper focus:
Everything looks small from here
And small is what it is
When you lose perspective
There is so much that you miss
Arms stretched wide enough to reach
Pierced hands strong enough to hold
Embracing all of us as one
He will never let us go
As He is our focus
We see the One who's perfect
And is the only way we can live in harmony
“Turning Of The Gears”, the final vocal song, is laced acoustically in bringing an emotional milieu that hints of Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind”. With its haunting vocal melodies and moving proclivity, the song gives rise to a commercialism that border on radio friendly in capacity. Albums best track. “Turning Of The Gears” reinforces the importance of making the best use of our time:
The turning of the gears
Winds away the years
And the clock just keeps cranking
Keeps cranking on
Things I've left undone
And things I need to say
(Eyes closed, they're gone)
Crashing all around me
As I dream the day away
(Can't hide for long)
Come, He says
Time can be your friend
Time to make the change
While you still have the chance
“Shema” reminds me of “Sweet Conviction” with its relaxed aura. Without a doubt a finesse filled number in being carried its lengthy by guitar passages on the softer side of things, the song finds Perez providing some of the albums finest lead guitar work, including two passages that run the gamut from the jazzy to the bluesy.
“In My Saviors Arms” represents the albums mellowest piece. But mellow is not bad in that the sweeping keyboards, strings and acoustic guitar help lend to a sublime – if not ethereal – setting. If anything, the comforting feel to the music here aligns with the song title at hand.
Closing things out is a much needed hard rocker in “Confessions”. This one finds the muscular guitar riffs returning in full force, carrying the extent of what is quite the heavy hitting and spirited piece. A perfectly placed organ in the backdrop helps lends to the rollicking environs.
Collective Spirit adds up to another very good album from Visual Cliff. I appreciate the variety presented, including not only vocal and instrumental pieces but styles ranging from hard rock to jazz-fusion to ballads. It also must be noted the skillful musicianship, particularly from Perez and Florio, while Lankford, as always, stands out on vocals. If you enjoy prior Visual Cliff releases then by all means check out Collective Spirit.
Track Listing: “Bone From Marrow” (3:53) “Exposed” (3:37), “Sweet Conviction” (3:21), “Perspective” (4:53), “Turning Of The Gears” (4:34), “Shema” (4:05), “In My Saviors Arms” (3:22), “Confessions” (3:34)
Rob Perez - Guitars
Shane Lankford – Lead Vocals
Mike Florio - Keyboards
David Michael - Bass
Thomas Schuffert – Drums