Lance King - ReProgram - (9.5/10)
Published on June 14, 2019
Where Ethereal Contemplation Meets Cold Technology.
For the past three decades Lance King has been a substantial force within the underground metal world on the western side of the Atlantic, to the point of being likened to a general leader a grand division of the underground resistance. In that time he has not only lent his voice to 10 different metal projects in both Europe and America, but has also been at the forefront of promoting melodic strains of metal the world over through his self-financed label Nightmare Records, fielding just under 150 releases by almost 100 unique bands. Suffice it to say, for someone so prolific and tied in with the metal world, any solo project bearing his name would present a wide array of possibilities for anyone so inclined towards the world of power/prog. Although this would first culminate in a highly impressive first offering in 2011 dubbed A Moment In Chiros, it seemed as though Lance was holding back a tad and not truly unlocking the entire potential of his 30 years in the business, let alone the full power of his iconic voice, which has often been compared to the likes of Geoff Tate and James LaBrie. But with the ushering in of 2019 and the release of King’s long awaited follow up ReProgram, it’s pretty safe to say that he may well have delivered his coup de grace.
One of Lance’s greatest strengths has been an eye for talent, always surrounding himself with highly competent musicians to a degree that rivals Ronnie James Dio, and with members of such respected outfits as Anubis Gate, Annihilator, Darkwater, Pyramaze and Spherical Universe Experiment rounding out his collaborators, this outing is no exception. The tendency towards virtuoso musicianship and involved, progressive-tinged songwriting that goes with such bands goes without saying, and the resulting sonic template that emerges through their performance can be best described as a portmanteau of two of King’s better known collaborations, i.e. with Balance Of Power and Pyramaze, communicated through a model heavily informed by the Kevin Moore era of Dream Theater and the more power metal infused variation of the same formula that was all the rage during the 2000s via Pagan’s Mind. All the flashy bells and whistles from noodling keyboard leads to odd-timed grooving riffs and soaring lead guitar lines meld perfectly with King’s polished and controlled vocal display and his socially conscious lyrics, which are heavily informed by his mystical brand of Christianity and a critical, first person approach to politics and sociology that borders on a conceptual plot line in a loose sense.
Despite being a heavily involved and complex listen, one of the key features of Lance’s many projects has always been a strong sense of symmetry to songwriting, resulting in catchy and highly accessible power metal anthems that have a more peripheral sense of progression and stylistic variation. On the simpler side of the equation is the abrasive and chugging opener and title song, which dispenses with any sense of introduction or buildup and simply smacks the listener upside the head with the chorus before settling into a mid-paced, off-time groove heavily reminiscent of something off his previous magnum opus with Pyramaze Legend Of The Bone Carver. This commonality with the aforementioned album proves to be a recurring theme on the album as not only King’s vocal approach largely tends to mirror the sound he brought to said album, but also the songwriting, as can be observed in more cruising anthems such as the guitar-happy “Stand Your Ground” and the frenetic almost to the point of thrashing speeder and blistering commentary on America’s obsession with media sensationalism “Chaotica”. These are naturally not pure carbon copies of Pyramaze’s mid-2000s sound as the musicianship is a bit fancier and the overall feel of things is less woodland-like and more modernized.
When getting a bit beyond this album’s occasional nostalgic tendencies towards what was arguably Lance’s most successful musical collaboration, this album runs a fairly sizable gambit of influences while still being anchored in a fairly uniform stylistic paradigm. The slow-paced, heavy character of “Reaction Formation” and the straight up rocking character of “Perfect World” definitely lean pretty heavily towards the middle period of Balance Of Power with King at the helm, and most particularly the infectious anthems of Ten More Tales…. Then again, the mechanistic grooves and frequent employment of quirky keyboard work and guitar noodling of “Technology” veers dangerously close to Dream Theater’s Awake, while the spacey sounds and chunky stomp of “Wide Open” mixes the same basic idea with a recurring keyboard theme that bears an uncanny resemblance to one of Dio’s more obscure late 80s anthems “When A Woman Cries”. But through it all, Lance finds himself excelling by falling back on the same blend of progressive detailing and power metal-infused hooks and riffs that defined his brief tenure with Pyramaze, as showcased in the utterly unforgettable sing-along romp “Limitless”, which along with the epic nod to Images And Words of a closer “A Mind At War” are the highlights of the opus.
Although Lance King probably has several years of making music ahead of him, at this stage of the game, ReProgram stands as his strongest and most comprehensive work to date, and a definitely boon to any fan of progressive metal after the Dream Theater and late 80s Queensryche formula. It’s a fitting eventuality given that this honor would otherwise continue to be bestowed to Legend Of The Bone Carver, to which this album functions as an unofficial musical sequel with all the obligatory expansion of ideas, not to mention showcasing a voice that hasn’t aged a day despite the passage of 13 years. Lyrically it can get a bit esoteric, but from an overall stylistic perspective this also about as accessible as it gets for anybody who is new to progressive metal and has a background in more traditional melodic sub-genres. Yet more so than anything else, it’s an album that perfectly balances the instant gratification that comes with a catchy, hook-oriented experience with the more of a grower tendency inherent in an ambitious, musically elaborate offering, having staying power while not requiring the same level of commitment to get the whole story processed. In a perfect world, there would be more albums like this one, that much is certain.