So, the story behind the band seems to be that they formed in Germany in 1994, rehearsed for a year, and broke up when they couldn’t find a vocalist. Several years later mastermind Henning Pauly (also of FRAMESHIFT) rediscovered the recordings while living in Los Angeles and put together a new band, this time with vocalist Matt Cash, to release 2003’s “Reconstruct.” The next year they released the subject of today’s review, the massive “chain.exe”.
Thirteen musicians. Seventy-nine minutes, of which one is the seven-part, 38-minute super tracks “Cities.” Pauly himself plays four instruments (guitars, bass, keys/programming, and banjo). The arrangements are big, multi-layered, and there’s a four person choir. And fortunately, unlike some Prog bands with their heads in the skies, CHAIN has the brains and the talent to pull it off. This isn’t some fourth generation DREAM THEATER clone with delusions of grandeur, this is a group with its own identity and for all it’s great ideas, it never is too inaccessible, too far in the high grasses, as Wesley might say.
The epic “Cities” undertaking kicks us off with some of the heavier riffs on the album, then gets technical. Since this is a single song that’s split between seven tracks, there’s a theme that repeats throughout most of the songs before coming to a head in “Cities VII.” “Cities V” channels QUEEN’s “The Prophet’s Song” in a minute-long a capella vocal harmony of awesomeness which is paralleled, if not reproduced, in the finale. Throughout we’ll get technical guitar solos, acoustic contemplating, noteworthy piano work, a riff in “Cities I” that sounds unpleasantly like my alarm clock, and a banjo making guest appearances in the rhythm section. I really like that banjo. It’s integration is organic and it even comes to the fore in some parts of “Last Chance To See.”
Speaking of “Last Chance To See,” one complaint I have is how schmaltzy some of the songs are. “She Looks Like You” is supposed to be a weepy ballad, but mostly sounds saccharine. “Last Chance To See” makes similar attempts to tug some heartstrings during its ten minute duration, but only really succeeds at catching my attention when the vocalists step back and let Pauly play out the emotions on guitar and banjo. Did I mention I really like the use of banjo on this album? Anyhow, aside from this complaint (offset by harder tracks like “Eama Hut” and “Never Leave The Past Behind”), this is a really good album. It’s a mandatory purchase for any Prog fan and Technical/Avantgarde folks will be rewarded for giving it a look.
(Online March 19, 2007)