Portrait Of A Dying Heart

"When I did my first listen to the opening and title track of Secret Sphere’s upcoming release, Portrait of a Dying Heart, I knew instantly that I was going to run out of adjectives for “awesome” before the review was done. It opens with a soft chime, then another, a quick announcement of something amazing to come, and it does. With a quick buildup, the textbook thunderous opening chord is hit, and the song goes from zero to hell yeah in a heartbeat. There is a personal term I like to use, an ”epic moment”, that describes those moments in a song, especially in prog songs, when all the jumping around and teasing and tension that is inherent in prog music is released and all the instruments come together, creating that personal release, that little moment of music that I thrive for. The opening track, Portrait of a Dying Heart has about five of these, and it’s an instrumental overture. The album kicks it up another five notches when the vocals enter the mix.

Founded in 1997 by guitarist Aldo Lonobile in, Secret Sphere has been showcasing their own brand of symphonic power metal over a span of fifteen years and six albums, and even the departure of long time lead singer Ramon Messina didn’t stop them, as they found the amazing pipes of Michelle Luppi to take over on their new album.  Fellow founding member Andy Buratto on bass, Federico Pennazzato on drums, Marco Pastorino on rhythm guitar, and Gabriele Ciaccia on keyboards fill out the rest of the band. While they credit heavyweights such as Dream Theater, Helloween, and Savatage among their influences, Secret Sphere has definitely evolved a sound all their own.

Portrait of a Dying Heart is a concept album, based on the short novel She Complies with the Night by author Costanza Columbo, and commissioned by Lonobile. The full text of the story is included in the release disc, but was unavailable at the time of this review; so many secrets will be awaiting the listener and this very anxious author. As to the album, holy crap is it good. Secret Sphere is classified as symphonic metal, but that term really doesn’t do justice to the sound of this latest release, it is a step beyond. Though symphonic elements are definitely present, they don’t by any means carry the musical timbre of the album, the sound presented here is one step up the evolutionary ladder from most symphonic metal fare.

After the six minute overture is X, the track that introduces the story, and it does it in fantastic bard-like fashion. The opening guitar squeals are accompanied by expertly done flourishes from the rhythm and the drums immediately set a breakneck, frantic pace, setting up a suspenseful atmosphere for the coming events. Luppi’s vocals hit right away as emotional, powerful, and stellar across the board, whether he is in scream mode or in the more subdued narrator moments. This track uses its variant musical elements to set the stage, leading perfectly into Wish and Steadiness, which for me is the best track of the album. It opens with classic symphonic keys, and uses them perfectly to transition from the more subtle tension of X to this track, building up before literally exploding in a fiery wall of metal. Notes come fast here, very fast, drawing out the tension and angst of the listener quickly. The hints of the frantic drums in X are joined by all the other instruments, and the panicked despondency of Luppi’s voice can almost be tasted it is so palpable. Highlighting it is a soul wrenching solo by Lonobile, bringing the despair of the song to full front. I don’t say this often, but this song for me is near perfection, everything fits together so well.

With the tone set, the album digs into telling the story in full, with a spectrum of styles and paces. It truly is a musical narrative, events and emotions ebb and flow throughout the album.  The next song, Union, takes on a softer tone, adding an organized edge to the metal. It is catchy as hell, and sets a silent fervor in motion for The Fall, which has epic all over it. All hands are in play in this one, another searing track that leaves the listener breathless.

The album carries on in this fashion throughout its entirety. The multitude of musical styles and themes are performed wonderfully by every member of the band. Lonobile is a monster at lead, and Pastarino carries a heavy load on rhythm superbly. The drumming is frantic yet precise, the fills and rolls just fantastic. Bass is a subtle undertone of organized thunder, and the keys carry the heavy weight of the symphonic elements so well. Add to it Luppi’s vocals, which are emotional and powerful throughout, and Secret Sphere delivers all the requisite parts, firing on all the right cylinders. Collectively though, they combine to create a truly special piece of music.

From beginning to end, Portrait of a Dying Heart is a musical narrative in every sense of the term, it carries the listener through a slew of emotional states. The album is not only a summation of its talented parts, but also has a touch of ethereal wonder, something uncommon in the genre. There is a hurried sense of desperation, almost akin to that feeling of trying to hang on to the world with a single string that is slipping fast, that is carried throughout the work. Artist strive to transmit emotion to the audience through their chosen medium, Secret Sphere uses this concept to take us on a thrilling ride of spiritual turmoil, and does it very, very well." - Lady Obscure

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  • "For his first solo release since 2009s House of Insanity, Trans Siberian Orchestra/Savatage guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Chris Caffery has enlisted the help of virtuoso drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne) and keyboard player/composer Lonnie Park to create Your Heaven is Real, a 13 song collection of blistering heavy metal that not only continues to display his stellar guitar chops but also his continued confident & improving vocal ability and strong songwriting skills. Your Heaven Is Real was recorded, mixed and produced by Caffery at Face The Music Studios in New York with additional recording done by Lonnie Park at Ultimate Sound in Groton, NY and Brian Tichy's Big Timers Studio in Canyon Country, CA. Instantly memorable and catchy, Your Heaven is Real is immediately more appealing and accessible than its predecessor, filled with some of his heaviest as well as most commercial sounding material to date.The opening title track, a tale of a very true frightening situation experienced by the guitarist, kicks in with sledgehammer riffs and snarling vocals, a true headbanger's delight and easily one of the must hear songs on the album. "Arm And a Leg" is another dark, menacing slice of heavy metal, complete with Caffery's venomous 'Jon Oliva-meets-Alice Cooper-meets-Sebastian Bach' vocal delivery, which is then followed up by the instantly catchy, hook laden metal anthem "Just Fine", one of the most upbeat, fun songs he's ever recorded, complete with a killer chorus and great guitar solo. Things take a turn for the poignant & melancholy on the Savatage sounding "Why", a fabulous song with a great lyrical message and emotional vocals (some of Chris' best ever) to go along with many guitar and keyboard textures. Without a doubt it's another highlight of Your Heaven is Real, and pushes past the 7-minute length as the one of the albums two epics. "Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don't" is an upbeat schizoid heavy metal gem, complete with complex riffs and some futuristic, almost prog-rock styled synths, while the blazing instrumental "Hot Wheelz" (dedicated to a special someone perhaps?) is chock full of manic drumming from Tichy and plenty of Caffery's blazing guitar licks. "I Never Knew" is more of an atmospheric rocker thick with keyboards and layers of lush guitar work, providing the framework for Caffery to inject some heartfelt, hook laden vocal passages. It's a nice change of pace, and I'd love to hear more in this style from him.The back end of the CD is equally as strong, kicking off with the energetic riff monger "Sick and Tired", and continuing on with the mid paced, grinding "Death By Design", a doom laden piece that will instantly appeal to fans of vintage Savatage as well as Black Sabbath. After the brief but lovely guitar instrumental "2-26-15", Caffery unleashes "Too Soon To Be Too Late", a rampaging, addicting example of metal guitar firepower packed with catchy vocal hooks and irresistible melodies. This is one of those songs that if it existed in 1987 would have been a huge hit with teenage hard rock & heavy metal fans. The second of Your Heaven is Real's lengthy songs is "Over and Over", an emotional ballad that slowly builds to a powerful climax, again showcasing Caffery's confident vocals and featuring a sizzling guitar solo. This leads to the gorgeous "Come Home", a short keyboard/guitar/vocal piece that takes the album out on a tranquil note, again displaying the huge amount of variety that Caffery has included on this fine new release.I've been saying for years that Chris Caffery has yet to top his best solo release, which was his first in Faces, but I think, now a decade later, he's finally done it with Your Heaven is Real. Well rounded and showing off much of what makes Chris Caffery 'click', Your Heaven is Real permeates with positive energy, power, and majesty, obviously a very personal album for the artist but ultimately his most revealing. Well done." - Sea Of Tranquility
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  • "Now here’s a band that during the 1980s consistently produced high quality metal albums. Vicious Rumors were the sort of band who bridged the gap between power and thrash metal, a cold steel assault boasting melody and crunching precision.Electric Punishment is the Californian band’s 11th album and like all those mini-classics previous, this one sticks to its guns, rarely straying from its chosen path of scorching hot metal. So many bands over the years, especially when the mid-90s grunge invasion took hold, strayed from their path and buckled under the weight of trend, but Vicious Rumors are one of those rare quantities. A band who’ve stuck to rocking hard and given the fans what they’ve always wanted.This opus is a ten-track affair which closes with an intriguing cover of the Kiss song ‘Strange Ways’, but more on that later. Electric Punishment comes hot on the heels of 2012’s live album Live You To Death, and features a dazzling array of numbers which revolve around Geoff Thorpe’s molten guitar work.Thorpe is the bands founding member and has come a long way since handing out flyers for his new band back in 1979. Despite varying personnel over the years, Vicious Rumors have always remained a solid metal act, criminally underrated, and never once being affected by its changing staff. This time round Thorpe is accompanied by vocalist Brian Allen, guitarist Thaen Rasmussen, bassist Stephen Goodwin and drummer Harry Lowe, with guest appearances from guitarists Brad Gillis (Night Ranger / ex-Ozzy Osbourne), Mark McGee and Bob Capka.The album opener is an out-and-out thrasher in the form of ‘I Am The Gun’, which rushes headlong with its epic vocal wail and twin guitar attack. Again, the band bridge the gap between robust power metal and chuggernaut metal. Lowe is an accomplished drummer whose formidable beats sew together this beast of a track. Vicious Rumors have never deviated from their path over the years and yet somehow remain current with their brand of heavy metal. ‘I Am The Gun’ matches anything that the likes of Anthrax, Overkill, et al have written over the last few years.‘Black X List’ is equally astounding, storming in with that rattling drum and swirling guitar; Thorpe’s handiwork a marvelous sound to behold. It’s the kind of track that sums up that classic Vicious Rumors sound, but if you’re still not convinced then the doom-laden chug of the title track should have you salivating. It’s another epic power metal pile-driver that builds slowly with that ferocious sneer and intimidating chug. This is an anthem for all those metalheads who today are searching for those seemingly lost times of the 80s. Vicious Rumors exude pride and menace all at once; their cauldron of metal is constantly stirred and spiced with the sort of ingredients that make the genre so potent.‘D-Block’, ‘Escape (From Hell)’ and ‘Dime Store Prophet’ hold up the mid-section. ‘D-Block’ is another go-for-throat thrasher, the co-vocal attack (with Thorpe providing the melody) is spine-tingling to say the least. The seven-minute ‘Escape (From Hell)’ slows the pace, combining melodic majesty and more pensive chords, while ‘Dime Store Prophet’ is another rasping, rollicking rocker that injects the veins with pace leading us to the almost semi-ballad-esque and, dare I say it, “hair metal” sway of ‘Together We Unite’. This is a classic simmering slow-burner that seems to reflect on the past, raising a glass to all those fans and people who’ve been part of this incredible bands legacy. It really is an infectious track that will have the lighters (or in the modern sense, mobile phones) waving.The real talent of Vicious Rumors however is their ability to shift between styles whilst all the while making sure their sound is still heavy. ‘Eternally’ is a jarring, almost remote number that relies on that staggering guitar work. But with ‘Thirst For A Kill’ we’re back to that savagery, leading us to the finale which is the aforementioned Kiss song ‘Strange Ways’ (originally from 1974’s Hotter Than Hell), and what a cracking little rocker this is, the drums a shuddering plod behind the vocal snarl. I have to admit to being wary of this track when I saw it listed, but it’s a fitting finale for this album, and once again Vicious Rumors have delivered another face-melter of a record. You knew what was coming, and yet every time they hit you right between the eyes like a cold steel arrow." - Metal Forces
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