The week was turning into crap, so it was either Sentenced The Funeral Album for the umpteenth time to get further depressed or try something new which, hopefully, would lift the spirits. Sensory label rarely delivers dark and gloomy music, but I also wished Imagine from the Texas team Stride would not be one over-thought prog album as I was not in the mood for that either. Luckily, I was right. The thaw was in air that day, the sun came out – a perfect backdrop for an album full of pleasant rocking songs and wonderful melodies.
It is hard to imagine Texas being home to anything but country (of course, some of our own, Philip and Ben, call that state home). Stride, however, breaks the pace, this Houston band being invited to ProgPower VI in Atlanta. Strictly progressive metal this band is not, the Texans mix their startling musicianship with straightforward AOR approach making their songs a lot more accessible and friendly to a less than patient listener (insert my persona in this case).
There is no question a few songs on Imagine did remind me of 101 FM “The River” repertoire (the local soft rock radiostation). I normally would not be caught dead listening to that, so Alive, The Waiting and Time turned out into “easy listening”, the songs being a little too nonchalant for my taste.
The heavier cuts by Stride, though, turned into a wonderful experience. Guitar melodies in Face the Day and title track flow like a river, combined with bass the riffs are heavy enough, and the choruses have great anthem-like feeling. The verses are gently lighter affairs, where Gary Belin’s vocals are allowed to shine, clear, ringing like bells, bringing Journey to mind. In choruses, a few harsher notes can be traced, music taking on a bit more urgent approach. In that sense Role Model makes a good use of the world famous Edvard Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King riff from Peer Gynt suite. Having inspired many before them (Savatage, Ritchie Blackmore), this riff gives the song both mysterious and heavy feeling, making it an exercise in contrasts.
One of the reasons Stride is probably easy to listen to - they do not make a lot of use of the breakneck weird rhythms and time signatures. The band’s progressive nature shines instead through numerous leads and solos, both Joel Gregoire’s guitar and Rick Flores’ keys partaking in this exercise profusely, often alternating and playing off each other (How Far). But when the songs are great I am certainly willing to forgive the players a little decadence and overindulgence in musicianship. Baroque guitar solo in Role Model fits the song to a tee, while the keys tend to sound very modern, giving the album a little jazz-fusion flavor. Even bass is allowed to go nuts sometimes (The Waiting). Stride’s first album, 2001 Music Machine, was an instrumental effort, and the band does not forget the roots by throwing two instrumentals on Imagine as well, Endeavor and Ion Drive. Both later day Malmsteen and Dream Theater would be proud of the band’s efforts, the leads again taking on a primary role. Do not get me wrong, the band can syncopate rhythms with the best of them (Face the Day), and it is slower (read heavier) tracks, like How Far, that make the best impression on me.
Production on Imagine is crystal clear, the way it should be for this sort of album. Gary Belin was a good choice for the band, and maybe could have been pushed up a little higher in the mix. In those soft songs he sounds a little boyish (Alive), and I would prefer more power in his voice. However, what do I know, the band definitely not needing to turn into another Euro powerprog band.
Imagine definitely hit me in the right mood, and that helped me to appreciate the album more. The music on this album is bright and full-on optimistic (some positive, almost spiritual message in the lyrics), leaving a pleasant immediate feeling as soon as the album ends. Progressive metal fans who do not judge strictly on the merits on riff complexity and AOR fans who do not mind a little heaviness could find this album enjoyable.
Killing Songs :
Imagine, How Far, Role Model, Face the Day
|Alex quoted 80 / 100|
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