Roland Grapow - Kaleidoscope
Melodic Metal
11 songs (56:28)
Release year: 1999
Reviewed by Ben
Archive review

You know, I've never met Mr. Roland Grapow, never even spoke to the man, but there's a tingling in my balls that tells me that this, his second solo album, Kaleidoscope, is an attempt to distance himself from two sounds. One being his love of Yngwie Malmsteen that permeated his debut solo record, and two is the sound of his main band at the time, Helloween. For starters, let's look at the album cover. While Roland is still rocking a Stratocaster, he's using a Grandpa style three tone sunburst with a rosewood fretboard instead of the Yngwie model he was sporting on The Four Seasons Of Life. While I am a fan of classic Stratocasters, there's not many people in metal that associate speed metal with a three tone sunburst Strat. Second, the photo of him on the front is much more "artistic" than the dude with slicked back hair and shades in a suit striking power stances like on The Four Seasons Of Life. Third, the title, Kaleidoscope, evokes a more picturesque mental image of colors and shapes, rather than the sly nod to classical guru Vivaldi. Finally, it is just so obvious that Roland is going out of his way to NOT write fast songs. I mean, this is the guy who wrote speedy, catchy, stuff like The Chance from the much maligned Pink Bubbles Go Ape album, but here roughly seventy percent of the album is slow to mid paced.

Before we get into the songs, there are a couple things that need mentioning. For the vocals on Kaleidoscope Roland enlisted former Yngwie singer Michael Vescera. Mike also has his own thing, the M.V.P. band, aka The Michael Vescera Project band. Maybe having a former Yngwie singer was the penultimate thing that made Roland go, "I gotta do anything I can so we don't get compared to Yngwie!!!!" Keyboards are once again handled by Ferdy Doernberg, and he plays completely differently on this album than he did on Four Seasons. For the most part Ferdy is doing Miami Vice type bell effects and synths here and there for intros and bridges. There's really just one spot where he rips out long fast keyboard solos, and that's the instrumental! Which, by the way, is one of only three fast songs on this album.

I'll be honest here. Kaleidoscope starts off pretty crappy, but there's things in the mess to enjoy. The reason I say this starts off pretty poorly is that in two out of the first three songs, Roland has written the "NO-NO," rhyme by rhyming "fire" with "desire" and also "higher." He does this as well at the end of the album in the track that stands out musically, Reaching Higher. Rhyming "fire" with "desire" and "higher" is the laziest rhyme ever in history and even if I listen to bands from the seventies or eighties that do this, I still shudder. In metal, this is even worse than naming a song End Of Innocence. I wonder if when Symphony X and Iced Earth toured in 2012, anyone else thought it was a bit odd that both bands had a song off each of their new album that was called End Of Innocence and both bands played their own version every night! "Ok, this next song is off our new album. It is The End Of Innocence." Forty five minutes later, "This next one is a new one. It is called...End Of Innocence. BRRRZZZZZTTTT, help me Morpheus, I'm glitching out here!

Anyways, that nitpick over bad lyrics aside, it is also painfully obvious how Roland is holding back on the first three tracks. Walk On Fire (you just hear it in your head don't you? desire...desire...higher) at least showcases Roland's "busy" rhythm work but it's busy without sounding urgent or energetic due to the slow nature of the song. Michael Vescera also sounds kind of like he's holding back too while he's stuck in mid-tempo land. There's not many spots where he can belt out wails that he's so good at. However, his tone and his pro level voice are great improvements over Roland's humble yet admirable job on the debut. At least in the guitar solos Roland lets loose and that neck pickup on a Strat just sounds sweet while being played by him. Ferdy graces us with a cool keyboard intro to The Hunger, the second "fire / higher" song. A Heartbeat Away is a ballad so I don't care.

Who chose the song order on this album? FINALLY, at the halfway mark we get a fast song and a natural sounding song from Roland, Til The End. And hey, he doesn't use the NO-NO rhyme, and it's not a ballad! The title track is a mid tempo song that works and Ferdy gives us a bunch of "worldly" sounds like sitar plucks and Eastern melodies. I don't care about another sappy ballad, Angel Face, which is next. Finally we get to the instrumental Listen To The Lyrics and this is basically what I was hoping the album would be like! Roland says, "fuck it," and he finally pens a solo filled song that has neo-classical leanings. This is the song where Ferdy and him do back and forth soloing. Oh man, this kicks ass. I wonder if it was put on last. The last really good song is Reaching Higher (again, can't you hear it? fire...desire..higher) and this sounds exactly like what Roland didn't want it to sound like. A classic Helloween type track, this is happy sounding, this is energetic, this is fast, and this has a tremendous and lengthy guitar solo. Again, I wonder if this was written after the other songs because this sounds more natural than the rest.

This one is hard to score and it sounds like I'm probably being a bit hard on it. However two things can't be excused and that's holding back, and over use of the NO-NO rhyme in a quarter of the album's songs. This feels like Roland trying too hard to prove that he's "not just some Yngwie clone." In both Helloween and Masterplan, he has written alot better songs than what's presented here. At the same time though, I don't want this to sound like this is an amateurly played album. Ferdy is obviously high pedigree and Mike Terrana is doing the drumming. So this isn't exactly a bunch of schlubs that Roland slapped together. But just, oh man, I seriously get rowdy butthurt over rampant use of the NO-NO rhyme. I can't help it.

Killing Songs :
Til The End, Listen To The Lyrics, Reaching Higher
Ben quoted 66 / 100
Other albums by Roland Grapow that we have reviewed:
Roland Grapow - The Four Seasons Of Life reviewed by Ben and quoted 72 / 100
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