After the highly acclaimed album I'm Your Saviour (2011, see review), which was rated with the maximum score of five stars, the German prog band Toxic Smile return with a new album simply called 7. Ever since they have a record deal with Progressive Promotion Records and finally got a steady line-up, they found a kind of inner peace. Toxic Smile still consist of Larry B (vocals), Marek Arnold (keyboards, saxophone), Uwe Reinholz (guitar), Robert Brenner (bass) and Robert Eisfeldt (drums). Marek Arnold and Larry B recently recorded the album Gone Through Years (2013, see review) with a band called Cyril. The music of Cyril tends a bit more towards melodic rock.
It's always difficult for a band to move the bar a few notches for the next album; it's a real challenge to equal or even to exceed a previous record. Initially I thought this album equals I'm Your Saviour, but after listening again I believe that the band have developed even further; they more matured as you might say. This can already be noticed on the opening track From Inside Out , which starts with a jazzy part. Then the guitar takes over in a nice progressive metal style and Larry B starts singing with a strong and a somewhat hoarser voice than before. The lyrics are very catchy and before I realized it I found myself softly singing along with Mr B. A nice violin can be heard in the background creating an enchanted atmosphere. A stunning guitar solo and a fine bass part take this excellent composition to a heavy end.
The next song Barefooted Man starts with cool bass playing combined with a soft piano. Marek Arnold wonderfully plays the keyboards which lead to an emotional vocal part. This eight-minute composition is completely built up around B's majestic vocals during the first part of the song, the middle-section holds more fusion and progressive metal influences, but nevertheless it perfectly fits in with the first part. In the final part everything falls in place and this powerful piece ends with a vocal and instrumental climax.
When Needless begins, Planet X crosses my mind and this feeling remains during the song since Arnold stays close to Derek Sherinian's style of playing. At first I thought that there was something wrong with Larry B's voice, but on Needless guitarist Uwe Reinholz does all the singing. He's not a bad singer, but why let Reinholz sing while you have one of the most impressive voices of the prog scene in your band? It slightly distracted me from a song that's worth listening to, because the instrumental parts are really special. Marek Arnold's saxophone leads to Love Without Creation, a kind of epic ballad. Happily Larry B returns to the microphone and does what he does best: singing straight to the heart of the listener. The solo spots are mainly accompanied by tasteful sax playing. In combination with Arnold's piano this leads to a perfect result. Towards the end Reinholz treats us to a short and impressive guitar part.
The heavy guitar sound in Rayless Sun reminds me of John Petrucci's guitar playing, and together with the keyboards the first part of this song has indeed some resemblance with Dream Theater. Thanks to the vocals Toxic Smile's own style comes to the surface. Halfway Reinholz surpasses himself with a stunning guitar solo. As the song continues, elements of Planet X return during the instrumental parts and the vocals are more melodic than before. King Of Nowhere begins with a short bass solo and when the guitar takes over the song gets a kind of alternative rock edge. As a result this is one of the more straight-forward rock pieces of the album, although the duel between guitar and keyboards provides it a prog rock touch. The final song is Afterglow which starts with some impressive heavy riffing, but later on the keyboards and vocals gently take over. When Reinholz's guitar returns he plays a heavy counterpart thus creating a unique atmosphere. An impressive mainly instrumental part leads to the end of the CD.
Like I wrote before I was curious to find out whether this album could exceed the previous one and the answer is yes! Although I still don't understand why the vocal parts in Needless where done by Uwe Reinholz. However, the remaining compositions compensate for that and show how Toxic Smile have succeeded in outclassing themselves. 7 is an impressive album that all progressive rock devotees should listen to at least once.
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
Where to buy?