Grace And Fire, a new band that many of you will not have heard of (yet!), recently formed in 2019, although each member has an impressive pedigree, which shows in the quality of the finished product. The band consists of André Saint (vocals), Aaron Gidney (guitars, Chapman Stick), Gary Marsh (keyboards), Tim Ashton (bass) and Graham Brown (drums).
The style of the band is best defined by themselves and I quote “a new band fusing Progressive Rock with Melodic Hard Rock in a melodic, song-based accessible format”.
With stints in various line-ups between them ranging from Shadow Of Acolyte, Cairo, The Paradox Twin, Galahad, Red Bazar and Tiger Moth Tales, you get a hint of the precision and variety that is on hand.
The album itself is a set of fantasy inspired songs, nothing new in that you might think, whereas the sounds that come ranging out of the speakers very much denote a band that has learnt and polished its craft before setting down any tracks of their own.
The album opens with an instrumental, beginning with a mere hint of restraint, before launching full-tilt into empiric rock, certainly not taking any prisoners from the get-go! The sort of track that wants to be heard whilst barrelling down hard on a German autobahn, where there is no danger of being caught speeding as the accelerator is floored to match the tempo. Pulsating hard rock guitar, supported by fearless rock drumming, intense, a harmonious battle with guitars, keys and drums vying for the front role, with the added intensity of Bell and choral vocal sounds.
Stuttering down quickly, the track ends, and with a mere half-breath before Elysium stomps in, chopping guitar, proggy keys dancing into position before reining back in to accommodate Saint's vocals, and then all are together as one, the swirling vocals rising into a melodic fusion. The content here is not unique by any means, however the attention to detail in the mix is spot-on, no-one is buried and no-one is overly dominant, a feature of the album as a whole.
It romps along nicely, before another halting drift into soft keys finishes the track.
Breathing Murder is pure melodic rock, with more than an infusion of prog courtesy of the keys, but once again the rising vocals in perfect harmony draw the listener in, before the keyboards and Gidney's guitars drive relentlessly forward, and Saint effortlessly interposes his voice once more. The keys swirl once more as Gidney chops in with a series of crunching rock guitar. Not to be outdone, the keys tinkle back in (when I use the word'tinkle' think of driving hail on a keyboard to describe the more exact effect!). Derek Sherinian features on this track, so the keys are no doubt attributable to him in part if not in full. A great vocal performance from Saint, sounding really comfortable in the lower register, where his voice is more distinctive than when he hits the higher end, nevertheless controlled and effortless.
My personal favourite next, the slower and softer Paradise Lost, featuring the experienced voice of Göran Edman, before the song breaks out into the spoken narrative, biblical intensity denouncing the Devil and other assorted demons. Outstanding harmonies once more, with the other instruments sitting back in favour of the storyline.
Chains Of Sanity erupts, we are back on the hard rock horse, galloping with frenetic intensity, then Saint garners the song to his chest and belts out a good storyline. The gear changes up into a much chunkier and prog style guitar lead, and once again Saint flies high over everything, his voice evoking clarity and bringing song direction. A lot of credit on this track should go to the driving bass of Tim Ashton, with his partner in rhythm Graham Brown, the track finishing on a single bell chime.
Classic calming keys and a swirling woodwind sound brings Sea Of Dreams into play, belying the power plays that have heralded previous tracks. Images of the sun sinking into a misty valley, before Saint once more soars, letting 'spirits fly'. A much softer rock style this time to begin with, leading into the inevitable powerful if somewhat restrained guitar break. Another memorable song, dancing quietly into the night with the woodwind's mournful breath, a muted setting sun brought to mind.
The band draw once more on the fantasy genre, bringing forth A Warrior's Tale with supporting vocals from Mark Boals the American singer-songwriter mostly associated with bands Ring Of Fire, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dokken. It is another track where Gidney is released and his thunderous guitar and Marsh's keys straddle the changing pulsating rhythms, and the vocals of the chorus are drawing comparisons with Europe and Dream Theater. A baptist style narrative in the middle of the song evokes memories of Phil Lynott's priest in Spirit Of Man from the iconic War Of The Worlds way back in 1977.
In Eyes Of The Seer a similar vein is tapped, crunching riffs, with Brown and Ashton firing salvos across the soundscape before Saint's melodious harmonies dance in once more, crying about'the prophet's warning'; this, like many of the other tracks on the album have a Michael Moorcock feel, a la Stormbringer and Elric Of Melnibone and other stories of a similar fantasy genre. The track then drops a couple of gears to shimmy out on lighter keys, and guitar weaving us out to fade.
The album draws towards its conclusion with two tracks; The Great Divide part 1 showcases a more virtuoso style from Gidney, drawing on the 'less is more' technique so well practised by David Gilmour; this allows the keys to meander quietly along, seamlessly leading us into the final track, unsurprisingly, The Great Divide part 2, where the power of Gidney is once more brought into play albeit still slightly restrained. Saint's vocals, this time in the deeper range, stomp imperiously in conjunction with the others before ranging higher; a change of pace and time signature thrusts the guitar to the front, Gidney running up and down the fretboard, then Marsh's keys, prog echoes of E.L.P. and Yes here for a moment, before 'melodious metal' is once more imposed, although in a more thoughtful and reflective manner. The track now segues into finale mode, higher harmonies, bass drums and guitar, supporting Saint as he allows his smooth bombast to lead us out, the anthemic guitar and'whoa, whoa, whoas' of Saint fading softly to its conclusion.
An impressive debut here from a band whose bio is bulging with impressive CV's, so they are laying down an impressive marker for others out there in the world of fantasy, flying v's and melodic hard rock.
**** Sue Smith
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