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Ajalon - 2005 - "On the Threshold of Eternity"

(68 min, 'Threshing Floor')


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                             

1.  Anthem of the Seventh Day 4:25
2.  The Promised Land 6:49
3.  Sword of Goliath 5:51
4.  Holy Spirit Fire 6:11
5.  Psalm 61 4:05
6.  What Kind of Love 6:47
7.  The Highway 3:56
8.  Forever I Am 10:18
9.  On the Threshold of Eternity 16:05
10. You and Me 4:35

All tracks: by Ajalon. Produced by Ajalon.

LINEUP:

Randy George - guitars, bass; keyboards; bodhran, sitar, mandola
Will Henderson - vocals; bass, guitars; Irish whistle 
Dan Lile - drums
With:
Rick Wakeman - keyboards (6 & 8) 
Taylor Mesple - piano (4)
Brian Adderbury - drums (4)
Neal Morse - 2nd lead vocal (9)
Jeremy Cays - Irish whistle (8)
Mark Wilson - second guitar (8)
Phil Keaggy - vocals & acoustic guitar (4)
Lisa Green - backing vocals (6 & 7)

Prolusion. AJALON is a 3-piece band from the Seattle area. Although they have been playing together since 1994, this is only their second release. The first album, "Light at the End of the Tunnel," was released on Rick Wakeman's Hope Records label. Songs from that CD were played on 70 radio stations in the UK. Multi-instrumentalist, Randy George has also recorded and toured with Neal Morse, who makes a guest appearance here. Randy also has a solo album in the works. Ajalon is one of the central bands that are part of CPR, Christian Progressive Rock.

Analysis. Anthem of the Seventh Day opens the disk with a Celtic-flavored instrumental track, with Irish flute and various ingredients that would not be out of place on a Camel or Iona album. It is a joyous composition that makes you want to dance, if you're prone to such things and perhaps even if you're not. At the very least it will most likely bring a smile to your face. Ajalon's music is very melody oriented, very accessible. There is absolutely nothing harsh in any of their songs, just well crafted songs of hope and salvation. The Promised Land begins simply, with Henderson's vocal and George's acoustic guitar accompaniment. The ensuing music is a gentle electric rock, tinged with a touch of Renaissance (synth) recorders. Most people have heard of David and Goliath, but how many know that later, before David succeeded Saul as King of Israel, he was pursued by King Saul; the very king David had served in defeating Goliath? While David was fleeing, he acquired The Sword of Goliath, the weapon that had once been used against him became a source of hope in his scramble for survival. This is the lyrical theme of this third track. Musically it moves between agitated minor key verses, which resolve into a major key for the chorus, alternating between theme of dire and failing strength with a message of hope and courage. Nice synth intro. Interestingly, there is a guitar theme behind the vocal that sounds very much like a James Bond theme during the verses. Sitar and what sounds like hammered dulcimer precede Mesple's piano intro to Holy Spirit Fire, very reminiscent of the intro to Bruce Hornsby's That's the Way it Is. Henderson's voice is very similar to Keaggy's, making for a nice blend on the harmonies here. The addition of piano is also a nice touch, giving a warmth to the instrumentation. The melody and vocal harmonies are good, but this particular song repeats a few too many times and would be better if it were 2/3 as long. However, Keaggy's acoustic solo with Mesple's piano, which come at the end make a very nice exit. Psalm 61 is just that, the 61st Psalm set to music. It is more of a straight soft rock song. With What Kind of Love the band shifts into a higher gear, the title phrase, sung in group acapella, is followed by some high speed keyboard and driving (though not overpowering) drum work set in 5/8. Lile's drumming here is noticeably busier than on the first half of the album, but it is very tastefully done, working the whole kit, but in such a way that it complements rather than challenging the other players. Overall, What Kind of Love is a showcase for the entire band and their guest keyboardist. This is where prog lovers are going to become more engaged. Not only does Wakeman cut loose on keyboard solos here, but George also shows some of the toughest guitar work on the album. Green's echoing backing vocals are a nice touch. The Highway is a step back to more of a ballad, with some nice acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. Forever I Am begins as gorgeous love song, just Henderson's singing and George's acoustic guitar, but this is just the start. Then the piano comes in changing the mood and bringing a new section that continues to build, adding in electric guitar, then bringing back the acoustic guitar overlaid with vocal harmonies. Guitar solos, synthesizer solos, piano work and even drive to the climax of song, with the chorus, the title of the song, before it all fades back with swirling synthesizer chords, bringing us back down to Henderson and George. As the song began, it ends, as though the singer has shared a vision of something far greater than self, but then the drama dissolves into simple beauty and joy. With the title track, Randy George shows his own keyboard prowess. This is the longest track on the album and it does not disappoint. Again there are strong vocal melodies, but some excellent instrumental sections and solo work. Not only does George show himself to be no slouch at the keyboards here, but he also flexes his guitar muscles as well. Some nice drum work by Lile, too. This is a fine Symphonic Prog track. You and Me ends the album with a fine cover of the Moody Blues' tune, destined for a Moody Blues tribute album. It's a treat. Well done.

Conclusion. Strong melodies with uplifting lyrics, played by top-notch musicians. Many times in the world of Prog the quality of lyrics or vocals tend to be slighted. With Ajalon, there is no doubt that the songs they sing come from the heart and are central to their music. The album builds from beginning to end, with On the Threshold of Eternity, climaxing the disk. This is solid Symphonic Prog, more so on the later songs, with some soft prog and soft rock coming earlier in the lineup. As such, it is an excellent album to introduce new listeners to Prog, as it is filled with beauty and accessible melodies. Some hardcore Proggers might find it a bit light, but I find it to be one of the big surprises this year, which continues to grow on me with repeated listens.

KW: September 23, 2005


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