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(56 min, Sensory)
TRACK LIST: 1. Imagine 5:07 2. Alive 5:29 3. Endeavor 4:17 4. How Far 6:30 5. Role Model 7:41 6. The Waiting 5:31 7. Ion Drive 3:42 8. Face the Day 6:30 9. Time 6:08 LINEUP: Joel Gregoire - guitars Rick Flores - keyboards Mike Martin - basses Matt Kanzler - drums Gary Belin - vocals
Prolusion. The first four of the musicians mentioned in the lineup above formed STRIDE at the end of the last century in their native city of Houston in Texas. There are no vocal tracks on their debut CD "Music Machine" (2001), and only three years later they've found they need a singer, so Gary Belin was then engaged. "Imagine" is the second album by Stride.
Analysis. The nine tracks that form the content of this CD present three quite different directions of Prog and Rock music being either blended together or existing in their pure form, which thankfully, takes place much less often than vice versa. In fact, only the closing number Time lies within a single genre category in its entirety and is a traditional AOR song with a ballad-like approach, even though some thematic lines are, say, ornamented with heavy guitar riffs. A potential radio hit with anthemic vocals and choirs spread throughout, piano being the main accompaniment to them. How Far and The Waiting aren't a totally different story, especially in the vocal sections, but their sound is harsher and, I'd say, much more masculine. What's most important however is that each of these features two rather long instrumental interludes with quite complicated arrangements, which to a great extent are progressive music. The overall picture is approximately as follows: AOR alternates with Pomp Rock and, occasionally, with Prog-Metal, or Journey meets Styx at times bordering on Symphony X, except for the vocals, which resemble those instantly recognizable of Kansas's Steve Walsh. This is a rare case that I feel somewhat obliged to apply widely known names, even though it's the most primitive way to describe anything else in my understanding. However the written words remain, the proverb concerning the material under review as well. Now it needs to be mentioned that the album is excellently constructed (i.e. just produced), as the accessible songs are really well intermixed with those more intricate, being practically equidistant from each other. All six of the other tracks are very good in all senses and from any standpoint as well. The two instrumental pieces, Endeavor and Ion Drive, are works of melodically pronounced symphonic Prog-Metal whose compositional refinement is inseparably linked with their makers' technical filigree, which is also typical of the rest of the material. Each goes through a number of changes in direction, now evoking associations with Dream Theater, now with Yngwie Malmsteen, now with nobody at all. Nonetheless these are the remaining four songs, namely Imagine, Alive, Face the Day and Role Model that are in the core of the album's progressive nucleus, a solid part of each of the first three being performed at maximum speed. The music normally moves back and forth between Pomp Rock (in the vocal sections) and classic symphonic Prog-Metal, the essential features typical of both of the styles falling as if from a cornucopia. On the general or, rather, stylistic plane, I see it as a cross between classic Dream Theater and the Steve Morse-era Kansas. Role Model is unusually dark in places and also has an episode of pure Techno Thrash with no keyboards, even in the background. Well, there are the hints of other artists in Stride's music, but it would be unfair not to note that they have a voice all their own too.
Conclusion. Overall, "Imagine" is a satisfying listen on many levels. All the songs are well crafted, even if some of them show a definite step back from the progressive format typical of the others. The album is a must have for those considering all three of its primary genre constituents. All in all, I can easily foretell that "Imagine" will be a massive success.
VM: May 19, 2006
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