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(73:20, ‘Shadow Merchant’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Alpha 5:39 2. Noah 8:32 3. The Architect 5:18 4. Selfless Devotion 8:05 5. Once 4:39 6. Mid-Life Crisis 5:05 7. Judgment Day 5:31 8. Into the Tunnel 13:20 9. The Kindness of a Stranger 11:18 10. Along the Way 5:53 LINEUP: Donald A Henney – keyboards; vocals Howard Whitman – vocals; bass Paul McGinnis – drums; vocals Sean Reiter – guitars; vocals
Prolusion. The US quartet SHADOW MERCHANT was formed back in 2007, and honed their craft a bit before hitting the studio to record any music with a good handful of concerts to their name following their initial formative phase. "The Tunnel" is their debut album, self-released in 2014.
Analysis. Shadow Merchant is an enjoyable live band. I've seen and heard them play myself, when they played at the US festival Rosfest a few years back, and they are a competent band on stage. As a recording band they still have a couple of thresholds that need to be overcome though, at least in my opinion. One obviously influenced by coming from the mind of someone who listens to a vast amount of music in the span of a year. The central premise of the album, as far as the music is concerned, appears to be to explore a harder-edged variety of progressive rock. Bass and guitars tend to dominate the arrangements, while the keyboards more often than not have more of a distanced role, present but perhaps a bit more unobtrusive than planned. Many of the songs also rely on the lead vocals to carry certain key sections of the songs, and as this is a concept album that is perhaps not all that unexpected. Bands like Rush and Kansas are cited as two of many inspirations, and while I can't really hear too much of the latter those with an affection for early ’80s Rush should encounter quite a few familiar-sounding details spread out on this recording. Furthermore, I suspect that those with a certain affection for ’70's US hard rock will encounter some familiar-sounding arrangements and developments as well, none mentioned and none forgotten as the saying goes. This is one of those albums that comes across as the almost archetype album. The songs are generally compelling, the arrangements have a lot going for them, and there are plenty of engaging sequences and inviting passages to enjoy. The end result is ”almost” however. Some finer details here and some other there that in sum have a detrimental effect, at least as far as I'm concerned, the keyboard being a bit too hidden at times, the lead vocals not quite up to the task at all times, some transitions that really could have used an instrument leading from one main theme to the next; mix and production not quite at the level I would expect. Nothing major or dramatic in any of the departments, but small subtle details that, in total, make for an okayish and, maybe, good album rather than an engaging and great one. There are occasions where the band manages to get a slightly better end result however, although the differences between those creations and the rest of the album aren't overt in any manner whatsoever. There is a slight difference though, at least in my mind, and the two compositions I'd single out as the band at their best as they were in 2014 are Into the Tunnel and The Kindness of a Stranger. Those are also the longest tracks on this CD, combined clocking in at almost 25 minutes, and as such a good reason to get familiar with this album even if the band doesn't quite manage to impress on all levels.
Conclusion. Harder-edged progressive rock with a liberal amount of subtle inclusions of ’70s classic hard rock is the name of the game for this US band. Those with an affection for late ’70s and early ’80s Rush should probably be the ones to feel most compelled to give this production a spin, and I rather suspect that those who enjoyed the music of a band like Triumph might also hear the charm of this production. While not quite what I'd describe as the finished article this is a band exploring an interesting variety of progressive rock, and I'd advise to check out the longer tracks towards the end of this CD to get the most favorable first impression.
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