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(50:10; Melodic Revolution Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Grand Finale 6:10 2. Under the Dome 3:45 3. The Dark Light Divide 6:30 4. So Familiar 3:30 5. City out of Time 5:01 6. Alien Progeny 3:50 7. Broken Record 4:50 8. Hyperspeed Overdrive 3:17 9. Codex 2:01 10. The Ancient Sumerian 3:26 11. Fear 7:50 LINEUP: Steve Bonino - vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming with: Peter Matuchniak - guitars Mike Lewis - drums Jimmy Keegan - drums Marco Minnemann - drums Seth Lewis - backing vocals Erik Johnson - guitars
Prolusion. US composer and musician Steve BONINO is perhaps more noted as an actor than as a musician, but he has been an active musician for quite a few years by now, as well as nurturing a solo career since 2012. "Stargazer 2" is his fifth solo album, and was released through US label Melodic Revolution Records in 2019.
Analysis. I understand that Stargazer is planned as a three album long series of concept albums, and with "Stargazer 2" we have reached the second chapter of this concept, released just a year after the opening part. As a general rule I don't go into the lyrics of an album as such, I prefer to leave that part of an album to others to explain and explore, but I do note that the quality of the lyrics in general is of a higher quality than many other such ventures. Which in my opinion does merit a mention. Music is the focus for me though, and as always I feel it is rewarding to make an attempt at describing a solid and well made production such as "Stargazer 2". Progressive rock is the name of the game here, arguably a bit more of an emphasis on the style here than on the first album of this series, but also maintaining the tendency to create accessible and easy to enjoy material that should find favor also beyond a progressive rock oriented audience. Careful melody lines is the order of the day on most compositions, and something of a red thread throughout this album are string effects and details that, in combination with the core melody lines and harmonies, invites to references towards The Beatles. Most prominent at the start of the album, but also recurring here and there afterwards, which does give this album something of a special identity. Otherwise I note that the vocal melodies, tones and pitched often can be compared with Jon Anderson and Yes, with a light tone, high pitch vocal style a common feature, and some of the more expansive compositions does feature some similarities towards late 80's Yes - as well as early 80's Rush when it comes to that. As a one off feature there's also a song here that wouldn't sound out of place on one of the earlier King's X albums, and a couple of compositions takes a slight left turn into jazz-rock territories as well. A fairly diverse album in terms of moods, modes and styles in other words. Firm but careful guitars are found throughout, alternating between clean and undistorted plucked guitars to firm, hard but also subtly dampened riffs. A few guitar solo runs are given a slight psychedelic touch, others are either more crisp and to the point or exploring more of an atmospheric laden mood and mode. Keyboards and effects are used to flavor the soundscapes, from subtle effects with more of an electronic vibe to more dominant keyboard cascades, more careful piano motifs as well as the good, old organ that combines with the electric guitar to create that classic organ and guitar driven arrangement. Quite a few of the songs features a strong, dominant and driving bass line serving as a core foundation, and for me personally it is always nice to hear artists making such a good use of that instrument for me. The songs and the album as a whole is solid throughout as well. Everything works really well, with a few moments of pure brilliance popping up here and there as the icing on the cake. Not to the extent of elevating this album to an even higher level, but for me at least kind of emphasizing that this is a really well worked out production on all levels.
Conclusion. Those who tend to enjoy progressive rock explored in a more accessible manner should find plenty to enjoy on "Stargazer 2", with references ranging from The Beatles to the more accessible aspects of bands such as Rush and, at least to some extent, Yes. As this is the second chapter in a concept cycle, lending an ear to the first Stargazer album to get to grips with the story told might be rewarding, but for those whose main interest is the music and not the concept this second album of the series should be an enjoyable experience also in it's own right.
Proguessor: September 29th
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