Symphony X nerds rejoice! Then again, maybe you won’t. Symphony X bassist Mike LePond’s first solo effort was released in September of this year and those expecting LePond to stick to his primary band’s keyboard-laden progressive metal path may be sorely disappointed. If you are, get that geeky head out of your pale behind (if you can get up off it long enough between games of Skyrim) because Silent Assassins is a full-on, bad ass traditional power metal album of such a caliber that my crusty old metal ears have been transported back to when albums like this were new and not mere nostalgia.
Always tasteful, but never reaching Yngwie-levels of pompousness, Silent Assassins covers less lofty lyrical themes than Symphony X. The music displays chops without being overly showy, though the performances are exemplary. What is truly showcased is LePond’s great songwriting skills. He kept things very Jersey, recruiting guitarist Mike Chlasciak (Halford, Painmuseum, etc.) to play leads, vocalist Alan Tecchio (Hades, Non-Fiction, Watchtower, Autumn Hour, etc.), and Symphony X band mate Michael Romeo on keyboards and lead guitar. Romeo also programmed the drums, yet the sound and performance are very natural. Unsurprisingly, the music is bass-driven, with occasional solos interspersed, always within the context and mood of the song. The guitar solos are tasteful, with Romeo’s style on his half of the songs much more melodic and fluid and Chlasciak’s faster and more acrobatic. Keyboards are less a lead voice than in Symphony X, becoming more an accompaniment embellishing the parts, and playing an occasional solo and abundant intros. It’s interesting hearing Tecchio on such conventional metal, singing lyrics that are devoid of the usual word play he is known for. After over 30 years in the game, the man hasn’t lost a step. If anything, his voice has gained character and range. He can still hit all the high notes and has one of the most distinct voices in music.
LePond continues a great metal tradition by writing a song about Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (Overlorde, Manilla Road, Crimson Glory and Hades all released tunes covering the same topic). “Red Death” opens with a memorable bass/percussion romp that launches into a riff right out of Anvil‘s “Metal on Metal.” A mid-tempo chugging pace is maintained through catchy verses and choruses, picking up to a double-bass gallop four minutes in for the solo and a great choppy breakdown. The title track is a real standout, heavy start to finish with Tecchio hitting the high-note rafters every other line of the verse. The heaviest and overall speediest song herein, it’s so damn catchy, my five year old son walks around the house shouting the chorus at the top of his lungs.
“The Quest” runs the gamut of styles this album spans in one song, starting with an intro that would have Renaissance Faire geeks dancing a fairy jig in a big circle, before firing off into one of the thrashiest moments on the album. From there things alternate between full steam kick-snare and a verse and chorus right out off Keeper of the Seven Keys. Towards the end, the song calls back to the medieval intro and a great bass breakdown, bringing things full circle before closing with a Wonka factory roof-shattering high note and a raging double bass-driven burst of speed metal. “Ragnarok” is such straight hard rock/metal that Chuck Norris could have written it and the chorus so catchy you’d think it was Ebola (too soon?). There is nary a weak track among the twelve. Beyond the musician’s technical ability, the most impressive thing LePond has accomplished is making Silent Assassins relevant today even though it harkens back to traditional metal’s best years by having more hooks than a Hellraiser movie. With a second album already almost complete, it seems that Silent Assassins isn’t going to be relegated to just a side project, which is good news because LePond has much to offer the metal world besides his work in Symphony X.
Tracks to check: “Silent Assassins,” “The Quest” and “Red Death”