In 2014, Symphony X bassist Mike LePond brought his four strings of righteous fury to a new “solo” all-star project by the name of Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins, featuring (Symphony X) bandmate Michael Romeo, prominent session guitarist “Metal Mike” Chlasciak, and Alan Tecchio, reknowned vocalist of Hades, Watchtower, and Seven Witches (formerly). The foursome doled out a self-titled debut that was refreshingly powerful, while balancing potent original compositions with ultra-hooky selections from LePond and Tecchio’s erstwhile involvement in Seven Witches. Now, LePond, Romeo, and Tecchio are back as a trio with multiple guests to dole out a second helping of hard-hitting traditional metal inspired by whatever historical and mythological subjects happen to be kicking around in Mike’s head.
Tecchio’s vocals on the band’s first outing were possibly the best I’ve ever heard from him, and he doesn’t disappoint in the slightest here on Pawn and Prophecy. His vocals are an aggressive, throaty tear, with some terrific screams and moments of shocking, glistening layered harmony. Like many vocalists in the USPM scene, he’s at his best when his injecting some grit into his tone, and his many great moments make up for a few shaky bits later on in the album, which leads me rather quickly to the inevitable analysis of what Pawn and Prophecy is and is not.
I’m amazed at how many folks I’ve observed who see “Mike LePond” and seem to think “aw, it’s just going to be more proggy junk” (this assuming indifference/dislike of Symphony X), given the guys’ prolific involvement across the metal scene. However, while Silent Assassins is not a progressive project, it is by no means stylistically stagnant. Nothing emphasizes that statement like the twenty one and a half minute title cut “Pawn and Prophecy,” which purports to be a heavy metal soundtrack to the story of Macbeth. I’m not sure if this band is the best place for taking a swing at this somewhat lofty concept, nor for a track this long-winded, but the song definitely doesn’t lack for musical ambition. “Pawn and Prophecy” manages to roll the group’s blasting modern take on 80’s heavy metal around with niblets of folk, blazing power metal, a classical piano solo, ample guest vocal spots, and even a freaking big band swing section. As we say in the north – Uffda!
The title track is by far the outlier in terms of experimentation, and fans of the band’s first release ought not to fret. The compositions are all original this time around, but I’d venture to say that they’re as strong or stronger than the songwriting features on the self-titled debut. Opener “Masters of the Hall” is exactly what it sounds like: a thunderous traditional metal anthem with a chorus that’ll cling fast to your ears. “Avengers of Eden” is my pick for best track on the album, with its driving riffing, huge chorus, and an energy level evocative of the best of Riot’s catalog. “The Mulberry Tree” is a very pleasant surprise as well. Though it’s the album’s down-tempo acoustic number, its got a medieval quaintness to its vocal melody that, when combined with Tecchio’s timbre, makes for a fine, idyllic escape from the rest of the record’s brash energy.
One last major comment on the music is necessary, and that’s the presence of Mike himself. His four string is used across the album to devastating effect. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I ever listened to a traditionally-styled metal album that featured such prominently mixed and zealously performed bass guitar. Occasionally showy but never purposelessly self-indulgent, LePond’s playing is one more distinctive feature on a strong and well-written offering. Pawn and Prophecy is sure to appeal to those who enjoyed the group’s debut, Seven Witches, Ross the Boss, and other similar projects. This is sure to be near the top of my list for classic heavy metal releases in 2018. Here’s hoping for much more from LePond and company in the future!