Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mike LePond's Silent Assassins - This Is What A Solo Album Should Sound Like

Mike LePond has accomplished a great deal on his first solo album, Silent Assassins - he got the record written and recorded via crowd funding with a successful Kickstarter project, he gathered some great talent to assist him, and most importantly, he made an album that is a great listen for any fan of classic/power heavy metal.

LePond's day job for the last sixteen years has been that of bassist for Symphony X. In fact, he wrote this record on tour with the band, wisely using the endless hours of bus travel to compose the music, write the lyrics, and conceptualize Silent Assassins. I realize that on its face, the prospect of listening to a solo album from a bass player could seem fraught with the possibility of disappointment, but let me allay your fears. The album came to my desk highly recommended, and I'll gladly pass the recommendation on to you.

This is a solo album, but LePond has wisely elected to bring on a single vocalist, a world class guitarist, and the assistance of Symphony X founder Michael Romeo, who contributes some six string wizardry along with his considerable engineering skills to the production of the drum tracks, which sound excellent. Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford, Testament) is playing the guitar solos, and he definitely brought his A-game - you'd swear it was a vested member of a band, and the playing on every track is pretty thrilling. Maybe the best move Mike made, however, was in recruiting Alan Tecchio (Hades, Watchtower) to contribute vocals - Tecchio has the perfect combination of melodic range, and a distinctive edge (I'm resisting growl - think Dickinson, Halford, and original Manowar vocalist Eric Adams if you're looking for a comparison).

Fans of Symphony X will find the album a bit less on the progressive/orchestral side of metal, but that should be a plus - if LePond was to make an album that sounded like his regular group, what would be the point? What I love is that he obviously has a love of renaissance textures and acoustic guitars, which are used to great effect on cuts like The Quest, Masada, and The Progeny - it never gets too floral, nor does it go on endlessly, but rather it's always a breath of fresh air and the parts are very well written. LePond is quite masterful when it comes to arrangements and the use of dynamics - when it rocks, it rocks, and any fan of power metal will grin, but when he slows things down, it's a beautiful trip and you breathe, your shoulders drop and you prepare for more righteous bombast. This is how it should be done, there are great lessons here for nascent rockers of any ilk.

Let's not forget that LePond is a bass player (and, he's one of metal's best), and believe me, this album doesn't let you forget it - his chops are over the top, but he never lets them get in the way of the songs, the music. Rather, his fabulous bass playing serves the compositions, and on the eleven minute tour de force closer, Oath Of Honor, his playing is worth the price of admission, but that's just a part of this track - his fingerpicked intro is joined by a very ethereal organ, then comes the angelic chorale, and finally, the rock, and this is a galloping frenetic number that reminds you of many great moments without ever stepping on toes, or getting too close to where legends have gone before. Then the rock takes a break into a softer section that builds and builds, until the harmony guitars explode into a May-time glory, and it's one of 2014's best moments. Gave me goosebumps, and that's visceral, you can't manufacture that.

This album is a winner on every front. What I haven't touched on is LePond's outstanding job with the lyrical content of the album - every track is interesting, and the themes are uplifting even in their darkest moments. I'm guessing this guy is a reader - you can't write like this if you haven't read.

Mike LePond, as I said, has accomplished a great deal, and I'd recommend this album to any fan of hard rock, metal, power metal, etc... It's great stuff, and I owe a tip of my hat to Mr. Ross The Boss Friedman for bringing Mike to my attention.

Buy this album, love this album, and many thanks to Mike LePond for making sure we know that Rock Ain't Near Dead....

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