There are few artists and bands that seem can do no wrong, those that keep bringing you back with fresh ideas, with passion, with extra-ordinary musicianship and great songwriting. If you get too far into other’s opinions you’ll find a lot of people with artists they believe fit that mold. I don’t have any. What I do have is a select few artists and bands that have earned, through ups and downs, my undying loyalty. One is Jon Oliva of Savatage, another is Blitz and DD Verni from Overkill and the rest all belong to one common ancestor, Angra. Though the history of that band has seen some rough times, it would seem any band or project related to it, whether those involved are current or ex-members, I find myself intrigued and, every time out, find myself buying and enjoying nearly everything they do.
As much as I love the new material from Angra, their early albums were monstrous in my house. Both Angels Cry and Holy Land remain the best of their career. Beyond that they are two of my favorite albums ever, perpetually vying for a spot in my top 20 of all time. Few power metal albums carry such tremendous depth and class. Andre was, of course, there for both albums as a prime force as both lead vocalist and a main songwriter. What he started way back then is still carried on today on a path he’s carved that stands alone. You see, Andre has always been one to bring more refined, classical and progressive ideas to any project he’s a part of. His albums with Angra and Shaman bore that mark and set them apart and so do his solo albums. Those forward ideas were the cause for my initial anticipation and now, my great enjoyment in his latest work, Mentalize.
If you are familiar with Andre’s solo debut, Time To Be Free, the first change you’ll notice is in production. With Mentalize production duties were all laid on Sascha and Andre. Roy, in on Andre’s first, is known for bringing out the heaviness in many artists (Bruce Dickinson, Helloween’s The Dark Ride, Rob Rock) and in his absence that element is not missing but here you’re going to find a slightly thinner sound. Another change is Time To Be Free’s often times lush symphonics are largely absent. Keyboards, choirs and strings are used more sparingly. The bells and whistled remain but, live or die, the songs stand all on their own with very little in the way of effects and orchestration. As a result, the guitars and drums have been taken to the foreground with a more dry, organic sound. At first the change rubbed me the wrong way. The album wasn’t going to inherently draw me in with pompous arrangements and explosive production. I had to work for it. Fortunately, as with the best of albums, it becomes rewarding to keep coming back. It’s that exact kind of album that, upon the first few listens, a couple songs really jump out and kick your ears up and get you listening. A song like ‘I Will Return’, with its acapella choral intro and the title track, ‘Mentalize’ with its Savatage-esque pounding break bust your butt right away. Others like the more progressive ‘The Myriad’ and ‘Violence’ had to work their way in. The former became more endearing with time while the latter became one of the songs you’ll remember forever after. In the end, you find a handful of songs leaping out, a number you can’t live without and an album you just can’t put down. It’s not always perfect, though.
I don’t really have complaints here but the biggest concern for any new listener would be the vocals. Andre’s vocals have always been great to my ears and I think he’s grown increasingly more powerful with time, something few high register singers can boast, but it’s worth a listen to test those waters before you jump in. For me, Andre stands up as Geddy Lee in that, like him or love him, the man can craft a melody like few others. For those that find no issue there the album carries some flaws in its length. That never has to be an issue but being twelve songs deep, thirteen with the great bonus ‘Don’t Despair’, there are bound to be a few songs that never really find themselves working their way into memory. For me those tracks are mixed throughout and, as a solid listen, none of them are able to break the flow but they don’t stand out on their own.
Those points noted, when it comes down to it, I think this is Andre’s best release since Shaman‘s Ritual. It’s a little more direct in sound but takes some progressive, forward thinking chances that really pay off. It’s a no brainer for fans and, again, an example of just how good this oft maligned genre can be. Personally, if I could walk away with nothing more than the song ‘Violence’, an ironic title given its twisted, progressive sound, I’d be fully satisfied. The fact that I got ‘The Myriad’, ‘Mentalize’, ‘I Will Return’, and ‘Powerstream’ is purely bonus. Mentalize, another notch on the post for undying loyalty.