Sunday, 21 December 2014

Ten's 'Albion' - Album Review

Ten (which has to be one of the most uninspired band names of all time) have been a relatively large force on the British melodic rock/AOR scene now since forming in 1995. Despite the fact that they have never been a big band - limited touring will not have helped that situation - they have always been fairly consistent and are well-loved within melodic rock circles. I would not consider myself an expert on their back catalogue, but I do own a few of their albums - and I do enjoy them. Stylistically, Ten are probably closest in sound to fellow British melodic rockers Magnum, relying on more subtle melodies and strong overall songwriting, than the massive hooks of their American AOR counterparts. Frontman and songwriter Gary Hughes is clearly a big Magnum fan, and his work on their frontman Bob Catley's early solo albums was very well received by fans. As with most Ten albums Albion, the band's eleventh studio album, sees some new personnel brought in. Lead guitarist Dan Mitchell left the band due to a hand injury and has been replaced by Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott, which makes the band's line-up a seven-piece for the first time in their history. Keyboardist Darrel Treece-Birch and drummer Max Yates remain from 2012's Heresy and Creed, while long-term members rhythm guitarist John Halliwell and bassist Steve McKenna make up the rest of the numbers. Albion makes no great departures from the classic Ten sound that Hughes has been churning out for nearly twenty years now. This is melodic rock with subtle hooks, that evolves the more you listen to it. While the songs are certainly catchy and memorable, they are not as in-your-face as some other melodic rock. One thing I have noticed though is how much deeper Hughes' voice seems to be on this album. This is something that I have never really picked up on before, but I assume as he gets older his voice will gradually get deeper. It works well here and the richer tone really suits the classy material he has written for this album. One a few numbers, he even starts to sound a bit like the great Roy Khan (Conception; Kamelot) - which is high praise indeed. This probably was not deliberate, but it has really enhanced my enjoyment of this album, and made me realise what a great singer Hughes actually is. This is also the band's first album for a while not to be released via Frontiers Records, instead opting to work with a brand new label: Rocktopia Records; that is run by the people who organised Firefest - a melodic rock festival that took place in Nottingham that sadly finished this year. This is actually thte label's first release, so I wish them well in their new venture!

The album starts well with Alone in the Dark Tonight which opens with a nice riff that soon has a melodic lead line over the top of it that shows off the skills of the new lead guitarists. The verses are piano-driven while Hughes' deep vocals resonate well over the top of it. This is a really catchy song that has a simple, yet effective chorus that makes good use of the intro riff and humble vocal harmonies. There is a really nice guitar solo in the song too that mixes a less-is-more approach with occasional bursts of speed, showing the band's versatility. Battlefield is slightly heavier, with a very slight metal edge. Swirling keyboards provide atmosphere while Yates' occasional bursts of double bass drumming gives the song a slight urgency. The chorus builds up around a heavy, palm muted piece of guitar work that soon explodes into a melodic feast with Hughes reaching up to the higher end of his modest register. This is a guitar-led song though, with another excellent guitar solo that sees the two new lead players playing together to create layers of melody and skill. It's Alive is another melodic piece that opens with a strident riff that is backed up by some rather crazy synth patterns. The verses have a great classic rock swagger to them as Hughes commands the microphone and leads the charge. This is probably my favourite song on the album, as the chorus is a real AOR treat with some really memorable vocal lines, and the overall attitude of the piece has all the hallmarks of great rock music. Even the strange synth sounds seem to work, and add to the overall mood of the piece. Ablion Born goes off in a slightly different direction and introduces some folky elements into the band's sound. An a cappella introduction helps to set that mood, but it is not long before the rest of the band join in too. The guitar leads add the folk into the sound as they, in a Thin Lizzy-esque way, 'rock up' traditional melodies for the song. This style works well for the band, and this is an enjoyable, jaunty little tune. Sometimes Love Takes the Long Way Home is the first ballad of the album, and it is a good one. The Roy Khan similarities really shine through here as Hughes' rich delivery stirs up plenty of emotion as Treece-Birch's keyboards help to make this track what it is. Whether it is huge soundscapes or riffs, he does a great job to create the right backing got Hughes, and the guitar solo is excellent and drenched in emotion.

A Smuggler's Tale is another rocker. Pomptastic keyboards add some grandeur in places over the tough guitar riffing as Hughes' strong vocals deliver his narrative lyrics while the rest of the band play out his vision. There is long guitar solo in this song, that comprises of many sections, yet again showing the skills of the two new guitarists. From my relatively limited exposure to Ten so far, I would say that from a lead guitar standpoint, this is their best album yet. Having three guitarist really seems to work for the band, and the layers of guitar leads adds to the overall enjoyment of the album. Die for Me opens with a rather bluesy guitar riff that stands out from the rest of the album, but it is business as usual afterwards. This is quite a long song, and at over seven minutes in length it does overstay it's welcome somewhat.While it is not an awful song by any means, it never really seems to go anywhere and is not as memorable as other songs here. There are still some great guitar moments though, but the choruses are not as strong as they could be, which lets the song down somewhat. It Ends This Day is another song that does not really live up to the rest of the album. While the catchy chorus does help to make it memorable, it lacks the class of the earlier numbers. I am not really sure why it does not impress as much as some of the other songs, it is something that I cannot really put my finger on. Luckily Gioco D'Amore is up next and it is one of the best songs on the album. It is a brilliant piano-led ballad which has a real Kamelot vibe, and not just in the vocals (think Wander or Anthem and you will have an idea about what this song sounds like). Hughes puts in one of the vocal performances of his life on this song, and you cannot help but hang onto his every word - even when he is singing in Italian! The guitar solo performed in this song is perfect too, that really helps enhance the mood provided by the beautiful piano, soaring strings and deep vocals from Hughes. It really is the icing on the cake, and there are plenty of killer guitar moments in this song that really raise the hairs! A truely excellent piece of work that everyone involved can be proud of! The album comes to an end with Wild Horses which is slightly anti-climactic after the masterpiece just witnessed, but it brings the rock back somewhat and works well as an album closer. The chorus is understated, but the rhythms and vocal melodies have a real attitude to them that comes oozing out of the speakers. It is an enjoyable song, and rounds the album out nicely with some strong riffs and even a keyboard solo! Overall, this a really solid album from the veteran melodic rockers that will add further to their impressive legacy. Aside from a couple of weaker tracks, this is a triumph and will be enjoyed by fans old and new alike!

The album was released on 24th November 2014 via Rocktopia Records.

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