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Progressive Rock CD Reviews



Review by Josh Turner

Henning is best known for his work with James LaBrie and Sebastian Bach in Frameshift. However, this artist can certainly stand on his own two feet. From what I can tell, he has a plethora of great vocalists at his disposal. Along with his longtime friends and bandmates in Chain (Matt Cash, vocals; Stephen Kernbach, keyboards; Christian Becker, bass; Eddie Marvin, drums), we get many guest appearances that include Mike Keneally, Michael Sadler, and Jody Ashworth. Newcomer's Victoria Trevathick and Maya Haddi are just as impressive with their vocals. Other acquaintances such as Edward Happenstall and Sean Andrews join in on this jolly event. With all these talented personalities, this must have been a fun one to make.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Cities 1
This song blares with the activity of a downtown street in the middle of rush hour. There is rarely a collision, but horns can frequently be heard honking. Much credit should be given to the city planners as the traffic really flows, never gets congested, and moves much throughput through its many lanes. An accident up ahead brings the music to a screaming halt. As the paramedics come onto the scene, the voice of Michael Sadler medicates the injured passengers, turning their screams into total calmness. Once the situation is stabilized, the ambulance sounds the alarm and clears a pathway to the hospital. In a solo segment, Henning's keyboards mimic the refined gestures of Jordan Rudess. His guitar, on the other hand, is overconfident like a cocky intern. While behaving badly and acting quite noncompliant, he still manages to have complete control over the conditions. Steve Katsika's sax brings prayer to a potentially murky diagnosis.
Cities 2
We get much of the same fare with slightly more emphasis on keyboard symphonics. The guitars snap, crackle, and pop like a bowl of Rice Crispies.
Cities 3
As expected, we continue with the same themes. Maya's operatic voice gives this a worldly sound while the keyboards, guitars, and drums make it jazzy. The piano and guitar solos give flight to the kind of contraption you'd expect from the Morse brothers.
Cities 4
The beat continues to stick with the same formula, but the viscosity of this gravy is extra groovy. The piano and acoustic guitars steal the show in a brief segue. The entrée is topped off with some tasty, but odd, time signatures. The gratuitous elements earn this dish a large gratuity.
Cities 5
This short interlude features some intense harmonies. This would be "almost" impossible to perform in concert. It's a pumped-up version of the acapella section found in Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Cities 6
The pace slows to a point where the cut is pretty much country. Believe it or not, this song actually incorporates a banjo. It's not what you think and to be totally honest, it actually works quite effectively.
Cities 7
The conclusion to this concrete jungle is a wild night at a rave. The lights are flickering and the action is intense. Matt Cash sings his heart out. We modulate through many themes, some that are new and other that are merely rejuvenated from earlier instances. The harmonies are very cool. When the closing hour arrives, nobody wants to go home. As a result, the brutes are disbanded. The bouncers show their brawn and that's when the party is over. Under dimming lights, all becomes quiet as the janitors brush up the messy aftermath of it all.
She Looks Like You
This is not your typical power ballad. It's very symphonic and gritty. Matt's singing is full of attitude and confused angst.
Eama Hut
This is one of the stronger pieces as it masterfully works in opposing melodies. It will keep you on your toes and if you're not careful, it will smack you upside the head with one of many sucker punches. The pace tightens and quickens. The volume continuously wavers. The beat builds as the seconds tick. It has power and grace. It's also where Matt's vocals are best. Like Muhammad Ali, he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. With all the themes and tension interspersed in this cut, one may theorize it would result in complete chaos. However, the overall effect of this Monarch flapping its wings is cloudy skies, brisk winds, and boisterous waves. The atmosphere is alive as the weather is unruly, but there is never a collision between the storm fronts. It's never too heavy nor does it go on unrestrained. It's merely a reminder of the active environment around us.
Never Leave the Past Behind
Like the monks in "Burning My Soul", this one is sinister and ominous, yet Henning's keyboards and guitar give this a soul of its own. Henning tips his hat to Dream Theater numerous times in this song. There is one passage in particular that really sounds like "Metropolis". While it's not "too" long by prog standards (10:18), it does have an epic feel to it as it takes us on several detours while maintaining many reoccurring themes. The ending is peculiar in that it is neo-progressive, sudden, and somewhat unexpected.
Hot To Cold
I enjoyed the intro to this piece. It's ultra-symphonic and opens the way to a solo that features the banjo again. Henning seems hell-bent on using this instrument in a way that works. He seemingly meets the objectives of this self-imposed assignment. The remainder plays off a straightforward chorus intertwined with vocals that mimic Mastermind. It has some interesting aspects, but it's a little repetitive. Fortunate for us, it's one of the shorter pieces, so it gets the point across long before it'll lose anyone.
Last Chance To See
For me, this is the highlight of the album, because it incorporates many themes and successfully brings them together. It's Henning's style to cram a lot of items into the mix. He specializes in supervising the playtime of alternating ideas in a confined space and he's very good at it. As for Victoria Trevathick, her vocals are so superior they're out of this world. The use of the banjo here is even ample enough to fulfill the most demanding audiophile. Under normal circumstances, this instrument would be unconventional in rock and pop, but it continues to flourish in these songs and somehow maintains an air of accessibility. The symphonic fireworks that are ignited in this piece are well-placed and go off without an errant spark. It took me many listens before I realized this song was about Douglas Adams (its title actually corresponds with one of the novels in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series). In this song, Henning shares his realization that this famous author has been forever taken away from his readers. He does a fine job commemorating this important man and reveals what affects his role model had on him personally. After the music is done, a narrator states a perfectly suitable quote from one of Douglas Adams' stories. It's a great way end to the album. Altogether, this song is a real showcase of Henning's ability as a producer and an arranger. For that reason, it's the correct choice to cap off this incredibly cool album.
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