You know those bands that have been around that seems like forever, you read about them and you read the reviews of their albums but they still seem to pass you by without leaving a simple scar, you just don’t have the interest to check them out? Ten are such a band for me. I didn’t even bother to check them out when I found that former Dare guitarist Vinny Burns was their guitarist – and I love Dare, especially the two first records. The band was formed by lead vocalist Gary Hughes back in 1994 and their debut album X came out in 1996 and they have now released 13 studio albums including the new one so it’s pretty strange that I haven’t checked them out before (my first Ten album was their previous one) as they do play in a genre that I’m a big fan of – melodic hard rock with big AOR tendencies. It’s also somewhat ironic that when I finally gave them a shot – I got their last album Isla De Muerta (2015) in the mail – Vinny Burns had left the band a long time ago. His last album with the band was their 6th one, Far Beyond The World in 2001. Now, I liked their last album enough even though it wasn’t without flaws and when I got the new one in my Haulix, I was keen to hear what had happened with the band since then.
The album opens with “The Grail” and sound wise, it’s much recognizable to their previous album. It’s an 8-minute epic melodic rock track that starts out with a chant-like vocal. It’s big, pompous, atmospheric and bombastic but at the same time it’s really catchy. The big hard rock rhythm takes away some of the bits that could have been overblown and strips it down some. It’s a very good song that leaves me wanting more. “Jekyll And Hyde” is a more traditional hard rock song with big melodic rock elements all over the place. It’s mid-paced and a bit dark and there’s a piano in the there that constructs some classical vibes. Again, I hear the last album a lot here but it’s still a very good tune. “Travellers” is the first single / video and as such it serves its purpose well. It’s slow and heavy but also a bit soft at times. The refrain is damn spot on and sticks just like a heavy AOR tune should – very good.
“Man For All Seasons” is a traditional melodic rock / AOR stomper but holds an arrangement that brings renaissance music to mind, but that lies more in the background. The song rocks things out pretty well but it’s a bit too middle-of-the-road to stick and it passes by somewhat unnoticed. But “In My Dreams” picks things right back up again. It’s an uptempo, straight ahead melodic rocker that sports a huge hit feel. The chorus screams mid 80’s and the whole melody is quite addictive – this is awesome! “The Wild King Of Winter” breaks the melodic rock / AOR mold some – it’s a kicking hard rock track that borders to metal, dark and heavy with a thunderous rhythm section and ballsy guitars that lies high in the mix. A killer tune – more of this, please! “Paragon” is a heavy, gothic and dark power ballad that also holds a good chunk of AOR. It’s quite ballsy and in-your-face but also comes with seductive and atmospheric refrain – one of the best songs on the album.
“Welcome To The Freakshow” is another big-chorused AOR rocker but it also holds some gritty guitars and a nice blues/rock feel. The hit feel is all over the über-catchy chorus and it’s one among many that comes with a big single potential. But best – without the shadow of a doubt – is “La Luna Dra-cu-la”, an uptempo, catchy pop / rocker filled with hooks and a chorus to die for. There’s a slight progressive vibe in there and the twin guitars brings on a Thin Lizzy touch that fits the song like a charm. And it’s not only the refrain that’s catchy – every melody sticks right away and the tune is sticky without being the least cheesy – bloody brilliant. The album closes with a cinematic, big ballad where pretty obvious traces of both Queen and Sweet are easily spotted. Just to spice things up some, there are some heavy guitar riffing here and there – an extremely memorable and atmospheric tune and a great closer.
When it comes to the quality of the songs, everything is hunky dory and there’s no doubt that Gary Hughes is an amazing song writer with a great ear for hooks, melodies and hit-fueled choruses. But just like on the album’s predecessor, this album has its flaws – and those are pretty crucial flaws, at least the way I see it. One flaw lies within the production – it’s flat, compressed and lacks spark and bite but the biggest flaw lies within Hughes himself. I’m not gonna say that Hughes is a useless singer but I can’t say that he’s that good either. Hughes lacks range, dynamics and power which affects the tunes in the wrong way and I can’t help thinking just how great this (and the previous) album could have been with a bad-ass singer. Still, the songs here are good enough to put this album on the upper half of my rating system but it could have been so much better if Hughes had concentrated on song writing alone and left the lead vocals to a better throat.
1. The Grail
2. Jekyll And Hyde
4. Man For All Seasons
5. In My Dreams
6. The Wild King Of Winter
8. Welcome To The Freak Show
9. La Luna Dra-cu-la
10. Into Darkness