So I was just getting ready to write this review when all of a sudden I started think about why Ten never got to rise up to the big league. They started out in 1995 – that’s 23 years ago – released their debut album in 1996 and have since then released 13 more albums, including the new one. Add to that list one live album, six compilation albums and five E.P.’s plus a lot of touring in between. Why isn’t Ten a big band now? Bad luck? Bad management? No record company promotion? Too much bad press? I dunno but maybe it’s the fact that they’re just not good enough? I know, this sound harsh and I’m not writing this because I hate Ten – I don’t – I write this because I seriously wonder. 23 years is a long time and if you deliver the goods then something should have happened right?
Throughout the years, Ten has been in my peripheral musical regions where the odd song and whatnot have been flying by without making much of an impact – until 2015 when I got a reviewer’s link to their then brand new album Isla De Muerta. That was the first time I listened to a Ten album in its entirety back to back. Just like with its follow-up Gothica (2017), I liked what I heard but “like” is the key-word here. I liked it. It was ok but I didn’t love it and the truth is, I haven’t paid much attention to either album since then. To me, Ten are a band that do have good songs but they just won’t last – good while listening but then forgettable. It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I suspect that’s exactly the reason why Ten never made it huge. They’re good. Nothing more. And I say that without still haven’t listened to their earlier albums. Now, Isla De Muerta and Gothica are sister records – they could have been a double album. Will Illuminati be the album that takes them up another level and proves me wrong?
Opening track “Be As You Are Forever” starts with a long, Celtic smelling intro of acoustic guitars and keyboards. It rock itself up to a mid-paced, pretty groovy Melodic Rock tune with progressive tendencies. Eight minutes long, a song like this can be a bit much to digest but the memorable melodies and it’s catchiness makes the song feel a lot shorter than it actually is. That and the fact that there’s always stuff that activates the interest in it. Very good. “Shield Wall” is uptempo and more direct and in-your-face with a live-feel. It’s bouncy yet catchy albeit not in radio-hit way. Good track. The progressive twist comes back in single “The Esoteric Ocean”. It starts out soft with a cinematic feel that actually brings my mind to Ayreon but the tune goes into a Melodic Rock tune almost right away and holds a softer mid-pace. It fastens up some when the distinct and direct chorus comes while keeping the cinematic feel throughout the song. Great song!
“Jericho” is an uptempo rocker with a somewhat bombastic vibe, quite straight-forward with lots of 1980 AOR twists. The chorus is slower but more bombastic which makes the tune more dynamic and its also holds lots of hooks and memorable melodies. Good tune. “Rosetta Stone” is a slow ballad, quite soft but never cheesy. It’s powerful but not a power ballad, very memorable, catchy and earthy – great stuff. The title track is an upbeat Melodic Rock tune with a big, pompous arrangement that’s very direct and distinct, style-wise reminiscent of the last two albums. A good but not spectacular tune. A slightly symphonic sound goes into the pomp of “Heaven And The Holier-Than-Thou”, a rocker that goes in mid-pace and mixes AOR with Melodic Rock along with styles just mentioned. Another good yet not mind-blowing song.
We get some uptempo, 80’s laden Melodic Hard Rock with “Exile”, big on the keyboards and loads of AOR tendencies. But it also holds some beefy Hard Rock riffing and a ballsy rhythm section that removes the slick and fluff that otherwise could have been a big part of the song, so good on that. Good tune. “Mephistopheles” is a rougher Hard Rock tune, all in the vein of Melodic Rock, of course where the very memorable verses are more catchy than the punchy and tough refrain. It’s catchy but not radio-friendly – and it also holds a Pomp Rock middle-solo break which betters the song. Good one. Closing power ballad “Of Battles Lost And Won” is soft and laid-back but never cheesy or syrupy. It’s bombastic and atmospheric with a cinematic character, big and very memorable – maybe my favorite track on the album, so a good closing there.
To sum it up, this album is very much in the vein of their two latest album both in style and in quality. To me, this is a good album but it never gets any better than good. I know that Ten have their fan-base which is probably as solid as ever but I’m pretty sure this record won’t gain them any new fans – but on the other hand, they probably won’t lose any fans with it either. The same with the production, it’s pretty muffled sounding that makes the sound pretty one-handed – and as always, main song writer and vocalist Gary Hughes is weakest link here. He’s not a crap singer but his range is too narrow and when he sings it never really goes either up and down – just a straight line which is also part of the problem. A really good singer could probably lift the songs up to another level. I’m not gonna slag this record off because I do quite like it – just like the other two I have heard – but it really doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Good but a few steps from great!
More Ten reviews:
1. Be As You Are Forever
2. Shield Wall
3. The Esoteric Ocean
5. Rosetta Stone
7. Heaven And The Holier-Than-Thou
10. Of Battles Lost And Won