Mike LePond’s SILENT ASSASSINS – Pawn And Prophecy

Ok. First up, for all of you who don’t know who Mike LePond is, he is the bass player in Symphony X since 1999. In Symphony X, guitarist Michael Romeo and singer Russell Allen are the main song writers with the rest of the members chipping in just a little here and there. I guess LePond had too much music in him that wasn’t used in / didn’t fit Symphony X. So what to do if not to release a solo album or form a side project. Said and done, in 2014 Mike went to work and released his debut solo record Silent Assassins which also became the name of his project which also featured singer Alan Tecchio (Watchtower) and guitarist ‘Metal’ Mike Chlasciak (Halford, Sebastian Bach) with some help from his Symphony X band mate Romeo. Now, I must confess that I had no idea about LePond’s side project but apparently it turned out so well that he decided that a follow-up was in order. Now it’s here and as it turns out, it is somewhat a monster of an album with lots of guests. This album is also my first encounter with LePond’s project and since I dig Symphony X, I was excited to hear what LePond & co had come up with.

Opener “Masters Of The Hall” is a powerful and hard beast but it also comes across like a power metal version of Manowar. The bass drums beats hard and fast, the bass pounds like fist in the gut and on top comes a really sing-along friendly refrain. Tecchio turns out to be a really good singer and he is the main singer on this album. The guitars on this track are performed by one Lance Barnewold (Ross The Boss). It’s an ok tune but it doesn’t floor me in any way. “Black Legend” is an upbeat, straight ahead, hard-hitting metal tune with a chorus that tries to be catchy but just won’t stick. The tune is nothing that I haven’t heard before and I guess it’s ok although forgettable. Barnewold hands out the guitar work for this one as well. “Antichrist” is hard, heavy, dark and pounding and is really an in-your-face old school American heavy metal piece that strikes hard. Barnewold puts on some great guitar work here and Tecchio blasts his soul out. A punch in the gut – and I really dig this one!

In a slower pace comes “I Am The Bull”, a heavy and hard classic metal tune with an evil atmosphere and a big punch that goes right for the throat. One of my favorite tracks on this album. The furious and raging “Avengers Of Eden” is lyrically based on a novel by H.P. Lovecraft and this fast and hard-hitting track strikes hard. It lands somewhere between Yngwie Malmsteen and Accept with a somewhat speed metal influence. The tune is a big punch in the gut but the tune doesn’t stick with me at all. An ok song, not more. The lead guitar here is handled by Rod Rivera who also shows up in the next tune “Hordes Of Fire”. It’s an upbeat, crunchy and hard classic 80’s metal track that comes out kicking and screaming. Still, I find it hard to grasp and to my ears, it’s forgettable. “The Mulberry Tree” is the song that sticks out most on the record. By far! It’s based on acoustic guitars, a folky style and has clear influences by Ritchie Blackmore, both Rainbow and Blackmore’s Night. The medieval sound and the infectious groove lifts the song lots and lots. Easily my favorite track here.

As the closing song, LePond brings us a 21 minute short mini-rock opera based on Shakespeare’s play Macbeth – the title track itself. It felt a bit pretentious and overkill at first glance but the fact is, the tune made for a quite interesting listen. It starts out with a bass part that just reeks of Joey DeMaio (Manowar), continues with an Iron Maiden-like metal stomp that also holds a Celtic influence before it slows down and brings back the DeMaio bass part again, this time with a female vocal on top. The song then takes an acoustic guitar based twist that reminds me some of Ayreon only to take a turn into a fast and furious metal thing but with a very melodic and catchy melody line. Next up an instrumental, laid-back piano piece that moves the song into a symphonic and orchestrated vibe before it turns metal again. Then the song takes a tight turn into a pure rhythm n’ blues rock’n’roller before it slows down into a real melodic rock piece, another mold breaker, only to transform into a galloping power metal blaster with a sing-along-ish and catchy refrain. The acoustic, folky, medieval, Blackmore’s Night style returns for a short while until the whole shebang ends with a Celtic influenced heavy metal run. Phew! The track features LePond’s Symphony X buddy Michael Romeo on guitar (who also handles all programming and keyboards on the album) and singers Veronica Freeman (Benedictum), Andry Lagiou, Noa Gruman and Phyllis Rutter.

As a whole, I’m not that convinced. There are a couple of really good tunes but for the most, I find this record underwhelming. There’s nothing here that stands out of the ordinary and I keep getting the feeling that this kind of metal has been done a million times before and I really have to focus to keep my interest going. Also, the production leaves a little too much to be desired – it sounds flat and without real dynamics and bottom and the damned programmed drums makes this album a sonic disappointment. There must be a shitload of drummers out there that could manage to play on this album and make it sound great without making LePond ruin himself economically. All that gives this album a sort of low-budget and demo-like vibe all over. That said, all musicians involved does a splendid job performing and I really like the closing mini-opera but unfortunately, that’s just not enough. This record gets an “OK” from me but I had hoped for it to be great.

4/10

Tracklist:

1. Masters Of The Hall
2. Black Legend
3. Antichrist
4. I Am The Bull
5. Avengers Of Eden
6. Hordes Of Fire
7. The Mulberry Tree
8. Pawn And Prophecy

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