Religious themes, lyrics, and overtones have long been involved with music. Church and spiritual music are very important to many cultures and religions, especially Christianity. Eventually, Christian music began to make its way outside of the churches and into many other genres of music. Christian rock soon became commonplace, and then, ironically, religious metal appeared. I say “ironically” due to the early views that were originally held against metal by many religious groups.
The Great Gamble is one of these Christian metal bands, with a progressive sub-genre to be exact. Their initial musical output, as the band Axeom, was more of a rock variety. As the band grew, their interests changed and they became influenced by progressive bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X.
The band consists of Al Joseph (lead vocals and guitar), Christopher Joseph (bass guitar and vocals), Steve “Michael” Joseph (drums and percussion), and Matt Weaver (keyboard and violin).
Having been well received in various festivals and competitions, The Great Gamble finally released Book 1 in April of 2012.
Release the Kraken
The band certainly has no qualms about being progressive metal. It starts right off with a heavy, keyboard-accented riff. It has a nice melody that the song sticks with. The mix is just right, with everything at a perfect volume and position. The vocals might catch you off guard, as they sometimes sound like a blend between those of Avenged Sevenfold and Mastodon. This is not a bad thing, as it is a breath of fresh air for a sometimes stale genre (concerning vocals). Great vocal delivery is found throughout the track, along with some harmonies that give the track more depth. Starting at 4:55, there is a “calm before the storm” moment, so to speak, as a gentle section with a quirky drum pattern leads into a blistering solo. The beauty of this solo and following instrumental section is that it doesn’t seem like too much. It isn’t playing fast for the sake of playing fast, a popular criticism amongst prog metal. In fact, it is one of the better instrumental parts I’ve ever heard, with exciting, progressive, and melodic playing. Just that section alone would have made for a great instrumental track (with no vocals). By the time the vocals come back in near the end of the track, I had lost track of how long the song was because I had gotten so into it. This is a great opener, especially for a debut album, as it perfectly summarizes what the band is all about.
This is an instrumental, although not quite the kind you would expect based off the previous track and my comments. This is a relatively short (just over a minute and a half), calm track with acoustic guitar and violin appearing for the first time. While nothing groundbreaking, it is an enjoyable piece that begs for headphones to amplify the atmosphere, and provides for a short break between the metal madness of the first and third tracks
Legends of Symmetria
Segueing right in after previous track, it picks up a slightly Arabian style while returning to the metal style of the first track. The ever-so-diverse vocals sound a little Opeth-ish at parts throughout this song. The instrumentation of the first half of the track is much simpler than what was found in Release the Kraken, but it still hits hard and heavy. The mix, again, is just right. I love the quick change found at 4:05 to a much more subdued section, with a beautiful keyboard and bass part. Another fascinating instrumental section follows. Many will likely call this band a Christian Dream Theater, due to the structuring of the songs and general similarities such as lengthy, technical instrumental sections, but the band is not “ripping off” anyone here. It is easy to tell that they know exactly what they are doing, while certainly still letting just the right amount of influence seep in. The musicality is very strong here, and provides for yet another awesome song.
The Ghost of Three Reflections
Okay, the lyrics and themes are of a Christian nature and based off source material, but these song titles are expressive, varied, and interesting. When a band can intrigue you to listen to their music simply based off the song titles, they are doing something right. Getting back to the track, this is one of the most interesting songs on the album. Mostly at a relaxing pace with an occasional increase in tempo and heaviness, it features the best instrumental section thus far on the album, which outdoes many great progressive songs that I have had the pleasure of listening to. There is intensity and excitement flowing from note to note, with the brilliant tempo changes and abrupt stops found throughout. This band is making me sound slightly repetitive, as I have to say, once again, that this is another great musical piece.
Breach at Fort Mycenae
The song briefly starts off at a snappy pace, and then transitions into a segment consisting of some punchy bass and keyboard, with a traditional grand piano sound being used on the latter instrument. A particular highlight of this track is the instrumental passage which starts at 4:23, having a sound reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible theme song. The violin playing is beautiful and fits perfectly here, switching off with the guitar for some soloing. I honestly do not know if Matt is better at playing the keyboard or violin. As if it needs mentioned by now, the vocals are spot on, and the melodies shine as the catchiest batch on the album.
The Sleepwalker Pt. 1 – Tears of Dagon
This track is as awe-inspiring as the lengthy title would make the listener presume. Clocking in at over 16 minutes, this is definitely the band’s attempt at a self-proclaimed epic. As with many songs of similar length, an instrumental introduction leads the charge from the starting point. At around 3:00, what would seem to be recurring melodies appear. The vocals attain a flawless victory here, with six successive songs of great performances. There is a real sense of tension building with increasingly quick double bass and fast guitar until it is relieved at 8:00 with another vocal section, accompanied by terrific use of various keyboard patches/sounds. The chorus is catchy and has a bluesy element to it. The extra-progressive section beginning near the ten minute mark provides a true sense of chaos before once again coming down. After a calm, beautiful section, the end of the record truly begins at 12:15 with the instruments and pitches running the gamut of emotions, with some bright, happy guitar riffs descending into heavy, angry metal mayhem. The last minute of the song doesn’t let up, holding a steady tempo with festive riffing and completely on-point drums bringing the album to a close.
I frequently find new music to enjoy, but it is always an amazing feeling when I find something like this, so fresh and unique. At first glance, it really would seem like this is nothing new, and, perhaps, completely unoriginal. However, when truly inspected and listened to, this album reveals its interesting little quirks, such as the sporadic violin parts, vocals that change to fit the tone of the music, and thought-out instrumental sections. Whether religious or not, the lyrics hold great meaning to the band, which shows in the powerful vocal delivery, and they are quite interesting too. This album is a great start for The Great Gamble, and I expect many more good albums to come.
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