One of the many great perks to working for Lady Obscure with such a wonderful staff of writers and a dedicated and strong leader Nem Nol, is that we are given our choices of new album promos to choose from that are usually based on our own personal preferences. This method serves our team quite well as everyone has their personal favorite genres that they gravitate to. On occasion we receive a special request from the lovely Nem to review an album and in this particular circumstance, your friendly neighborhood Honey Badger was called upon to review the latest album from Germany’s prog rock/jazz veterans Toxic Smile titled “7” and of course I was up for the challenge to review a band that was slightly outside of my usual prog or power metal comfort zone.
First a little background on Toxic Smile for the uninitiated (including myself!). The band began as collaboration between keyboard player Marek Arnold, then drummer Daniel Zehe and guitarist Uwe Reinholz in early 1996 while they were students living in Leipzig Germany. It wasn’t until two years later when vocalist Larry B. came aboard that the band finally began developing their trademark sound and taking their music to a whole new level. Robert Eisfeld took over the drum duties on the band’s 2011 release of the band’s third full-length release I’m Your Saviour and finally in 2013 the band released their newest opus.
Musically, while Toxic Smile can be classified as a prog band with some metal guitar brush strokes, they are clearly greatly influenced by the classic prog rock of the 70’s most notably early Genesis. Lead vocalist Larry B.’s vocal tone is extremely reminiscent of Phil Collins with a little gruffness of Peter Gabriel added in.
The albums first track From Inside Out begins with some jazz-fusion with a wicked moving bassline and some heavy guitar rhythms that add a metallic edge. The verses have an underlying violin that adds to the overall melody. The chorus with its soaring vocals and harmonies is instantly memorable. Barefooted Man is next up and starts with a jazz bassline and piano combo with a complex arrangement that leads into an emotive vocal performance from Larry B. Malek Arnold’s keyboard wizardry accompanied by the heavy metallic guitar rhythms are reminiscent of Dream Theater and take the song into a satisfying climactic end.
The next song Needless changes things up as guitarist Uwe Reinholz performs double duty as he takes over the lead vocals with a more nasal vocal tone. The song doesn’t suffer from this change as it gives it a more melancholy alterna-prog slant. Arnold also pulls double duty with some smooth jazz saxophone on Love Without Creation, a slow proggy song that could almost be considered a ballad as far as prog rock power ballads go. Larry B’s vocals are delivered with emotion but it’s Arnold’s amazing sax that steals the show here. A metallic guitar riff starts off Rayless Sun, a heavy prog metal tune that has a decidedly Dream Theater quality to it. It’s here that Larry B. sounds especially like Phil Collins if he were fronting a prog metal band. The soaring harmony vocals during the chorus are superb and Reinholz’ guitar solo has a Petrucci-like flavor to it. Brenner starts things off King of Nowhere with a bass intro and the song at less than four minutes has a more traditional song structure despite the individual instrumentation being top notch it never overshadows the song itself. The albums final moment Afterglow features the heaviest riffing on the album.
Did I mention the drumming of Robert Eisfeldt? The man is an absolute beast throughout every song. When Larry B.’s vocals finally come in the proceedings take a more melodic turn and Reinholz unleashes some very tasty guitar solos to close out the song and the album. Fans of the band will thoroughly enjoy their latest release while fans of prog will find a lot to love here. As for the prog metal fans, it might take a few spins but Toxic Smile display some fine musicianship and quite a few heavy riffs. Vocalist Larry B. may not have the vocal range and style of a James Labrie or Michael Eriksen but what he does possess is a unique vocal style and sound. Many thanks to my bosslady Nem Nol for recommending I review this album. It was a breath of fresh air and an album I can highly recommend.