Album Reviews

Mike LePond – Silent Assassins

For many, Mike LePond is no stranger in the metal genre. His name is most synonymously connected with the progressive metal band Symphony X, but he has lent his talents to many other bands and artists including, but definitely not limited to, Amaseffer, Affector, Reign of the Architect, Midnight Eternal, Rivera Bomma, Lalu, The Vivaldi Metal Project, and the list could go on. But now, it’s finally time for Mike to shine with his own, first-ever solo album. This album has been two years in the making, with Mike’s writing of all the music and lyrics in addition to playing all the bass and rhythm guitars on the album. He also recruited several guest artists to fill out the band, including Alan Tecchio (Seven Witches, Watchtower, Hades) on vocals, “Metal Mike” Chlasciak (Halford, Testament, Sebastian Bach) on guitar, Michael Romeo (Symphony X) on guitar, keyboards, and drum tracking, and joined by Michael Pinella (Symphony X) on backing vocals.

The overall style of the album is really old school metal, with flavors such as from the NWOBHM and the American 80’s. However, those who might be expecting a more progressive sound from LePond will appreciate the folk and ethnic flairs he scatters throughout the album to reminisce the era or location that a particular song is documenting. This album is not a concept album, per se, but there is an overarching theme of epic stories and myths that have become well-known across the world.

The first track on the album is Apocalypse Rider, which tackles the story of Attila the Hun in a nutshell. This tune is about as straightforward classic old school as you can get and starts off heavy-hitting from the start. This is an energetic opener with plenty of shredding, moving bass lines, and powerhouse vocals. The chorus has a nice layering of harmonies, in contrast to the melody-only verses and there is some very finger-fancy basswork taking the song out in the end. Although this song gets your blood pumping in anticipation for the rest of the album, it isn’t entirely representative of what the whole album will sound like; there are some other musical surprises in store that are evident as early as the opening for the second song, Red Death. A song that recounts the story of “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, it begins much differently with an almost Arabic-sounding pentatonic melody by the bass and Middle Eastern percussion. It eventually segues back into the typical metal style of the album for the song proper with a solid, high energy output with power chords, a soaring chorus, and punctuated rhythms, especially toward the end of the song.

The Quest, the third track, reminisces about the tale of King Arthur and Camelot, specifically about the search for the Holy Grail. It starts off in another completely different genre of music with an appropriately medieval entry including acoustic guitar and harpsichord, which then segues into the acoustic and strings with a beautiful melody. Then LePond’s solo bass comes in with a quick 16th note bass line to introduce the rest of the song, which completely changes gears into a very thrashy style, although the chorus does have a more half-time feel in between the high-speed verses. However, about 4 minutes into the song, the music gives way again to LePond’s solo bass that incorporates strummed chords as well as single-line melody, nicely executed as it gives way to the second half of the song, an instrumental interlude that is much less thrashy and reincorporates a more medieval feel for the next few minutes of the tune in an dance-like fashion. Again, the solo bass re-enters and sets the stage for the reprise of the thrashy theme that takes the song to its end. This is probably my most favorite song on the album.

The 4th song on the album is called The Outsider, and starts off with a very busy solo bass line by LePond, and keeps a more moderate tempo with precise power chord rhythms that seems a bit reminiscent of Tourniquet’s “Proprioception (The Line Knives Syndrome).” This song is fairly straightforward in comparison to its predecessors, without interludes of a different style. Its theme entails the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name, recounting the sad tale of a lonely being who tries to make human contact, venturing out after a lifetime in isolation, but remains alone due to their shunning him because of his monstrous appearance. This song is fairly straightforward with the punctuated rhythms of the verses and a more laid-back feel on the choruses. There is an interlude that picks up the speed, especially with the rhythm section for the last 1/3 of the song as it closes out the unfortunate tale.

Masada, the 5th track, is about the group of zealots who took refuge on top of the former Herodian fortress of the same name near the Dead Sea in Israel, and committed suicide rather than be captured by the Roman forces who were near to overthrowing them at the top of the rocky plateau after a lengthy standoff in the late first century. This song again incorporates a more subdued approach with a pseudo-ethnic style, opening with acoustic guitar playing the introductory line alone. The song builds slowly with a bass solo about 1/3-way into the track and fades back to acoustic guitar and strings going into the end of the song, though punctuated by a strong chorus that ends the poignant tune. This could be considered the ballad of the album and showcases some pleasant musical moments in its stylistic variation.

The titular song, Silent Assassins, starts off much like the first track with a strong, old-school, and thrashy beginning. A track that highlights the stealthiness of the soldiers in the gift horse who infiltrated Troy under cover, it begins galloping starting out of the gate, and complete with classic metal high-pitched screams throughout without any letup. This song is almost a complete opposite of its predecessor, and packs a punch as it delivers the story of the Trojan Horse. The power style of the song permeates throughout with plenty of moving bass lines, shredding guitar solos, and quick drumming, and the pace sustains for the duration of the song without many shifts or segues in style.

The seventh song on the album, Ragnarök, delves into Viking mythology for its tale, highlighting the apocalyptic series of events that lead to the death of several notable Norse gods and other natural disasters. The song has a surprisingly peppy feel to it, especially with the chorus vocals with some layered harmonies on the line for which the song is named, accenting the other lyrical lines. In the vein of 80’s rock, not to be missing are some blistering guitar and bass in the solo section, and it wraps up fairly quickly as the briefest track on the album at just shy of four minutes in length.

The Progeny, the eighth song, starts off much differently than the last couple of tracks, with an ominous introduction with a thunderstorm in the background, a drone-like choir over the howling wind, chimes, and an acoustic guitar playing a minor melody, all of which set the stage for the vampire-themed song. The rest of the instruments join in with a slower, steady tempo with a rock-ier approach smattered with a bit of blues, but as the song continues, the tempo picks up and then turns into a full shred on guitar, bass, and double kick drums. It later pulls back to a more moderate tempo that it maintains for the remainder of the song until the outro of the acoustic guitar again playing a minor riff and the howling wind escorting the listener to the end.

The last song on the album is Oath of Honor, and again revisits the tale from Camelot, more specifically from the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It begins with a lovely melodic, classical bass solo (with some choral support later into it) that seems to reprise the musical (as well as topical) similarity from The Quest. After the solo comes to an end, the song kicks in with a galloping pace that slows to an even 6/8 lilt for a short period before returning to the initial galloping tempo. This pattern continues throughout the first half of the song, where the choruses return to the slower 6/8, while the verses revisit the faster 4/4 tempos to provide a nice variety that keeps the song interesting. This song is the epic “long” song on the album, and clocks in at 11:11 (numerologists, have fun with that one), and a little past halfway through the track, LePond breaks into another satisfying bass solo that signals a different style of the song altogether with a slower, Queen-like anthemic quality. The song eventually returns to the 6/8 chorus and carries the song out with a brief ritarded martial beat before one last hurrah of the 16th note guitar finale.

This album is definitely for fans of old school, classic, and thrash metal with a good dose of 80’s vocals. It is reminiscent of Iron Maiden, Motörhead, and even some Judas Priest, Manowar, or Blind Guardian in its overall style. Listeners who expected LePond’s solo album to sound progressive or more of Symphony X will probably be surprised, since it hearkens back to the more classic sound of metal from the 70’s and 80’s. Some fans will appreciate this change in style, and its nod to the foundational metal approach; some might not if they were looking for a more progressive album. However, even with its straightforward and somewhat throwback metal style, as one who comes from a classical background, I particularly appreciated the nuggets of non-metal styles that were incorporated throughout the album; the ethnic or folk inclusions help set the stage for some of the songs’ themes and might also appeal to the fanbase who like more progressive elements. LePond’s efforts are clearly seen on this album, creating the solo work that he wanted to express himself with the style and tales that he wanted to tell. Aside from his own clear talents, he gathered a group of top-notch musicians to help him realize his musical dream. Given LePond’s contributions with many other musicians, it seems overdue that he has a chance with his own album including supportive contributions from others, culminating in the realization of this project with complete creative freedom that highlights tales from mythology, literature, and history.

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