5/6/2004 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
Silver Mountain: Breakin’ Chains (Arctic/Avalon, 2001) reviewed by: Vinaya Saksena
As far as I can ascertain, Silver Mountain formed some time in the late 1970’s, taking their name from Rainbow’s “Man On The Silver Mountain”, a favorite of guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jonas Hansson. The band underwent several lineup changes before their 1984 Roadrunner Records debut “Shakin’ Brains,” with more occurring before the subsequent Universe and Roses and Champaign releases (only Hansson and bassist Per Stadin seem to have remained in the band for a substantial amount of time). Apparently Yngwie Malmsteen was involved sometime before Hansson entered the picture, eventually taking brothers Jens (keyboards) and Anders Johansson (drums) with him for his Rising Force project.
The band’s sound was, and still is, ambitious, vaguely Baroque-tinged melodic metal, with deft guitar and keyboard interplay much like that of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and of course the aforementioned Rainbow. As musicians, the band were ambition and perfectionism personified, yet their albums (particularly the cult classic Shakin’ Brains) exhibited a certain sonic rawness that, while perhaps unintentional, also kept their glory-bound music from coming off as cliched or overwrought.
This is where Breakin’ Chains comes in. Originally appearing on various self-produced demos from the early days, these tunes, in the band’s view, never got their full due in terms of both recording and distribution. So what this album does is present spiffy new recordings of the songs, taking advantage of modern recording technology, but leaving a certain amount of raw edge for that distinct Silver Mountain vibe. And despite being recorded in different hemispheres, the various instrumental and vocal parts gel quite nicely into a cohesive whole.
Musically, Breakin’ Chains is a classy and effortlessly enjoyable affair, sticking true to the band’s unique form of Scandinavian melodic metal while managing to avoid most of the cliche-infested pitfalls that others attempting this sort of sound often encounter. Though the songs exhibit considerable sonic and stylistic consistency, there is enough variety to keep it from getting boring, due in no small part to the band’s impressive musicianship. Right off the bat, “Prophet Of Doom” sets things off a frantic, exhilarating pace, before giving way to the mysterious melodic shuffle of “Before The Storm” (my favorite track on the album).
From here on in, it’s a glorious collection of classically-inspired riffs, chord progressions, vocal melodies, guitar solos, organ solos, clever harmonies, Hendrixian wah-wah licks and who knows what else, over intricate but steady drum and bass accompaniment. In other words, if heroic but disciplined Euro Metal is your cup of lager, consider this a generous helping with a twist (I know, I know: twists and lager generally don’t go together, but you get the point!). And for Neoclassical guitar geeks, Hansson’s intricate but tasteful soloing in songs like “A.s.w.a.s.t,” “Axeman And The Virgin” and the beautiful closing instrumental “Resurrection” are a lesson in class musicianship worth the price of the CD and then some.
In short, Breakin’ Chains is a very worthwhile listen, the only drawback being Hansson’s somewhat strained vocals. But then again, you might not care all that much, given the uncommon class with which all other musical duties are handled on this album.
Note: The edition I own contains the Hansson-directed music video for “Prophet Of Doom” as a bonus feature.
--Vinaya Saksena 05.06.04
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