From the opening strains of guitar riffage, I feel like I’ve been transported back to my teenage years (the eighties / early nineties). Then I’m like, is that a cowbell? Surely not? But ZOMG, I’m having flashbacks. The hair. The jeans. My Samik bass. By two minutes in, I’m singing the refrain from ‘Trial By Fire’. This is an instant in the feelings.
What am I blathering about? I’m talking about a truly kick-ass self-titled album by A-Z (pronounced A through Z) on Metal Blade Records. I am not overstating how instantaneous the love for this album is.
The second track starts and I’m still being blown away. It’s intense and hard driving. There is an anticipation that is accented by what sounds like piano work. The vocals kick in and I’m like, the same album? Broadway cast album? ‘Far Side of the Horizon’ has intricate compositions layered with amazing production. The sound is all around you, it’s in 3D (if that makes sense, having surround sound in 3D). The vocals and harmonies are like butter! Wait, did it just go jazz on me? Emerson, Lake, and Palmer? Yes, piano; beautiful, expansive, gets you right in the heart and then this sweeping Studio Ghibli vista opens up (wind swept plains, big poofy clouds).
I take a breath and reality sets in. I would expect nothing less than perfection and greatness from Ray Alder and Mark Zonder (accompanied by Philip Bynoe, Vivien Lalu, and Joop Wolters). If I started by telling you who was in the group, there would be no lengthy review. You’d read the names and go, “Yup, this is a must buy.” No other thought, as these gentlemen are the best of the best and have been for decades.
There are nine other tracks on A-Z and if I went line item on every one, you’d be reading my gushing review for a good half an hour because, suffice it to say, this is an amazing album; Alder and Zonder have created an album that seamlessly blends metal, jazz, and prog in a masterclass in songwriting, composition, and execution.
9 / 10