MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS
MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS
Released on September 26, 2014 (Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins)
I’ve been listening to this album now for a couple of days, almost constantly. I think it’s pretty good. Then I read into the band a bit, and discovered that I really couldn’t speak to Mike LePond, Symphony X, or their style of music well enough to do a worthy review. I contacted my buddy eibon2 and he jumped at the chance, being a huge fan. We chatted a bit and agreed on just about every point. Enjoy!
Silent Assassins is a side project that Symphony X bass player Mike LePond has put together. It is an album of more personal songs for him as he wrote all the music and lyrics while playing the bass and rhythm guitar tracks. LePond brought in Symphony X bandmate Michael Romeo to provide some keys, drum programming and half of the lead guitar work, along with Metal Mike Chiasciak to do the other half. Singer Alan Techio of Hades (whose work in the technical thrash metal band Watchtower I completely love) does a fantastic job here showing more depth to his voice. Watchtower are not really about singing and Tecchio sounds better here than he has on anything I have heard yet. It’s also interesting that Symphony X keyboardist Michael Pinnella makes an appearance to sing background vocals. This feels like a personal project that was compiled over time, as a labour of love. Such side projects can often display the true talents of those involved. This one makes all members shine and I’m liking it more and more as I listen to it.
Comprised of nine tracks, this disc clocks in at close to an hour and collectively the material shows great respect and appreciation for the sounds of the metal roots we all share. The songs are diverse and fit right in that comfort spot of ’80s inspired power metal, very much in the vein of Judas Priest’s sound (especially the Painkiller era) with a bit more organic sound. There is also some Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fate and Helstar elements thrown in. As you would expect from this bunch, the musicianship is of the most top level. If you’re not familiar with Symphony X, they take the neo classical thing that Yngwie J. Malmsteen pioneered to the next level with better songwriting, playing, and musicianship that can be said to rival Dream Theater.
There’s not a bad song in the bunch, as I’ve listened through a few times. It all works for me! There are different tempos in here — from slow, almost ballad like acoustics to classic metal epics. The speed of the title track and the opener “Apocalypse Rider” gets the blood pumping as well as the tempo change going into the second song “Red Death” with its unique bass intro that reminds me somewhat of Les Claypool’s (Primus) technique. One must note that a few songs are inspired by classic horror literature. “Red Death” is obviously Poe while the song “Outsider” brings to mind one of my fave Lovecraft stories of the same name. The reveal at the climax of the story and song are well done as the writer realizes a truly frightening thing about himself.
“The Quest” after a very nicely done acoustic opening settles into a nicely paced song where Tecchio shines and sounds very much like Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford. “The Quest” also reminds me of the music of Iron Maiden in how it is based around the bass lines of LePond… different textures to this one that makes it one of my favorite songs on the record. “Masada” is a beautiful song. With largely acoustic parts and a big chorus, it relates the story from classic Roman history and feels similar to the feel of the movie 300 — very serious and somber in tone. It is definitely a haunting song that will stay with you for the remainder of the day. Again, Tecchio gets the chance to stretch his vocal instrument and sounds very impressive. This song is perhaps the stand out of this disc and the one that might bring new ears to this project if given a chance.
“Ragnarok” is maybe the most accessible song with the large riff, background chorus vocals and the thumping bass line as well as some incredible notes from Tecchio. “The Progeny” is where the Sabbath feel from the Dio era shows through for me. I love the eerie guitar riffs and the Mercyful Fate tempo changes and feel on this one. “Oath of Honor” closes out the disc clocking in at just over 11 minutes and is very much in the vein of the epic Manowar songs with impressive voices and outstanding bass lines along with quality leadwork.
I think I can say I like this record better than the recent Symphony X albums. There has been a bit of something in the recent Symphony X albums that I haven’t really been able to connect with. Not dissing them in any way because Symphony X are and will remain an amazing band and I will continue to buy and support everything they do. Maybe it’s the old school songwriting or arrangements but this feels more exciting to me.
In closing, it must be said that you easily can feel the great love that they all have for that period of ’80s Priest and the beginning of power metal, which surely is a huge influence on this project. This is an album worth searching out and I hope Mr. LePond has a chance to deliver more of what are his song ideas or at least more of a writing influence on future Symphony X output.
01. Apocalypse Rider
02. Red Death
03. The Quest
04. The Outsider
06. Silent Assassins
08. The Progeny
09. Oath And Honor
Mike LePond – bass, rhythm guitar, background vocals
Mike Chiasciak – lead guitar
Michael Romeo – lead guitar, keyboards, drum programming
Alan Tecchio – lead vocals, background vocals
Michael Pinnella – background vocals
Reviewed by Metal Mike (with eibon2) for Sleaze Roxx, February 2016