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A-Z A-Z

By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Tuesday, August 30, 2022 @ 10:52 AM


- advertisement -
A-Z
A-Z

Metal Blade Records - 2022
http://www.a-zband.com




When you read the news that former FATES WARNING drummer Mark Zonder has a new project coming out called A-Z and he's got Ray Alder from the aforementioned FATES WARNING on board as vocalist I don't think it comes as a surprise that you'd think the material would sound something similar to their progressive metal mothership.

AND...you'd be mostly incorrect. Sure, there are some flourishes in the music or even the song titles for that matter where you'd think of FATES WARNING. But for the most part, this is a pretty straight forward hard rock album with a pretty accessible sound. It might not be what you expect, but then you find it could be what you really needed.

With guitarist Joop Walters, bassist Philip Bynoe and keyboardist Vivien Lalu on board, A-Z quickly establishes themselves on the very first song. Entitled "Trial By Fire", there's an immediate aggressive tempo to the song. This is a full on rocker and you'd be hard pressed to not find your head banging or your foot tapping to the rhythmic attack. It's a perfect way to kick things off and gives the album one hell of a starting point.

Of course, the first song released ahead of the album was "The Machine Gunner". And that's actually even more of a heavy duty blast of fiery rock and roll. I loved the riff that comes into play throughout the song and the amped up demonstrative nature of not only Ray Alder's vocal performance but the way the band just burns its way out of the speakers on this track.

Now, in acknowledging some influences from FATES WARNING, when I looked at the track listing on the back of the album and saw the title "The Far Side Of The Horizon", my thought was, "Oh this could be aimed more at the progressive side of the music." And yes, there are moments where the track does sound like that. But the groove that comes into play during the song's intro and then keeps recurring throughout the song is simply EXCELLENT! It's a song that really helps establish A-Z as it's own entity even while acknowledging it's past origins.

As an aside, the artwork for the front, back and liner notes booklet leans strongly into the whole A-Z motif. Check it out for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Getting back to the music, after three relatively fast moving rockers the song "Rise Again" opens with a much slower tempo. After the first couple of minutes, the pacing picks up a bit but never turns on the afterburners. That's not a complaint though. I liked the way this song was structured and while Ray Alder's vocals remain powerfully representative, they don't overpower the music and you get to really get a feel for what Zonder seemed to be aiming for with the band. The music is credited to A-Z with Alder writing the lyrics. It is a collaboration that continually bears fruit throughout the album.

The more explosive side of A-Z's music comes back to the forefront on songs like "Window Panes" and "Run Away". With "Window Panes", the band races out of the gates with a burst of energy but as the song plays through, you can hear how they pull back and provide a more subtle feel at times. And they do it without sacrificing any of the more powerful parts of the song.

As for "Run Away", there's just something about the track that really resonated with me. When I first listened to the song, my original notes just said "Rocking" with a checkmark to indicate that I liked it right away. But as I listened more to the song, I realized that there's more to the song than just saying it has a killer musical soundtrack. It's got that in spades for sure and that is definitely a big part of why I like the track so much. But as the song goes on, it's got moments where A-Z once again pulls back at what feels like just the right moment and then brings back the heavier aspects perfectly as well. And there's a great lyrical line in the song with Alder singing, "We hurt alone and we try to make amends with our own failing inner hope". I thought it managed to come off sounding both deep and dark but somehow still managed to keep coming back to my mind as I listened to the song.

The music is far more restrained during the main verses of the song "Stranded" before giving way to a more raucous sound in the track's chorus. After the second chorus and solo, the song employs a far more intensely rock sound but it's a fitting way for the song to go out. It's also another song where you could spend a ton of time reading the lyrics and doing a little too much of a deep dive into what they mean or maybe at least what you think they might mean.

"At The Water's Edge" is another song that originally made me think "Progressive metal" when I read the album track listing. Yes, it really means I need to stop doing that. But regardless of my jumping to conclusions, this is a monster cut. It starts off a lot slower in the intro but man does this song quickly start setting off sonic explosions. Zonder and Bynoe provide that rhythmic foundation upon which the rest of the track is built and Wolters has some fantastic guitar work here. And though it isn't overly extended, his solo is damn good!

As I took my original notes for this review, the song "Borrowed Time" was first summed up by saying "Love the way this one rocks!". Of course, that's just the initial impression but with each successive play of the album, the song just seemed to get better and better. Uptempo all the way, the song ends up providing a number of explosive moments on top of that. And I loved the phrasing used in the delivery of the song's chorus. Oh, and another killer guitar solo here as well!

The song "Sometimes" has a slightly softer opening and Vivien Lalu's keyboards have a nice bit of work in this song, as they enhance those portions of the song. When the song turns up the energy, the rest of the band shine as well. The way the song alternates tempo throughout the song behind the vocal track gives the song a nice sense of heft.

The album close out with a bonus track called "The Silence Broken" and it's another fantastic track. I love the music for this one. It starts off pretty rocking and gets more intense from there. The band is impressive throughout and there's an understated hook to the music that took me a couple of spins to really hear and appreciate. Though the lyrics for this song are not in the booklet, they are powerfully delivered to devastating effect.

It's really hard to say any small grouping of songs from the album are my particular favorites because pretty much every song here is a fantastic track that will keep coming back at you each time you play the album. Mark Zonder had a clear vision of the kind of album he wanted to do. By getting Ray Alder to sing and assembling a top notch band around them, the A-Z album is top to bottom an absolute smashing success that should be making everyone sit up and take notice!

4.8 Out Of 5.0


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