Thursday, October 30, 2014

Neonfly - Strangers In Paradise (2014)

When metal leans toward the super-melodic, it can often result in sounding watered down or just lack that element of heaviness that gives metal much of its appeal, and not be much more than just really syrupy sounding hard rock.  There's nothing wrong with that, per se, because there have been a number of heavier metal bands lately that have taken that ultra-melodic, hard rock-influenced metal sound and made it successful.  Most of those bands tend to wear thin, however, once the novelty of the sound combo wears off, unless the songs are really good and stay with you.  The melodicism helps, but ultimately, the songs need to be memorable or make an impact to stay with you beyond the few minutes after listening to the album.  How does this apply to Neonfly?  Read on, gentle reader.

I'd not heard of Neonfly prior to receiving a review copy of Strangers In Paradise, but upon first listen, I enjoyed what I heard.  It reminded me immediately of the most recent material by Random Eyes, in that it's highly melodic metal that has some crunch to it, but has a bit of a hard rock bent without leaning too far in that direction.  Vocalist Willy Norton reminds me a bit of Random Eyes vocalist Christian Palin as well, because he rides that line between silky smooth and reasonably gritty and can transition between the two seamlessly.  Random Eyes is also a touchstone as to the band's sound, because Strangers In Paradise sounds a fair bit like Random Eyes' latest album, Light Up, due to its overt melodicism, and the way it straddles the line between hard rock, melodic heavy metal, and power metal at times.

Right away, it's evident that these guys can play and have major talent.  Guitarists Frederick Thunder and Patrick Harrington have the chops, and interweave a real interesting web of riffs, rhythms, licks, and leads throughout the course of the album.  The guitar sound is, what I would describe, as "semi-heavy" through much of the album.  Other than on the barn-burner "Highways To Nowhere", the riffs and rhythm playing don't get super heavy, but do contain a sufficient amount of crunch when the songs maintain a heavier feel.  Other times, clean playing, such as on the ballad "Rose In Bloom", or during the intro to "Aztec Gold", propels the songs in a way that belies the band's metal roots a bit, but not sacrifice the overall feel.  As for the leads, they're the expected melodic fair, but there are some nice bits (like in "Aztec Gold" where the guitars veer slightly away from the melodic, and into mere soundscape, which is a nice touch.  Bass work by Paul Miller is competent and sounds good here, though a tiny bit low in the overall mix.  Drumming is handled by Boris Le Gal, and he does a standout job of providing propulsive rhythms, dynamics, and really has a handle on how best to serve the song with his playing.  The review copy didn't include any info as to who provided the keyboard work on the album, but it's also quite good at times, with some nice symphonic elements here and there.

As I said before, vocalist Willy Norton reminds me of Christian Palin from Random Eyes, and that's a good thing, because Palin's voice is one of my favorites in recent years.  He can be heavy and menacing when he wants to be, such as with "Highways To Nowhere", and he can be super melodic and nimble as well, as with "Chasing the Night".  He has a nice tone, and just a real smooth sound to his vocals that complement the material well.  I do like it when he goes for a grittier approach, and I'd like to hear more of that from time to time, but honestly, his performance here can hardly be faulted, because it's very exact, while maintaining an emotional component.  In other words, he's on point when he sings, but it doesn't sound as though he's rehearsed the material too much for it not to sound as though he's putting himself into the songs.  It's a balanced performance that does him proud.

I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this record when I initially listened to it, because at first blush, it seems a bit unfocused and disjointed.  After repeated listens, I think it's just a band with many strengths, and they're trying to play to all of them as much as they can.  I'd caution against doing that too much on future records, if only because the songs have to be really good in order to ensure that they can back that ambition up with the material to match.  Still, aside from a few less than memorable moments, it's a solid record that truly shows a band with multiple personalities, and yet, those personalities all meld into one another much more completely than a band who might try their hand at varying styles or sounds and can't seem to get a handle on them.  The symphonic elements are a nice touch, and give the record a slightly progressive feel that the band should maybe try and capitalize upon, and yet, when they go straight-ahead and just rock out, they also sound excellent.  If the band can find their direction a tad more specifically and continue to hone their songwriting craft to make things even more memorable, they'll be a contender in the melodic metal field.  As it stands, this is still a really solid and highly listenable effort that deserves some attention, and should be heard by fans of the genre.  Recommended.


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