ALTA REIGN – Upon The Horizon (Album Review)

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New horizons abound.

Coloring outside the lines has been something of a regular practice for drummer and Montour Falls, New York native Jeff Plate, having cut his teeth in the metal scene with the likes of Savatage and The Trans-Siberian Orchestra during the 90s, alongside a couple of noteworthy stints with Metal Church from the mid-2000s up until 2017, culminating in four studio albums.

This highly eclectic career has no doubt endeared him towards a less conventional mode of musical expression, hence the recent rise of a new project spearheaded by his involvement along with fellow Trans-Siberian Orchestra alumni and keyboardist Jane Mangini in Alta Reign. To call this collaborative effort with a quartet of younger musicians a progressive affair would be an understatement, as their 2021 debut “Mother’s Day” covered just about every base from the technical flair of the 70s prog rock movement through the heavier metallic expression of the genre spearheaded by Dream Theater and a few others in the 90s, and their sophomore follow up “Upon The Horizon” raises the bar even further in every respect.

In similar fashion to its predecessor, this album walks a tight-rope between hard rock and heavy metal that often catches itself veering a bit in one direction or the other at various points, but is overall a balanced blend of accessible songwriting and off-the-cuff musical twists that border on genre-bending. The technical chops on display by all involved is comparable to the flashier adherents of the progressive metal craze of 30 years prior, with several entries coming dangerously close to sounding like unsubtle nods to the likes of Royal Hunt and Vanden Plas. The rock solid foundation provided by Jeff’s precision based drumming, which rivals Mike Portnoy at every turn, is one of this album’s chief fixtures, particularly on heavier numbers like the riff happy ‘No Madness’ and the extended journey of a title song ‘Upon The Horizon’ where this outfit really leans in on the 90s progressive metal approach. For their part, guitarists Tommy Cook and Collin Holloway are equal to the task of keeping things hard-hitting and extravagant, the former letting his virtuoso shredder vibe fly at every possible opportunity while both prove quite apt in a lead vocal capacity.

But when it really gets down to what makes these songs so sugary sweet, one can’t help but dwell upon the brilliant interludes into stylistically distant territory, which occasionally entails walking clear of the metal map. Even on more conventional progressive numbers like the aforementioned ‘No Madness’, Mangini’s jazzy piano runs put an interesting twist on things in the absence of spacey synthesizer leads. In fact, Jane’s approach is more indicative of a Jon Lord influence, as she tends to favor traditional piano and rock organ sounds, with the latter raging away in masterful form on the heavier entry ‘Defy’ and the off-kilter metallic stomper ‘Tip Of My Tongue’.

Even at the album’s earliest beginnings via the extended opening instrumental ‘Reverent’, the noodling piano balladry that unfolds reveals a degree of virtuosic flair that is so pronounced that it ends up upstaging the concurrent lead guitar gymnastics, which proves no small feat given that Tommy Cook often rivals Jon Petrucci’s signature shred-happy style. Things get taken for a truly jarring loop with ‘Have No Fear’, a slow-coasting ballad that vacillates between a standard rocking number and a banjo and slide-guitar driven bluegrass romp.

Anyone who is in the mood for something different, which is generally every stripe of progressive rock fan, will definitely find a smorgasbord of tasty auditory treats in this slickly produced bundle. It can best be described as a slightly less esoteric and more concise version of what would have been considered the more adventurous end of Dream Theater’s early career with James LaBrie at the helm, though the vocal work put forth here courtesy of Cook and Holloway is a bit closer to the older, straight rock vocal sound that a 70s act would have put forth. It wants for nothing in terms of rock-ribbed metallic bona fides, though its principle focus is capturing the tornado of progressive music’s penchant for genre-hoping in a bottle and packaging it for greater accessibility, and on that front it succeeds beautifully.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see old guard fans of The Alan Parsons Project and Yes taking to an album like this, along with those that have followed Jeff’s career behind the kit with Savatage, and those fortunate enough to procure the CD edition of this album will find a banger entry of a bonus track in ‘Beneath The Rose’ featuring the six-string work of Al Pitrelli and Chris Caffery to boot.

Released By: Rat Pak Records
Release Date: November 24th, 2023
Genre: Melodic Progressive Metal / Rock

Upon The Horizon Track-List:

  1. Reverent
  2. No Madness
  3. Defy
  4. Between the Eyes
  5. 3’s
  6. Upon the Horizon
  7. Tip of My Tongue
  8. Have No Fear
  9. Animation
  10. Beneath the Rose

Order Upon The Horizon HERE.

8.8 Excellent

Following an impressive display of progressive metallic flair with a theatrical twist on their 2021 debut "Mother’s Day", Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra drumming veteran Jeff Plate’s newly codified project Alta Reign ups the ambition factor even further for its sophomore follow up.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5

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