When a musician likens their spiritual beliefs and world outlook to “Jedi,” they are welcome to my attention straightaway. Prog and power metal vocalist extraordinaire Lance King uses that phrase in his press releases and even on his Wikipedia page (you can look it up, I’ll wait) and what seems like it could be a gimmick, like Okilly Dokilly, the Ned Flanders (The Simpsons) -inspired metal band, it’s totally sincere. And after a listen to King‘s brand new sophomore solo album, ReProgram, and a look through the lyrical content, it actually starts to make sense.
The use of the term “Jedi” in regards to ReProgram has much less to do with light sabers, midi-chlorians, and hokey religions, and much more to do with a sense of spirituality, honor, and connection to the world that surrounds us. King has, at least according to the album’s press release, created a new genre of music called Celestial Metal, which draws from power metal, prog metal, and various inspirations from the last 40 years of rock, but also from philosophy, and examining humankind’s place in the greater universe. Throw in some artwork that is right at home with artists like Ayreon, Epica, or Avantasia, and you have a brew that has the makings of some pretty fantastical listening – whether the listener chooses to take the subject matter with a grain of salt and treat the album as fantasy, or agrees with Lance King‘s viewpoints and believes it’s simply fantastic.
Regardless of lyrical, artistic, and spiritual intent, musically speaking we have one firecracker of an album here. Many comparisons are possible including the heavyweights of the genre, and yet somehow King has a style that becomes more than the sum of its parts, or its influences. While Lance King is best known as the former lead vocalist of Pyramaze and for his work with Nightmare Records, there may be some who are unfamiliar with his works, though he has been gigging and recording steadily (with some exceptions) since the mid-’80s. Compared to some of his contemporaries who have been at it as long as he has, his voice is in amazing shape. He has no problem hitting higher notes, but never strays into air raid siren territory, maintaining a warm timbre nowhere as near as nasally-infused as some of the more Rob Halford-inspired singers of the various genres. He has a vibrato that is wide and rather relaxed, never accelerating too much within his longer notes and phrasing. His vocal timbre at times reminds this reviewer of Niklas Isfeldt of Dream Evil, but a bit smoother. For the proggier people coming to King‘s work, his voice might take a little getting used to, but for the more power leaning fans coming to his work for the first time, it should not have to be an acquired taste and should be quite easy to hear.
Musically speaking, ReProgram is an incredibly solid and well-crafted album. There are double bass sections, fun production with glitch beats at times, lush keyboard layering (which never becomes a synth lead overload) and accenting piano work, and tons of guitar work with great solos from Rich Hinks, Markus Sigfridsson, Kim Oleson, and even the mighty Mattias IA Eklundh, with possibly my favorite solo of the album (or any album he’s on)! There is a lot of crunch to behold here, and that’s a very good thing. But the album never ventures into the darker territory of grunts and growls, blast beats, or extreme down-tunings. The entire album is an incredibly lush work that stays the course well, but does not necessarily play it safe (unlike some of the bigger names of the genre might, these days). Lance King‘s songwriting partners throughout the album deserve as much commendation as he does for writing a very solid album where, in this reviewer’s opinion, it sometimes feels like it’s all been done before. The choruses are huge, melodic, and catchy, while still tackling some of the subjects touched on earlier – morality, identity in an ever-changing world, personal responsibility, honor to one’s self and to others. Not light material, and handled responsibly and believably in this album’s context.
“Limitless” is the big lead single off of ReProgram and gets the job done very well. It’s one of the best songs on the album (though, in all honestly, they’re all solid) and is a great summary of what the listener can expect from the entire work. “Pointing Fingers” has an urgent chorus with eighth-note kick drum insistency pushing the entire composition along in a moment reminiscent of Dream Theater possibly from the Octavarium era. (Did he just go there? Oh yes, he did!) Also, during the bridge of the song, King hits some vocal parts that are low and guttural (more badass, less Cookie Monster) that are reminiscent of the great Sir Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Ayreon, Star One) in a totally flattering way to King. And while every song is surprisingly damn good on this album, the final highlight worth mentioning is the album-closing ten-minute epic, “A Mind at War.”
It touches on all the moments necessary in a song to close out such an album. Sparse piano and drumming with crooning from King give way to epic passages and huge building moments, replete with guitar crunch, high synth strings, and unnerving brooding background vocals whispering the song title to the listener. Suddenly we’re propelled into a fast, nearly galloping tempo to bring us into our first guitar solo passage before moving onto some nice syncopated riff work and grooving bass-lines. Before long, we find ourselves in a spoken word eulogy interlude and a lighter moment to the epic, while still grooving. And as the mood continues to grow and evolve, we find King telling us, “Between the beauty of Darkness and Light / a Balance of Power seems to unite,” which is arguably the theme of the song, and possibly the entire album. Some final synth and guitar unison playing elevates the song further, and we find King‘s vocals even more lush and layered (with the unsettling whisper still there, lurking) and one can feel the album drawing to a close. It’s the climax before the denouement. And with one last chord, the album “ReProgram” has come to a close, and like all of my favorite albums I’ve reviewed, the listener [ideally]wants to hit play again.
Released by: Nightmare Records
Released Date: March 29th, 2019
Genre: Celestial Metal
- Lance King / Vocals
- Kim Olesen (ANUBIS GATE) / Guitars and Keys on ‘ReProgram’ and ‘Technology’
- Markus Sigfridsson (DARKWATER/HARMONY) / Guitars and Keys on ‘Stand your Ground’, ‘Limitless’, ‘Perfect World’
- Matt Hodsdon (CHAOS FRAME) / Guitars and Keys on ‘Chaotica’, ‘Reaction Formation’, ‘Spell of Domestication’
- Rich Hinks (ANNIHILATOR / AEON ZEN) / Bass on all tracks except (*) Guitar, Keys on ‘Pointing Fingers’, ‘A Mind at War’, ‘Wide Open’
- Morten Gade Sørensen (PYRAMAZE/ANUBIS GATE) / Massive Grooves and Percussion
- Fred Columbo (SPHERIC UNIVERSE EXPERIENCE) / Keys transition between ‘Wide Open & Chaotica’, solo on ‘Spell of Domestication’ and ‘A Mind at War’
- Mattias IA Eklundh (FREAK KITCHEN) / Guitar solo on ‘Wide Open’
- Jakob Riis (L WOOD JOY) / *Bass on ‘ReProgram’ and ‘Technology’
- Pointing Fingers
- Stand Your Ground
- Reaction Formation
- Wide Open
- Spell of Domestication
- Perfect World
- A Mind at War
Admittedly, I knew of Lance King's work with Pyramaze, but as a fan of Iced Earth since the early '90s, I was always a fan of the Matt Barlow era of the band. I had not listened to King's first solo album, "A Moment in Chiros," until researching to review its follow-up, "ReProgram." Now that I've seen what a tour de force this album is, and what a concentrated effort is is, how it creates a journey of the mind full of moral issues that are never didactic, it begs a re-examination of all of Lance King's previous works. Outstanding songwriting and musicianship, and respectable production, combined with an original approach (Celestial Metal!) to a fusion of genres which can always use a swift kick. "ReProgram" has a lot of crossover potential in pleasing a lot of prog, power, and metal fans.