Reviewed by Anthony Longville
For some years now Randy George has been one of the driving forces behind the 'CPR' various artists albums promoting the burgeoning genre of Christian progressive rock. Now he has time to attend to his own band, Ajalon. Their second release, 'On The Threshold Of Eternity', was a superb album and it is great that George has been able to get his band mates back together for a swifter follow up (only three years!). The band describe this set as a "much more allegorical album lyrically" than their previous two albums, and certainly the message is less direct than on the previous outings. In their words, "The thematic concept on this CD addresses the depravity and selfishness of the human condition and how it has led to the downfall of our character. But the story is undergirded with the concept that it is never too late to turn from those ways to find something greater within ourselves that ultimately leads us to This Good Place!" But there are other big differences here too. Ajalon is a three piece; George the multi-instrumentalist, Wil Henderson lead vocalist and Dan Lile on drums. Henderson has made significant contributions musically on the earlier recordings, but on this outing the only instrument he uses is his voice. A number of additional writers have contributed to the composition of the songs, and whereas one usually expects a few guest spots on an Ajalon release, the guests here are much more in evidence giving rise to a concern that this could be a disc with an identity crisis. The album opens with "Love Is A Dream" which kicks off where 'Threshold' left off, demonstrating everything that is best about Ajalon. Augmented only by a female backing vocalist, the threesome demonstrate that you can execute great prog rock in seven minutes, musically gentle, but so so tight, with delicious harmonies, strong guitar and keyboard sections and a sound that is emotional and uplifting. "Nickels And Dimes, Marbles And Stones" continues in similar vein without quite hitting those heights. Then for the first shock. Wil Henderson disappears! George has used his CPR contacts to get a number of others involved, and here Rick Altizer (formerly in Neal Morse's Testimony touring band amongst many other things) sings lead on a song which includes his name in the writing credits. With his vocal style the song could easily sit on a release by Spock's Beard. The instrumental "Abstract Malady" showcases the guitar talents of Paul Bielatowicz (Be-ella-tovich), another Morse sidesman, with organ and keyboard contributions from Glass Hammer's Fred Schendel. It's impressive, but occasionally over indulgent for my liking, sacrificing melody for expertise at times. Back to Henderson's on "Lullaby Of Bedlam", a sinister sounding number and a real grower with some great work by George on keyboards and guitars - he really is an excellent musician! And with every modern prog album needing an epic, here we have the 19 minute "Redemption", where that female backing vocalist we mentioned, Robyn Dawn, takes on most of the lead vocal, Henderson being kept for the last few minutes. Initially rather underwhelmed with this track, I find that repeated listens reveal depth and beauty, with excellent work again from George, again supported by a cast of guest players, that man Bielatowicz stepping in on the 14 minute mark to deliver an "amazing guitar solo". A few misgivings maybe, but overall this is quality output.
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