Stride Music Machine(320k instrumental rock metal)
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DescriptionOnly rarely am I moved to begin a review by saying something like "holy shit!" and even then I often find some other way of saying that that won't have us fined by the FCC… though I'm sure we're not on their radar, so I won't worry for now. Nevertheless, I think it's apt to exclaim "holy shit!" at this point, emphasis on the holy part. Because this band cooks! Now, while it won't mean a thing years from now, this CD has been awaiting review for far longer than I should admit, though not as long ago as its release year of 2001. And again I'm kicking myself because this is great stuff. Great stuff, I say. And I sat on it! Of course, the main focus for me is the guitar, and there's plenty o' that here! But, it's a band effort through and through, so don't expect some aimless guitar wankery!
Who are we talking about? The American band Stride, whose debut CD, Music Machine is an instrumental rock/metal affair with the emphasis on guitars and keyboards, though the latter to a lesser extent. If you like the freewheeling guitar style of Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Steve Morse etc. then you will like Stride. And, if you just like guitar rock albums in general, you will like Stride as they've … ahem … hit their stride at the get go, and that's sometimes jogging, sometimes running pace. This has been distributed by Fossil Records, so that alone should tell you a lot about the style this band plays… of course, since I've already said it, you can cross reference that to say that this band is indicative of the style of music released or distributed by Fossil Records.
Formed in Texas in 1996, in their relatively short history they've opened for such acts as Molly Hatchett, Savatage, Tony MacAlpine and Fates Warning, among others. On this recording, Stride are Joel Gregoire on guitar, Matt Kanzler on drums, Marcus Johnson on bass, and Rick Flores on keyboards -- Johnson has since left, to be replaced by Shane Dubose, and they've added a vocalist, Gary Belin. Not what that will mean style-wise for the band in the future, as there's not a lot of room here for vocals, and their presence isn't missed, so we'll see.
But, with Music Machine - well this is aptly titled. This machine is well oiled and rides… strides … along quite nicely with plenty of music to enjoy. Some debuts start out good, but lack something you know a band will develop in the future. For Stride that future is already here, and I'm sure it's because they'd honed their skills elsewhere. Gregoire, for example, studied at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, California with Frank Gambale, Paul Gilbert, Scott Henderson and Don Mock, among others. In 1989 Matt graduated from the 'Percussion Institute of Technology' in Hollywood California. Kanzler has studied with Will Kennedy and Casey Schurel… Flores has played with Freddy Fender and with the band Success… so these are by no means guys wet behind the ears. And it shows, because Music Machine is a solid release of well-crafted songs that flit between classic hard rock and progressive metal. So, how this band will develop is almost scary – if you start out excellent, where do you go? Lots to ponder on that question, and how to answer it.
Meanwhile, for all the rock-metal fire of "Borrowed Time," "Mental Floss" and "Carousel" -- all excellent tracks, all worthy of attention -- there's the sweeter, balladic, and warm "Travesty," where Gregoire plays some very pretty, yet not frilly, leads. And he plays with such feeling, as you know that his guitar has become an extension of himself. Sure, they sound like clichés, but if the description fits … Flores finishes off the tune with a nice, gentle piano like keyboard passage. Lighter still is the almost contemporary instrumental-like "Elevated" with Gregoire on acoustic guitar, backed by strings (keyboards).
But the fiery tunes also show passion. "Borrowed Time" begins as darkly churning, chugging piece. Gregoire's leads take a classical complexity and fashion it into a fusiony metal composition, a flavor and style that Flores' keys pick up on for the outro of the song. The second track "Mental Floss" is definitely metal, as we get furious churning to begin the piece, Kanzler's drumming very much in the jackhammer mold. There is a classical element here, too, in Flores' measured keyboard phrases, which give a bit of calm to Gregoire's exciteable guitar leads. Kanzler easily shifts into an almost martial tattoo to underscore under Gregoire's lacy, lyrical leads for the interlude. "Boogie Man" is a jumping, upbeat tune with some great organ sounds from Flores. It's a classic, yet modern sound, especially as it starts a bit crunchy. Here Johnson bursts out with some great bass licks, even getting a moments spotlight to play a few fat, walkin' bass notes. "Moonroof" reminded me a bit of a more melodic Djam Karet, interestingly enough. There was just something about the riff that recalled The Devouring period, but here given a more "traditional rock" feel. It's on this piece where keyboards get an extended solo spotlight… as does Kanzler, though not so much solo as support, but very much in and up in the mix, giving the song a different focus from the guitar-centric pieces.
On the other hand, there's the hard driving metal of "N.S.A.," with mildly crunchy guitars/bass chugging away, giving way often to widdly keyboards, sharp guitar leads, and crisp, pounding drums. It's a piece that I'm sure played live leads to solo spotlights (or aught to, if it doesn't). Johnson pounds away on his bass such that one or the other or both hands would sure be bloody if the piece doesn't throttle back to give over the lead to some classical, piano like keyboard phrases. This piece shows the gamut of what Stride can do, taking it from metal to rock to jazz to classical and back all without losing listener interest. "Laboratory" also mixes in a lot of styles, here keeping it all moving at a quick pace, giving no quarter… it's a roller-coaster ride through a fusiony land.
I will say that, throughout I did think of other artists, and of other pieces – though, for the life of me, drew blanks when it came to pinning down specifics … at least on the pieces – but there's also a freshness here, which is probably why the specifics are hard to pin down. But in addition to the artists named above, if you throw in a dash or two of latter-day Rush, as felt in "Eargasm," though the parpy keyboard textures move away from Rush… in fact, the keys made me suddenly think of a metal version of Genesis, though Flores' style isn't exactly Banks-like. Gregoire's leads here even tip a hat a bit at that Gilmore/Rothery style, but just for a phrase (or maybe it's just me). So, you aren't going to pick out any one Rush track or phrase… Also throw in a dash of Planet X throughout, though Stride pre-date them; there's a connection through MacAlpine, however.
All in all, a great release, and one that certainly sets Stride out on the right foot … or left … certainly in a direction from which things can only go up… Take a walk on the wild – and not so wild – side.
More about Music Machine:
Borrowed Time (4:46)
Mental Floss (6:49)
Boogie Man (2:18)
Joel Gregoire - guitar
Matt Kanzler - drums
Marcus Johnson - bass
Rick Flores - keyboards
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* Music Machine (2001)
* Stride & Friends - Bah Humbug (2003)
* Imagine (2005)
Not my rip..@320k
Front cover included
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