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GARY HUGHES ‘Once And Future King - Part I’
(Now & Then/Frontiers FRCD161P) (2003)

Finally the wait is over as one of the most eagerly anticiapted albums of the year is released (well part one anyway!). Gary Hughes is of course the vocalist and driving force behind the band Ten (plus producing/writing with Bob Catley on the latter's first three solo albums) and this concept based on King Arthur has long been his vision. A brave move as he will have to had turn down other work offers plus put the band Ten on hold. But believe me it is worth it and he has a very strong line-up. All of Ten appear on here, along with Ayreon's main man Arjen Lucassen and the Quest's keyboard player Graham Woodcock. As for the vocalists aside from Gary Hughes (who takes the role of King Arthur), you have Damian Wilson (Ayreon/Rick Wakeman), Magnum's Bob Catley, Danny Vaughn (Tyketto/Waysted), Diamond Head's Sean Harris and Lana Lane. The second disc has guest slots from DC Cooper (Royal Hunt), Dougie White (Rainbow/Malmsteen/Cornerstone) and Harem Scarem's Harry Hess amongst others.

The pomp is in full flow on 'Excalibur' with its choir, church bells and keys glorious stuff! Damian Wilson sings on this track which eventually kicks into a metal romp complete with double speed drumming (doesn't any drummer play slow nowadays?). 'Dragon Island Cathedral' sounds like an epic Ten tune, which is no surprise as Gary Hughes takes the vocal spot here. The duet between Gary Hughes and Lana Lane on 'At The End Of The Day' is a highlight on here and sounds almost like a stage musical number such is the rich orchestration and composition of the song. The two Danny Vaughn tracks ('The Reason Why' and 'Avalon') are immense! He is a superb vocalist anyway but he excels on 'Avalon', which veers into Tyketto territory at times. Another fine vocalist, Magnum's Bob Catley has great fun with 'King For A Day' it was made for his vocal and is a classic Magnum style track. The other Catley track, 'In Flames' features some stunning guitar soloing from Ten's Chris Francis (he is a real find for the band) and features a big chorus. Was there a hint of cheekiness on Gary Hughes part casting Bob Catley as the eldest person in Arthurian legend, the wizard Merlin? The only track yet to gell with me is 'Sinner' on which Diamond Head's Sean Harris guests. It has a 70's vibe a la Deep Purple/Whitesnake but something is missing, can't think what though!

Likely to be an album of the year for many and the secret of this concept album is that all the tracks can be heard on there own without detracting from the whole album. Plenty of epic music on here, that will please both melodic rock and power/symphonic metal fans. Gary Hughes really has excelled himself on here from penning a strong set of tunes through to the whole concept and the top draw vocalists he gets to help out. This would make for a great live show for DVD/CD release a la Star One. Roll on part two.

Buy this CD

Related>>Part 2



Review by Jason Ritchie

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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