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SHADOW GALLERY Digital Ghosts Inside Out (2009)

Shadow Gallery

On the 31st of October 2008, tragedy struck the Shadow Gallery family as founding member and vocalist extraordinaire Mike Baker suffered a heart attack and sadly passed away. This is the kind of experience that can truly either make or break a band, and luckily for us, the Pennsylvania-based sextet opted for the former! They gathered all the strength and inspiration that was left in them and continued with the recordings of "Digital Ghosts" - a seven track release which they had already started bringing into shape while Mike was still with us. Now, under such extreme circumstances, one would expect "Digital Ghosts" to simply be a good quality release, right? Wrong! Not only is this seven track album one of the best releases for 2009, but also one of the highlights in the band's recording career thus far.

If you are a real Shadow Gallery devotee, the first question that you expect to be answered is whether "Digital Ghosts" has managed to reach the same levels of greatness that "Room V" did four years ago, right? Well, let me spare you the drama - the answer to that question is no, however, it is important to mention, and especially under such circumstances, that they came really damn close to doing so! "Digital Ghosts" is not a concept album as "Room V" was, so it works its way into your conscience in a totally different way than its predecessor did. What these two releases have in common, though, is attention to detail, skilful performances and unique moments of artistic passion that only a handful of bands are capable of conveying through their music these days.

The person which filled in Mike's vacant place is a guy called Brian Ashland - a truly gifted vocalist whose range is similar to that of Mike's but which sounds quite different - quite important indeed, as it helps avoid any unnecessary comparisons between the two musicians. His great vocal skills are clearly audible through the opening few notes of "With Honor" where his hard-edge opening performance is followed by a beautiful melodic theme reminiscent of those of Roy Khan's in Kamelot. Most important, however, in the grand scheme of things, is the fact that the sextet sounds tight and comfortable in what they are doing - a factor that becomes more clear when these talented musicians indulge in a polyphonic/operatic vocal theme that's greatly influenced by the legendary Queen.

Having broken this important 'barrier', the listener is left to enjoy a truly inspirational album without any kind of restraints. "Venom" is a straight-forward heavy-sounding track, filled with keyboard and guitar solos that share influences from bands as diverse as Deep Purple and Dream Theater, whereas "Pain" may come across as far more simplistic but it also happens to be one of the most emotionally draining compositions of the album. "Gold Dust" is another little gem which is based on classic Shadow Gallery formulas but also betrays influences from Dream Theater, whereas "Strong" is a heavy guitar-based composition which indulges in flamboyant guitar solos and high pitch vocal notes, courtesy of Ralph Scheepers (Primal Fear).

The last two compositions are amongst the best of the album and "Digital Ghost" finds the band further investing in classic Shadow Gallery melodies and numerous guitar and keyboard solos, whereas the beautiful piano theme and mesmerising vocal performances in the "Haunted" provide a fitting ending to this great album.

It would be totally pointless to evaluate the importance and quality of "Digital Ghosts" simply by comparing it with "Room V", as a) I personally believe that the latter is the kind of album that a band can release only once in its lifetime and b) because I feel that the members of this band would not have managed to surpass this effort even if Mike was still with us.

If under such difficult circumstances, these six musicians managed to come up with such a great album, imagine what we are to expect from them in the years to come. Don't know about you, but I can hardly wait for the next album to come along!


Review by John Stefanis

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***** 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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