Two years ago Limb Music Products re-released “Purging The Past” by the Northern Irish band SANDSTONE. Earlier that same year Casket Music had put out the band’s second album, but LMP decided a remastering would be best if they were to release it on a wider scale. You can read my review here. Several gigs, a new drummer (since Paddy Flemming was replaced) and much inspiration later the follow-up was born on the 28th October under the title “Cultural Dissonance”.
It’s good to see that LMP is convinced of the skills and quality that SANDSTONE has to offer. I liked their previous album, but there were elements that could use some improvement, including the drums. Even if “Cultural Dissonance” has two songs less than “Purging The Past”, the saying quality above quantity is still essential. And that was probably another element that hurt (so to speak) “Purging The Past”: too many tracks. In any case, after several listens I can say that Sean and co. continue to progress and it didn’t take me many listens to be convinced of the step forward.
“Cultural Dissonance” kicks off instantly with “Reckless Thought”, where you get a direct powerful attack before the band dives into the melodic verses. Sean’s clean vocals stand out and this throughout the entire album. They’re a trademark. In the bridge (or pre-chorus) the music rises to a climax to then fall back in tempo in the slow chorus, where melody and melancholy flow nicely together. Not to mistake with certain sad songs of e.g. Gothic or Doom bands. Guitar solos are obviously also incorporated and well done. Symphonic backing spice the song a bit at some point before all goes back to normal. So far, a job well done.
“Little Forgeries” has a lovely heavy riff to begin with, followed by drums, the acoustic guitar and leadwork. As the verses are (semi-)acoustic, Sean has adapted his singing, i.e. he sings with a softer voice, which creates a very result! Symphonic backings make the song more complete and help fill melodic holes to connect with the chorus. Again this sounds somehow emotional ( or is it hopeful?). The guitar solo is inline with the overall atmosphere. Like before, Sean’s singing stands out here, perhaps more than in the previous track. The band begins the next song, “Fading”, with melodic leadwork first before letting all power loose. The verses are well done, sound quite powerful and dark, but catchy as hell. Bonus points go to the vocal and guitar input. And let it be clear that new skinsman Dan Lafford also plays his role! This is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It has something NEVERMORE-ish, only in a lighter version. The guitar solo moment also comes out nicely and the drumpattern contributes to that.
Time to bring out the piano then in “Leaning On An Arrow”. This instrument (or is it the keyboards version?) is the main provider of melody, while the guitars and drums are responsible for power and rhythm. Gentle at first, then increasing towards an outburst. The result is straight-forward Metal, again written with a catchy rhythm in mind. The verses contrast with the symphonic chorus, which doesn’t sound too happy. The song ends the way it started (piano). No complaints from my part so far. “Carefree Moment” then, which sounds like a SAVATAGE ballad at first, but then the midtempo melodic verses kick in. They also meet an emotional chorus featuring heavy guitar chunks, but it sounds oh so lovely!
“Silent Suicide” is a melodic, but slow gallopping song with melody coming mainly from the keyboards and in a next instant guitars before full-on Heavy Metal is used to connect with the pounding. Full power is reserved for the chorus, which rocks!! The keyboards linger in the back for completion. And of course the obligatory guitar solo is added too. “Black Skies” marks the return of the piano as starting instrument, followed by direct, straight-forward Metal, ideal to headbang to. Like before there’s a nice contrast between the verses, bridge and chorus (where all falls back in melancholy). One point of criticism: Sean’s voice sounds a little too clean. A touch of roughness would be better.
SANDSTONE not only knows how to write heavy tracks, one more Progressive than the other, but they also found it necessary to add lighter material to the tracklist, like “No More”. this song sounds more Poppy, radio-friendly. It has an easy rhythm and flow, clean verses opposed to a more… well, fuller chorus. It’s not powerful, not in this context. “Sleep” is the ballad on the album. Starting acoustically, continuing electrically. All in all, not bad. Though not really super either. But it’s better than “No More”. Luckily “Trick Of Mind” brings salvation: double-bass pounding Heavy Metal, oh yes!!
“Purging The Past” was a very decent release, all things considered. Two years later, the band clearly learned from it and more and came up with “Cultural Dissonance”, an album that after a few listens convinced me of the progress they have made. Musically the songs are better, stronger and the production is also very well done. Come to think of it, was Uwe Lulis again involved for the mixing and/or mastering? (since the sound is similar to that on “Purging The Past”) Aside from that, I can only say that the mix of Heavy and Progressive Metal is well worked out here, noting similarities with FATES WARNING, QUEENSRYCHE, STORMENTAL, IRON MAIDEN, maybe some VANDEN PLAS, etc… In short, a recommended release, no doubt about that. SANDSTONE is to tour with Tim Ripper Owens in 2012, so it will be interesting to finally see these guys performing live. That is, if I can make it, which I definitely hope!
- Reckless Thought
- Little Forgeries
- Leaning On An Arrow
- Carefree Moment
- Silent Suicide
- Black Skies
- No More
- Trick Of Mind
Sean McBay – vocals, guitar
Stevie McLaughlin – guitar
David McLaughlin – bass
Dan Lafford – drums