The sympathetic Northern Irish rockers from SANDSTONE are back with a new full-length release. It was back in 2009 that I got acquainted with their Heavy/Progressive Metal, as Limb Music re-released “Purging The Past”. See my review here. Two years later, the excellent follow-up came out: “Cultural Dissonance”. My findings were posted here. This album resulted in a first European tour, supporting Tim Ripper Owens, together with THE DIFFERENCE, one of Belgium’s finest Prog bands.
This package tore down the roof, back in September 2012. See my little report here. That’s when I also had the chance to exchange a few words with the band. In any case, I had a great time then, and certainly when the band finished its tour in Belgium once more, in a more free and casual way. Support then came from the Dutch Heavy Metal band LORD VOLTURE.
Earlier this year, in June 2013, SANDSTONE’s fourth studio album saw the light of day. “Delta Viridian” is the title. The album is a semi-concept album loosely based on the novel “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut. See the page on Goodreads or on the website of Gollancz (publisher).
“Delta Viridian” has twelve tracks, totalling a playtime of more than 60 minutes. It begins with an intro, aptly titled “Cat’s Cradle”. Atmospheric and acoustic at first, gradually building the tension and growing in size. And then, the music breaks free, almost à la “Sting Of The Bumble Bee”. Speech is added, why I don’t know, but it probably has something to do with the book. “Almost Grateful” follows instantly with its melodic power. It’s catchy, with (to my ears) Steve Vai-style leadwork (see e.g. “Passion & Warfare” album). Of course the whole rocks, but there is a high focus on melody. The firm, midtempo verses have Sean’s typical clean, almost theatrical vocals to contrast with, while the chorus is where the pounding takes place. Simply killer! A dark, rhythmic piece forms the bridge to the solo part, during which the backing is bit more rapid, like in the beginning of the song. Nice to see how certain blocks return. The last minute once again shows the more theatrical side of SANDSTONE. And frankly, this song could have been made for a musical, if you ask me. Simply beautiful!
“King Of Cipher” is my favourite track on this release. It’s catchy and consists of simple, straight-forward Power Metal to begin with. Atmospheric verses (with adjusted vocals) open up in the second instant. Orchestrations work very well here. The chorus is where the magic happens: melodic, hymnic, touching! Sheer musical beauty! The obligatory solo is refined, nothing wild or fancy.
Winter is still a few months away, but here it shows itself in a mysterious sounding manner. Guitar and drums are in burst-mode, while the piano is added to make it a thrilling experience. But then the egg cracks open, hatches, and SANDSTONE turns into a Blues Rock band. The piano melody continues like nothing happened. Symphonics in the back, the acoustic guitar being present for the right touch. In the next verse round, things do rock more, yet push the piano to the back, a little too much, if I may say. The chorus is a straight-forward one, sounding dramatic (the feel, the atmosphere), but with a high dose of melody. The intro and main, Bluesy theme return as basis for the solo, after which all returns to normal. Actually, the songs aren’t that difficult, come to think of it, as you can hear the building blocks return/being re-used. but the lads put it all so nicely together, the result is each time perfect.
Pedal to the Metal then with “Red Mist”. Buckle up! Again you get atmospheric verses contrasting with a powerful chorus. However, no more fast pounding here. Still, it’s a typical SANDSTONE song. And as you’d think all is very well… it’s not. Well, it’s a trivial detail, but I’m not so fond of Sean’s high-pitched raises near the end. But that’s my sole complaint. “Cartesia” is a more relaxed, Hard Rock-ish song with a hymnic, symphonic chorus. And not exactly the happiest tune the guys wrote. It does have a nice, clean break before the solo.
Ballad time now? “Promise Me” certainly creates that impression with its acoustic intro. But fear not, power soon comes into play, providing a sonic experience à la DREAM THEATER or VANDEN PLAS (for example). Nice! And when the verses are due, it’s power all the way. Still, melody remains a key factor, especially in the chorus. And then someone pulled the plug, as the band plays a semi-acoustic break. Or better, the transition into that break sounds rather direct. Yet, with the solo the power is also restored. The (symphonic) power ballad is the next track, “Monument”. This one begins in a solemn way with guitar and keyboards, almost like QUEEN’s “The Show Must Go On”.
Another highlight, in my opinion, is “Beneath The Scars”, another melodic, midtempo Power Metal track. Steadily exploring the field, then going all the way, including symphonic support for Sean’s vocal input. The chorus is where all vents are opened. This part sounds very accessible and not heavy at all. The singing is also more normal, nothing extreme. This way it flows better, more naturally, I’d say. The music is (again) super, I love the melodies and compositions.
Another semi-acoustic approach is applied in the beginning of “Fortress”, after which the band shifts into a higher gear, letting the song show its balls. Sean’s singing is also fiercer here. Later on the intro theme returns as a conveyor belt for the ending. Also cunning to fool the listener: thinking it’s the chorus that so deliciously pounding, but the chorus is nothing of the sort and comes in only later. Full acoustic music is used in the ballad “Transgression”. Here, too, no complaints from my part. Last but not least, the longest song on the album: “Vitruvian Man”. Oh, what’s that? A harp? The intro certainly sounds like film-score music. There’s Metal as well, but in bits and pieces, slowly coming together. The orchestral arrangements are vital here, at least at this point. But Metal takes over command, first with JOE SATRIANI-like music (yet bombastic), followed by typical uptempo, melodic Heavy Metal. It’s a lengthy song, so several listens are required to let it all be heard properly. But with this grand finale, SANDSTONE shows it’s not afraid of a little experimenting. And that’s good.
Long story short: if you liked SANDSTONE previously, then “Delta Viridian” is a no-brainer. This Northern Irish band gets better by the album, even if the previous one, “Cultural Dissonance”, was already first-class material. “Delta Viridian” is first class and a little more. The combination of heaviness and melody – not only that, also the impact on one’s emotions -, in a way that makes SANDSTONE SANDSTONE, remains a joy to listen to.
- Cat’s Cradle
- Almost Grateful
- King Of Cipher
- Red Mist
- Promise Me
- Beneath The Scars
- Vitruvian Man
Sean McBay – vocals, guitar
Stevie McLaughlin – guitar
Dee Kivlehan – guitar
David McLaughlin – bass
Decky Donohoe – drums