Silent Assassins is the Heavy Metal side project of Symphony X bassist Mike LePond, and their sophomore outing Pawn and Prophecy raises mixed feelings. While most tracks on the album at least have the potential for greatness, questionable creative decisions throughout consistently undercut the listener’s enjoyment. This is apparent from the outset, with album opener ‘Masters of the Hall’ prone to frequent rapid changes in pace and tone, making the song seem disjointed and hard to settle into. It starts out heavy and exultant, then suddenly drops to a lower, darker tone alongside the introduction of Alan Tecchio’s vocals. The vocals are in fact quite reminiscent of Symphony X at times, but far more frequently Iced Earth throughout the album. There are also some Iron Maiden influences apparent throughout the track, particularly in the drums and Lance Barnewold’s guitar solos.
‘Black Legend’ is a straight up Metal track infused with rock ‘n’ roll riffs, comparable to Avenged Sevenfold or again, Iced Earth. As is expected throughout the album, there’s a noticeable bass groove, with the pacing changes are confined to Barnewold’s guitar solo. In this track it’s an advantage, as this solo has much stronger and more individual feel.
‘Antichrist’ is an interesting track, as it would carry an almost funky attitude if it weren’t so chunky and metal. There’s a very Megadeth feel to the track, even in the vocal cadence. However, the almost operatic chanting to the Antichrist is once again a little too disjointed – it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the track, or quite capture the gravity it seems to be going for. ‘Antichrist’ is at its strongest in its heavy riffs, excellent solo and almost cheesy, snarling vocals. By contrast, ‘I am the Bull’ seems to achieve everything ‘Antichrist’ was going for. It opens with a very groovy, almost Southern bass intro, while the guitars feel like they belong in a Western soundtrack, conjuring up images of something like the desolate landscapes of Quentin Tarantino’s H8ful Eight. The riffs continue to have some Megadeth style, and even the bass smacks of David Ellefson. The vocals, meanwhile, are back into the Iced Earth mode. Grim Darkness is captured beautifully with the double kick and choral vocals, transitioning nicely into a bass lead rounding out the track, with a real spotlight on LePond.
‘Avengers of Eden’ is a straightforward Heavy Metal track, more Judas Priest than Megadeth in its vocals and rhythms; while ‘Hordes of Fire’ is a fairly typical mid-tier Heavy Metal track a la Jag Panzer. That being said, it’s very enjoyable for being what it is, particularly as it includes arguably the best guitar solo on the album. It has to be said that Rod Rivera absolutely blows Barnewold out of the water.
The final two tracks are without doubt the strongest on the album, for very different reasons; though unfortunately both suffer from disjointed intrusions that destroy the mood of the songs. ‘The Mulberry Tree’ is a soulful, European or even flamenco-sounding track, filled with smooth, compelling vocals and lovely acoustic guitars. Even playing acoustic, Rivera’s solo is mind-blowing and easily the equal of Symphony X guitarist Michael Romeo’s contributions to the following track. A spoken word interlude breaks the mood of the song, but it picks up again as minimal musical accompaniment supports the vocals in a closing section that is strongly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin.
The final track is also the title track, ‘Pawn and Prophecy,’ based on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Once again there is a rolling bass intro with a Western feel, with an undertone of howling winds that sets up a creepy vibe. The bass takes the lead for a little over the first minute before climactic guitars and keyboards blast onto the scene, so powerful the rest of the album pales in comparison. As the operatic female vocals of Noa Gruman, Veronica Freeman and Phyllis Rutter introduce the three witches, it becomes apparent that almost all the vocals in this track are direct quotes from Macbeth, a very impressive feat indeed. Essentially Shakespeare’s play set to music, ‘Pawn and Prophecy’ brings excellent headbanging sections alongside rousing, soulful and epic themes. Romeo’s solo is amazing, but the track is swiftly derailed when the story returns to the witches. Their entrance is heralded by the transformation to a sexy, jazzy show tune, a departure that doesn’t fit the rest of the song or the album at all, and absolutely breaks the mood. The entrance Michael Pinella’s Hammond organ is just the icing on the “cheese” cake, so to speak. Thankfully the track moves out of the show tune space and back into sounds more reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, with slow drums, plaintive vocals and a strong focus on the bass. The following acoustic section is a little too Tenacious D for comfort before the epic Metal kicks back in. Appropriately, the track’s climax is led by bass shredding, though the solo itself is, like so many other elements of the album, questionable.
With great musicians and fantastic material, Pawn and Prophecy should have been an easy win as an album. Unfortunately, Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins never miss an opportunity to undercut their efforts and ruin a perfectly good song. There is still a lot to enjoy about the album, but there are a lot more cringe moments than even a Power Metal tragic might like.
MIKE LEPOND’S SILENT ASSASSINS’ PAWN AND PROHECY IS RELEASED JANUARY 26. PREORDER YOUR COPY FROM HERE!