A little more than four months have passed since up-and-coming progressive rock band Stone Leaders released its self-titled debut album overseas through Vanity Music Group. It was released just last month in the United States. In the months that have passed since the album’s release, the Croatia-based band has garnered acclaim from progressive rock fans and critics alike on both sides of the Atlantic with its musical arrangements and its lyrical themes. While one of the band’s members labeled the group’s music as “Dark Prog,” that label – which is already used for Tool — fits neither musically nor lyrically in Stone Leaders’ debut record. That is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Rather, the album’s overall content is certain to keep listeners fully engaged and entertained from start to finish. The album’s lead single and album opener ‘Box Of Time,’ is just one of the songs that serves to support the noted statements. ‘Shot By Lies,’ which comes just ahead of the album’s midway point, does just as much to support the noted statements and will be addressed a little later. The same can be said of ‘Seeker,’ which closes out the 61-minute album. It will also be addressed later. Each song noted here is key in its own way to the whole of Stone Leaders. When they are considered along with the nine songs not noted here, the whole of those compositions makes Stone Leaders a rock solid debut effort from Stone Leaders.
Stone Leaders’ self-titled debut album is a good start for the Croation progressive rock outfit. It is a record that is certain to entertain and engage progressive rock and metal fans across the board. The album’s opener and lead single ‘Box of Time,’ is just one of the songs that serves to support the noted statements. The song’s musical arrangement can easily be likened to early works from veteran prog outfit Dream Theater. That comparison is made through the guitar work, the song’s driving bass line, its keyboard line and even its drumming. Front man Ivan Mihaljevic can himself even be likened to Dream Theater front man James Labrie due to the sound of his voice and his own stylistic approach to the song. When this is coupled alongside the work of his band mates, the whole instantly becomes comparable to songs from Dream Theater’s breakout 1992 album Images & Words. The song’s musical arrangement is just one of its most notable elements. The song’s lyrical content is anything but dark, but is still without question something very deep.
As Stone Leaders drummer John Macaluso noted of the song’s lyrical theme in a recent interview, the song’s lyrical content centers on the influence that our experiences have on us throughout our lives. He said of this concept, “You know, one day you’re doing fine until soon, you’re walking down a street, and a voice or a scent – or even a song – pulls you right back to where you were before. Ultimately, the song is about the power of the mind, because sometimes, survival depends upon this deleting mechanism in the brain.”
Macaluso’s statement is illustrated as Mihaljevic sings in the song’s lead verse, “Traveled and battled the night/A rounded knife with hell to fight with me when I shut my eyes/My perception took a fall/Thought I could put away it all/Hide it in the wall/The voice I heard walk by/Has opened up a box of time/Stored up in my mind/Locked away/Are visions left to stay?/Was taken back in time by an old sound/Brought me down.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “Running without making ground/Spirit’s footsteps my only sound/In just a flick of time/Without warning or a sign/When the venom starts to crawl through my veins and all/Over I must rise and lock down on my box of time.” Again, it is clear that what is being discussed here is someone trying to put a lot of negative memories in the back of one’s mind, but those memories coming back with the re-entry of a certain element out of nowhere. This is anything but dark, but definitely something that will most certainly reach a wide range of listeners. It is just one of the songs that serves to show why Stone Leaders a positive first effort from Stone Leaders. ‘Shot by Lies’ is another way in which this self-titled debut from Stone Leaders proves a positive overall work.
‘Shot by Lies’ comes later in the album’s run, just ahead of the album’s midway point. This song’s arrangement is another work that can be likened to early works from Dream Theater, but this time, a little later in the 90s. The song’s arrangement, whose keyboard line is much more prominent than in other songs featured in the record, is more akin to songs featured in Dream Theater’s 1997 album Falling into Infinity than its harder-edged prog metal from the early 90s and late 80s. At the same time, one could also argue that there is a hint of a Deep Purple influence added to the mix here, too. Whether one, the other or both, the reality is that this song is another of the album’s most notable additions, if only for its musical arrangement. Of course its musical arrangement is not its only point of interest. It also is notable for its lyrical content.
Mihaljevic sings in the song’s lead verse, “Analyze then sterilize and finalize the strange behavior/Humanize then neutralize/Then utilize their only savior/Amplify fears/Make them weak and trace their every word/Analyze, then sterilize and finalize their pathetic lives.” This is a bit dark, yes. Reading through these lyrics, it is as if he is perhaps talking about society’s norms and mores, and in a way, tying in commentary about how religious leaders make things worse. That is inferred with the note of “Utilize their only savior.” The references about analyzing behavior and sterilizing makes one think of how psycho analysts and psychologists deal with patients, leading them to believe that the problem is them, not society. The seeming message about social control and its impact is continued in the second verse, with Mihaljevic singing, “The tube that feeds you all you need/Controlled by holders of the greed/Antagonize to capitalize/We optimize the dread machine/Advertise to terrorize before their eyes/Dehumanizing/Tragedy will keep them weak/Secure behind the wall/Agonize to animalize, then euthanize/ Their pathetic lives.” Again, this seems to be a statement about the controlling factors in the world. Whether it has to do with the religious leaders, something else or both, the fact of the matter is that it seems to be there. It is hardly the first time that any band or group has ever focused on such a matter in music. As a matter of fact, most rock music is centered on going against societal control. To that end, the song doesn’t break new ground, but is still hard hitting in its own right, in the delivery of its message. When that message is considered alongside the song’s driving musical arrangement, the whole of those elements makes the song in whole another notable addition to Stone Leaders. It is not the last of the album’s most notable works. ‘Seeker,’ which closes out the album, is one more of the album’s most notable entries.
‘Seeker’ brings listeners a slightly more modern prog vibe with its increased keyboards and electronics. That comparison to Dream Theater circa 1997 is still there, but at the same time, listeners can hear more of a 21st Century prog vibe coupled with that late 90s prog metal sound, too. The keyboard lines can so easily be compared to those of Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess while the guitars and drumming can just as easily be likened to the work of the rest of the band. While the comparisons are so easy to make, the good thing is that despite the comparisons, Stone Leaders’ song here is not just one of those blatant ripoffs of the noted influence. That is another tribute to the band’s efforts. Far too often, bands go beyond just imitating their influences – especially up-and-coming bands, and go to the point of blatantly ripping off said influences. That doesn’t happen here or at any other point in the album. The songs just exhibit Dream Theater’s influence. Keeping this in mind, the song’s arrangement is just one part of what makes it stand out. Its lyrical content is just as important to its whole as its musical side.
Mihaljevic sings in the song’s lead verse, “Among the fear/Behind the beveled wall/Seems time stood still/Crumble, scale or fall/I was begging help me please/Voices from above/Underneath/A wonderer always sees it first. He continues in the song’ second verse, “Archive the holes/They’re hidden in the road/Making a path/A highway to the stars/Fists were banged against the wall/First it broke before the fall/Screams have left my ears you see/Searcher/Traveler/Visionary.” As this is sung, there is a softer, spoken portion in which the speaker states, “Signals begin/Emergency is declared in mind/Sensors flash, flicker/Taking their time in a hurry/Executing the next move for the soul/Beware the watcher’s will to sneak attention/To his way to creep/Strive with everlasting thirst/A seeker lives a blessed curse.” This is just this critic’s own take on this song, but it almost seems as if Mihaljevic is telling a story here, of someone who has overcome life’s trials and tribulations. Again, this is only interpretation and should not be taken as gospel. That inference comes as in the first verse, he seems to be singing about those difficult times, “begging help me please,” while in the second verse, he notes Screams have left my ears, you see.” He has become that visionary, overcoming the negative moments. Hopefully this interpretation is at least somewhere in the ballpark, and not too far from the mark. Considering the seeming story here, and even the discussion that these verses can generate even if this interpretation is incorrect, the very fact that the song is certain to generate so much discussion just on its lyrics, is another strong statement about the song. To that end, the song is just another example of what makes Stone Leaders a positive debut for Stone Leaders. When it is considered along with ‘Shot by Lies,’ ‘Box of Time’ and the rest of the album’s entries, the whole of the album proves to be a solid offering that progressive rock and metal fans alike will appreciate.
Stone Leaders’ self-titled debut record – released in March internationally and in June in the United States – is a work that progressive metal and rock fans alike will appreciate. That is proven in part through the album’s musical arrangements. The album’s arrangements easily lend themselves to comparisons to works from Dream Theater from the beginning to the end of the 12-song, 61-minute record. The arrangements can be compared easily to works created by Dream Theater at various points in its life. The good thing is that despite the clear influence of Dream Theater, the arrangements are not blatant ripoffs of Dream Theater’s songs. Rather, they use the band’s arrangements as a starting point for their own identities. The lyrical themes presented alongside the arrangements are just as interesting as the songs’ musical arrangements. The metaphorical language used in each song and the messages in the lyrics will certainly generate discussion among listeners. All three of the songs noted here serve to illustrate these statements. When they are considered along with the rest of the record’s works, the whole of the album becomes a work that is a solid starting point for the band. More information on the album is available online now along with all of Stone Leaders’ news at http://www.facebook.com/stoneleaders1.
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