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Touchstone - "The City Sleeps" (CD)

Touchstone - "The City Sleeps" CD cover image

"The City Sleeps" track listing:

1. Corridors
2. When Shadows Fall
3. These Walls
4. Throw Them To The Sky
5. Sleeping Giants
6. Good Boy Psycho
7. Horizons
8. Half Moon Meadow
9. The City Sleeps
10. Corridors Epiphany

Reviewed by on January 29, 2012

"With an abundance of synthesizers, sound beds, and shredding, you can almost hear Eddie Van Halen's nod of approval when listening to 'The City Sleeps.'"

With an abundance of synthesizers, sound beds, and shredding, you can almost hear Eddie Van Halen's nod of approval when listening to "The City Sleeps." This British prog rock act's third album offers a slew of high-gain riffs and major-scaled melodies, along with driving bass-drum syncopation from the hands of highly competent players. The songs feel lifted out of the 80s, where the days of gallivanting around the stage and jump-kicking were totally fine. However, there's somewhat of a story line to the lyrics and narration on the title track, which feels a bit out of place with this kind of music.

"Corridors" enters in a Rush-like opening, but unfolds into bombastic synth-rock fronted by the soprano of Kim Seviour, backed by keyboardist/vocalist Rob Cottingham. Cottingham's backing vocals are good, but it's when he steps into the lead position that he really shines on this album. On "When Shadows Fall," his dramatic voice is akin to Reflexion's Juha Kylmänen's, only with less Ville Vallo about it and more delicate. Seviour's voice comes across as very modern in style and an interesting fit on top of the pomp of the music.

The melodies, drumming, and keyboard sound beds are the strong points of the album. "When Shadows Fall" has the album's most fun and memorable melodies, although the chopped-up lyric lines lead one to believe that the vocal melodies were written pre-lyrics and just applied afterwards. This makes the delivery seem a bit adolescent at times. Drummer Henry Rogers has tricks up his sleeves that he exploits for his fills and favors a very kick-drum-heavy Alex Van Halen-type drum sound. He shines on tracks like "Horizons" and "Half Moon Meadow."

"These Walls" and "Throw Them to the Sky" are easily a mash-up of Saga-type short songs and just about anything from the book of 80s classic rock. "Sleeping Giants" slows things down in ballad style at first as Cottingham gives a strong lead vocal performance. It continues with the full band after a thick vintage keyboard solo. "Good Boy Psycho" has a few odd-fitting rhythms, but is saved by pre-chorus build ups and a bright chorus. Adam Hodgson's guitar solos on the album are a bit sloppy, but the feeling is there and the tone is full. "Half Moon Meadow" has some particularly bright lighter-in-the-air acoustic guitar work.

The title track is a 12-minute prog indulgence with narration by Anna-Marie Wayne, the daughter of the famed "War of the Worlds" composer Jeff Wayne. It's not essential, but she does have a nice whispering voice. "Corridors Epiphany" wraps up the album with the re-entrance of the "Corridors" ending melody, punctuated by Paul Moorghen's subtle bass playing. Overall, the band's sound on "The City Sleeps" is dated but enthusiastic and fun. You won't find keyboards playing a stronger role in a modern mix than on here or on a Flower Kings record.

Highs: "When Shadows Fall," "Half Moon Meadow," "Sleeping Giants"

Lows: Occasionally sloppy lead guitars.

Bottom line: Party rock meets girl-fronted metal and a synth motherload.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Reviewed by on January 29, 2012

"Touchstone has moved into another realm, one where the group compares more to progressive rock than progressive metal."

U.K. progressive rock/metal band Touchstone is back with a third album entitled “The City Sleeps.” The most notable difference is that the band has shifted from a heavier progressive metal sound on “Wintercoast” (2009) to an even more Marillion-esque progressive rock sound with 80’s elements. With the shift, the band goes from a more guitar driven sound to even more keyboard driven one.

“The City Sleeps” has its moments of purely enjoyable prog rock, but also has points that give true meaning to the album title. As a huge fan of Marillion and Magnum, I wasn't taken by the sound adjustment as it wasn't such a massive stretch from the band’s last release. There are even times when the escalating then cascading keyboard melodies are evenly matched with that of Marillion’s Mark Kelly (check out the mid-section of “Sleeping Giants,” “Horizons,” and the title track). The guitar work is not gone by any stretch as songs like “Good Boy Psycho” (the album’s heaviest track), the midsection of “Horizons,” and the amazing solo in “Half Moon Meadow” can attest.

Female vocalist Kim Seviour presents a more soulful, and a bit more droning, vocal style than the more energetic one on “Wintercoast.” It may be more a product of the material, which is more moody than previous efforts, than a change in her style (see “Throw Them to the Sky”). On the previous release, Seviour’s debut, she opened up and really let loose. Here she is seems a little more dour and subdued, but still she is a fantastic vocalist as shown on tracks like “Sleeping Giants” and “Good Boy Psycho.” She compliments keyboardist Rob Cottingham’s quieter style quite well.

For me, progressive rock requires a certain mood to prevent my falling into a deep slumber. On “The City Sleeps” there are times when the sweet harmonies and softly song interludes can instantly relax and calm one’s senses to the point of deep sleep. Then there are times when the album becomes a mind blowing display of musical perfection that laces most progressive albums, especially with the epic eleven plus minute title track (the sequel to the title track of the band’s previous effort “Wintercoast”).

Touchstone has moved into another realm, one where the group compares more to progressive rock than progressive metal. For some, this may be a welcome and natural progression for this highly talented lot. The band is a natural fit for the genre.

Highs: Fantastic display of of high quality musicianship.

Lows: Some points of the album can really put that city to sleep.

Bottom line: Touchstone both dazzles and lulls, proving "The City" really does "Sleep."

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)