Sometimes it's hard to review an album; you need to listen to it several times to judge it properly. I'm glad to say that Toxic Smile didn't make it hard on me. All the musical styles I like come together on their latest album I'm Your Saviour. The music is a blend of progressive art rock, powerful progressive metal and hints of fusion combined with epic song structures. So after I had listened to the album once it was obvious that Toxic Smile is the perfect band for me. Well, that's it, five stars for the album and the shortest review I've ever written... but no, I can't be satisfied by only writing the above lines. If you rate an album with five stars readers need an explanation. And surely I will give credits to an album that will make it to my top-10 of 2011 even if it's January yet!
When keyboardist Marek Arnold lived in Leipzig back in 1996, he was bored with playing student-like jazz. He and drummer Daniel Zehe started a band named Toxic Smile. Soon they recruited guitarist Uwe Reinholz, but finding the right vocalist took them two years. So, when Larry B. finally joined the ranks, his voice immediately became the trademark of Toxic Smile. In 2000, bass player Robert Brenner joined the band to complete the line-up. They recorded their debut album Madness And Despair (2000) that was later on re-released by a Korean label as M.A.D. containing some new songs. After the follow-up RetroTox Forte (2004), the band started to work on a classical project called Waldenburg, but then Daniel Zehe suddenly left the band. Just in time a replacement was found to play on the DVD Live On Progparade V. A year later the DVD Toxic Smile In Classic Extension was released. After this the band members got involved in individual projects and bands. A special band I would like to mention is Marek Arnold's Seven Steps To The Green Door that released two magnificent albums. In 2010, after a six year break, Toxic Smile recorded the brand-new album I'm Your Saviour with drummer Robert Eisfeld as replacement for their former drummer Daniel Zehe.
After this short history of the band you still wonder why I'm Your Saviour is worth five stars. Well, all compositions have their own identity and none of them are alike. Some bands have a gift of composing in such a way that there is coherency between the individual songs. However, rather often these songs sound all pretty much alike. For Toxic Smile all songs are different and challenging with elements of varied musical styles that mark the individual songs. First song Liquid Wall has a nice intro, the piano turns into a wonderful synthesizer part and the basic drums and bass wait for the guitar. After four minutes you hear why Larry B. really puts his stamp on the band: wow, what a vocalist he is! His voice has the same intensity as the voice of Unitopia' s Mark Trueack, but Larry B. has more diversity in his way of singing. The choruses in the songs are perfectly balanced and the layers of piano and keyboards create a great atmosphere. Change has the same energy as a band like Threshold or Dream Theater, but again the vocals make the difference. The keyboards have been mixed in the front which gives this heavy piece a special sound. The interaction of the keyboards and the drums in the middle-section clearly differs from the usual guitar solo. The Abyss, with a Rage Against The Machine-intro, goes on easily after that, smoother but with the RATM-riff softly in the background. Energetic vocals, soaring keyboards, a spoken part in German and ending with some fine fiery guitar work make this again a tasteful song.
Hidden Brand belongs to the more sensitive and personal songs on I'm Your Saviour. A jazzy fretless bass on top of a piano, emotional vocals and a guitar/keyboard melody make this one jazzy and progressive. The acoustic ballad Walked By Fear is emotional as well. The guitar and piano provide for a sensitive background for the laid-back vocals and the jazzy fretless bass solo is the icing on the cake. Endless Cycle starts with a soaring Hammond and a heavy guitar and belongs to the heavier songs. It has some brilliant keyboards and in combination with the guitar, the drums and the powerful vocals, this song turns into a stunning heavy, but still melodic progressive metal song. Pride And Joy starts like Steve Lukather plays on top of a fine piano part and continues with pleasant vocals in the vein of Unitopia, but the jazzy diction in Larry's voice makes sure that Toxic Smile keeps to its own style. Poles Apart has a seventies keyboard jazz opening and smooth vocals. Larry's voice makes you enjoy every minute of the song. His intensity and passion will cause goose bumps! The title track blends all aforementioned influences into an eight-minute highlight. You'll enjoy power, emotion, a heavy atmosphere and outstanding craftsmanship until the last note has died away.
It's obvious that I really liked listening to this album. On the one hand you'll experience diversity and power and on the other intensity and passion together with outstanding compositions and superb vocals. I think this is going to be one of the best albums of 2011.
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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