I'd like to start this review by saying that I am a big fan of the genre of Progressive Metal. You might even say I'm an addict. As a fan/addict of the genre, it probably comes as no surprise that two of my top 10 favorite bands are Dream Theater and Symphony X – both bands I am proud to say came from my home country of America. But one of the things I love about Progressive Metal as a genre is the diversity – I love that it spans the globe and these days it seems Progressive Metal bands are springing up in every continent, and bringing new perspective as they meld their cultural styles with the "typical" stylistic elements of Progressive Metal. But I've also noticed (with some disappointment) over the years that it seems that America has been lagging: it seems that there is not a very good ratio of American Progressive Metal acts, compared to some other countries around the globe.
Enter the scene: The Great Gamble, a Progressive Metal group originally formed in Scranton, PA. Right away, I was impressed by the quality of the work presented in this, as of yet, unsigned band. Their debut album, Book 1, not only shows great skill in both the playing and compositions (with all but two tracks spanning over 10 minutes long), but the quality of the recording is also remarkably good, considering that they are not backed by a record label. But what makes this group special is how they demonstrate some of the diversity I have mentioned in my opening. First off, the most easily noticeable distinction of the group is the fact that they are made up entirely of people of African American heritage. In a genre almost entirely populated by musicians of some form of European heritage, this is an immediately apparent unique factor. I believe this also helps to give them a unique sound as the vocals have a particularly strong and powerful feel to them. The group also builds some very nice, full vocal harmonies, utilizing the vocal skills of three of the band members to build them. Another unique addition to their sound is the violin playing of band member Matt Weaver (who also plays keyboards on the album). Added to the somewhat "classic" Progressive Metal sound of the rest of the group, this addition gives them a unique flavor. But perhaps one of the rarest qualities of this group is the fact that they openly portray themselves through the biographies on their various web sites as being a band made up of members of the Christian faith. Their album, Book 1, portrays this in a way that is perhaps subtle, but tasteful, without being "in your face" about it in a way that will discourage people who do not share their faith from listening. Book 1 is a concept album, the story centering around a protagonist who is on a journey to redemption and fulfillment, caught in the midst of a war between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. The story is metaphorical, to the effect that the protagonist could be anyone, with battles representing real life struggles, and inspired by warrior stories from the Bible.
This album has all the right ingredients to appeal to the Progressive Metal connoisseur – long compositions, an epic story line, great musicianship, instrumental sections, compound time signatures – and I found myself comparing the album to some of "the greats" in my collection. What amazes me is that there is very little that separates this group from "the greats" of Progressive Metal, in my opinion, even at this very early stage of their career and with no recording label backing them. This band is definitely one to keep your eye on as they may very well become one of the next big names on the scene for Progressive Metal!
Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org