BALANCE OF POWER — Ten More Tales Of Grand Illusion (review)

BALANCE OF POWER — Ten More Tales Of Grand Illusion album cover Album · 1999 · Power Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Formed in 1995 in England, Balance of Power play a fairly distinctive blend of melodic power metal, one where neoclassical metal riffs in the style of Rainbow and Malmsteen coexist with ultramelodic vocal hooks typical of AOR and arena rock bands like Journey, Asia, Bon Jovi and Toto. It’s a slightly unusual mix that injects a certain freshness into a genre, that of power metal, which by the late 1990s was overcrowded with dozens of Stratovarius clones all sounding exactly the same as everyone else. Ten More Tales of Grand Illusion is Balance of Power’s third full-length album, the second following the mini line-up revolution that took place after the band released their debut album When the World Falls Down in 1997. Original guitarist Paul Curtis and singer Tony Ritchie were replaced by Pete Southern and US-based vocalist Lance King, respectively. The lineup on this album is completed by drummer Lionel Hicks (who also produced the record), bassist Chris Dale and guitarist Bill Yates, with session musician James Walsh playing keyboards.

Musically, Ten More Tales ... alternates between light easy-listening tracks with plenty of catchy melodic hooks (“Day Breaker”; “Under the Spell”) and more muscular numbers, where the classic metal influences are stronger (“About to Burn”; the Priestesque title-track). Often the two style coexist in the space of the same song, as on the excellent “Prisoner of Pride” which moves between an exquisitely Rainbowesque riff in the verse and a gorgeous AOR melody in the chorus. There are also a few ballads where Balance of Power show traces of yet another of their influences, that of Queensryche (“Savage Tears”; “Blind Man”). This is partly due to King’s voice that can at times sound remarkably similar to Geoff Tate’s, but also to the emotionally powerful atmosphere of these songs that are stuck in a beautiful place between grandeur and melancholy, like many Queensryche's classics. The variety of styles and influences that are injected into each song is undoubtedly one of the strengths of the album, which sounds fresh, interesting and dynamic, and leaves no room for boredom.

The five musicians put in strong performances throughout and the band sound very tight as a result. The guitar parts are excellent. Southern’s riffs are powerful and melodic at the same time, in the best tradition of guitar greats such as Blackmore and Malmsteen. The rhythm section keeps things simple, favoring groove over intricacies. This works well as it allows the guitar work to shine. The keyboard interjections are used sparingly to add complexity to the arrangements. While the keys will be more dominant on later albums, on Ten More Tales … the guitars have the lion’s share of the music. On this excellent basis Lance King’s voice is the proverbial icing on the cake. The man has an impressive vocal range and sounds comfortable both when he uses his mid-range and when he climbs up towards the highest notes. He also manages to be expressive throughout his range, a quality that is relatively uncommon among power metal singers (I lost count of the number of sterile high-pitched squeals I had to endure while listening to power metal albums of the time). King's strong performance is one of the highlights of this album, as of all the other Balance of Power’s records where he performed.

Despite strong performances and interesting musical ideas, Ten More Tales … isn’t the strongest album Balance of Power have released in their career. Its biggest limit, in my view, is that some of the material is somewhat lackluster. It seems to me that on this album Balance of Power are still looking for the perfect formula to write the music they hear in their head. At times, everything falls into place and then we have first-rate numbers like “Prisoner of Pride”, “Savage Tears”, “About to Burn” and the title-track. But elsewhere things drag a little. The ballad “Blind Man” is overlong and tepid, its 6:51 minutes seemingly lasting forever. “The Darker Side”, yet another ballad, is too pedestrian and saccharine. Tracks like “Under the Spell”, “Under Innocence Wing” and “Sins of the World” are fairly unremarkable, lacking the melodic punch of the album’s better tracks.

Overall, the quality of the material on Ten More Tales … is too heterogeneous to allow me to rate the record higher than this. Nevertheless, this is a good album that will please fans of the more melodic side of metal. It confirms Balance of Power as a “band to watch” and Lance King’s as one of the most talented singers in the metal arena. But if you are new to the band, I recommend that you start from their next album, Perfect Balance, which is where Balance of Power's great promise will come to complete fruition.

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