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Man on Fire: Chrysalis

Man On Fire's sophomore effort, The Undefined Design (2003) featuring special guest David Ragsdale (Kansas, Smashing Pumpkins) on violin, helped lift this band into the spotlight of the progressive world. The band is centered around the keyboards and vocals of producer Jeff Hodges. The band includes Eric Sands on fretless bass and guitar; imagery and lyrics from Steve Carroll; Elise Testone on guest vocals; Quentin Ravenel on drums; Jenny Hugh on violin; and Cameron Harder Handel, on trumpet.

Everything about this album is unique and interesting. Testone needs a permanent place in this band to provide that extra change in direction a female lead would give the band. They really do a great job of weaving 80s pop and rock with today's progressive rhythms.

'Repeat It' opens with cool bass and keys full of drama. Then Hodges' vocals bring forth Steve Carroll's lyrics, full of imagery from the chaotic news fed world of the present. The drums are excellent in helping to surround the sound with pinpoint emotion. The mood of the guitars and bass do a good job of creating a world obsessed by violence and destruction.

'In a Sense' opens with piano and keyboard effects before Testone's vocal effects and then Hodges takes over the lead vocals, with Testone accompanying to provide balance. This track is full of funky rhythms intertwined with progressive elements, giving this band its unique sounding signature. The violin adds another layer of dimension to the sound as the drums pick up pace and the bass, guitar and keys sketch a unique rhythm and sound.

Keyboards open 'A (Post Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story' triumphantly. Then Hodges, "Time slips away; it's just shades of gray". This song has an 80s rock ballad feel to it and with Hodges and Testone combining on vocals you are taken back to some of the great duets of that era. Hodges sounds so much like Daniel MacMaster, from the band Bonham on this track. The trumpet provides the new inspiration necessary to make this unique. The bass and guitar work is excellent.

Piano like keys open the four part dramatic epic, 'Chrysalis Part 1 In Between the Lines', before some guitar is added and Hodges takes over on vocals. Trumpet, pulsing drums, keys, bass, and guitar take off and build rhythm and sound. Testone returns to provide backing vocals. The cool trumpet solos give this a nice jazz mixed sound and add elegance to the overall soundscape.

'Chrysalis - Part 2 The Pundits' is full of more piano and bass, with lead guitar taking to the stage to fill out more of the soundscape.

'Chrysalis - Part 3 The Muse Returns' is full of even more heavy lead guitar, drums, bass, and cool key effects. It's an instrumental piece, and is highlighted by majestic keys which take the sound higher.

'Chrysalis - Part 4 Free to Fall' brings even more mystical keys and heavy lead guitar mixed with bass and drums. Hodges is back on vocals, "Gotta find my way around...the chrysalis of you." Testone's supporting vocals are excellent.

'The Projectionist' opens slowly with percussion and keys, before bass and then lead electric guitars cut in. This time Hodges is near screaming on vocals, "The wheel keeps turning." The lead electric solos supported by haunting keys is just magnificent and an album highlight for sure. Testone's haunting, echoing vocals only add to the cool effect.

'Tear Gas' is full of cool keys and an upbeat rhythm filled with guitar and Hodges providing a varied vocal sound. Testone's vocals add so much to the sound, but her backing presence is not enough. She needs to be up front for a song or two. The trumpet adds more inspiration as the bass weaves crystal clear through it.

'Higher than Mountains' brings back more of that 80s feel with keys, guitar, bass, and drums. The experimental guitar and keyboard work is exceptional on this track.

'Gravity' is full of wonderful piano like keys and synthesized effects. The guitar and bass mixed with drums build rhythm as Testone finally gets brought to the front of the stage to provide true female lead vocals and the change is fantastic!

Bonus 'Gravity instrumental'

Track Listing:

1. 'Repeat It'
2. 'In a Sense'
3. 'A (Post Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story'
4. 'Chrysalis Part 1 In Between the Lines'
5. 'Chrysalis - Part 2 The Pundits'
6. 'Chrysalis - Part 3 The Muse Returns'
7. 'Chrysalis - Part 4 Free to Fall'
8. 'The Projectionist'
9. 'Tear Gas'
10. 'Higher than Mountains'
11. 'Gravity'
12. Bonus 'Gravity instrumental'

Added: September 15th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Score:
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 3087
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Man on Fire: Chrysalis
Posted by Brian Block, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-15 19:56:49
My Score:

Man on Fire has been around since 1999, and even though they've been around for 12 years they're still putting out great material. To be honest, I'd never heard of this band before I got their newest CD, but I'm glad I did. This album has definitely made a cause to look into this bands back catalog too. One of the great things about this album is that they integrated awesome horn sections into the typical prog rock sound.

Chrysalis reminds me a lot of earlier Spock's Beard, and that is great. I love Spock's Beard, so anything that sounds like them is a huge plus. This album also has an eclectic side to it that is shown throughout the album. The fretless bass, played by Eric Sands, is absolutely amazing and adds a jazzier sound to the album. The guitar work on this album is also very good especially on "In A Sense". Another thing this album has going for it is the four part epic, "Chrysalis", which encompasses a bunch of musical genres. It ranges from rock, to jazz, and even some Motown all wrapped together into one epic. This album also comes with a second, one song epic titles "Gravity". "Gravity" is by far the most impressive track on the album, and really shows the immense amount of talent in this group. The keyboards to open it up are absolutely superb and mix very well with the drums later on to make a sort of funk groove. The organ and synth in this song remind me a lot of Spock's Beard, like I said earlier.

This release is definitely one of the best prog rock albums of 2011, and yet another great one from 10T Records. Even though it tops out at just below an hour, it never gets boring and keeps bringing new ideas and rhythms to the table that really add to the overall feel of the album. Chrysalis is definitely worthy of 4 stars.

Man on Fire: Chrysalis
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-14 20:06:47
My Score:

Chrysalis is one of those albums that manages to be complex, tricky, and progressive as hell, yet still melodic and instantly accessible. Similarly to fellow American prog rockers like Echolyn and Spock's Beard, Man on Fire offers a quirky and modern progressive concoction that still sounds fresh and inspired. Chrysalis doesn't try to hide its eclectic list of influences, but instead successfully blends them all together into a sound that is unique and instantly recognizable. Man on Fire's ability to blend progressive rock, jazz, pop, metal, and even funky R&B with such finesse is admirable, and their impressive skills as musicians and composers make this effort all the more noteworthy. Chrysalis is a professional, well-composed, and original prog rock album - anyone who's wondering what that sounds like here in 2011 is bound to love this fourth observation from Man on Fire!

Even though Chrysalis is an album that sounds like no other, Man on Fire has a distinct American prog rock touch that brings acts like Spock's Beard, Kansas, and especially Echolyn to mind. Man on Fire is clearly more rooted in jazz than any of the aforementioned acts, though, and Eric Sands's fretless bass, Cameron Harder Handel's expressive trumpet, and Quentin Ravenel's jazzy drumming keep the band from ever sounding derivative or conventional. The compositions have distinct melodic pop hooks, but the dense instrumentation and quirky instrumental portions always keep things interesting - songs like "Gravity" and the four-song title track suite are all representative of the great music contained on this disc. The sleek musicianship, parred by the equally stunning production, both allow Chrysalis to sound like the work of progressive rock veterans.

Chrysalis is one of those rare albums that manages to be both unique and enjoyable, and I'll applaud Man on Fire all day long for crafting an album this well-composed and professional. People who enjoy acts like Echolyn, but with an additional dose of eclecticism, will find some of the year's best music with this CD. Jam-packed with memorable hooks, complex instrumentals, and powerful vocals, Man on Fire have succeeded tremendously with this effort! 4 stars and a very warm recommendation are both well-deserved. If you haven't checked out these American prog rockers yet, I think Chrysalis is a fine introduction.

Man on Fire: Chrysalis
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-08 18:23:01
My Score:

Man on Fire have always been one of those bands that seems to defy categorization. 1998's Man on Fire, 2003's The Undefined Design, and 2005's Habitat all kind of floated between progressive rock, pop, jazz, hard rock, trip-hop, psychedelia, and ambient styles, making for a puzzling mish-mash of sounds, textures, colors, and tones that is never boring and always exciting, fresh, and enjoyable. Their brand new release Chrysalis is no exception and continues a strong line of albums and easily the most dazzling of the four.

In case you are not familiar with Man on Fire, the band is comprised of singer, producer, & multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hodges, lyricist Steve Carroll (both also co-owners of label 10T Records), bassist/guitarist Eric Sands, and new members Elise Testone on vocals, drummer Quentin Ravenell, Cameron Harder Handel on trumpet, and violininst Jenny Hugh. Together, this bunch have created some real magic here on Chrysalis, a musical piece of work that impresses on the first listen and becomes more and more enjoyable each and every time you pop it in your CD player.

As always, Man on Fire delivers a wide assortment of styles and sounds here. Lead off track "Repeat It" mixes funk, techno, rock, and prog for a groove laden ride that features plenty of fat bass lines, bubbling keyboards, and driving guitar riffs. Instantly memorable and addicting, this is a real winner and a great vehicle for Hodges's powerful vocals. The elastic fretless bass of Sands and Hugh's gorgeous violin make for a majestic pair on the quirky "In a Sense", a tune also noteworthy for the great vocal interplay from Hodges & Testone. Funk, R&B, pop, and prog, it's all there and then some. Hodges' melodic piano kicks off the wonderful "A (Post Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story'", which is almost like a chance meeting between Kansas and Michael Jackson, complete with killer grooves, passionate vocals, and lovely instrumentation. The addition of soaring trumpet on this one adds a nice jazzy touch. The four part title track is a feast for prog and jazz-fusion lovers, as the band crank up some intricate arrangements that highlight guitar, bass, keys, and trumpet (Sands' muscular guitar solos are quite tasty), plus the excellent vocal delivery from both Hodges & Testone continues. These two work so well together, you'd assume that they have been playing and recording together for years.

You'll almost think the great Tony Levin is contributing fretless bass on the bubbly "The Projectionist", but it's actually Sands who steals the show here, and the upbeat "Tear Gas" has a strong 80's new wave/dance/disco/industrial feel to it, with groove laden beats and buzzing synths flying about the mix. I'm reminded of a more futuristic sounding Yes or even Gentle Giant on the wild prog rocker "Higher Than Mountains", a real workout for Ravenell's drums but also featuring crisp guitar riffs, layers of keyboards, and more of that spectacular fretless bass. The best however is saved for last with the 10-minute "Gravity", a catchy prog rock piece that has so many layers you'll have to listen to it multiple times to make sure you'ce caught everything. Acoustic guitar textures, synths, Mellotron, dreamy vocals, intricate drums, sizzling electric guitar, yep, it's all here, and when the funky & jazzy horns kick in, it takes things up to another level entirely. This is one of these tunes you'll want to play over and over, and the band even gives us an instrumental version which is just as much fun.

Yep, Chrysalis is that damn good, one of those CDs that gets better with each listen, and an album that you'll want to share with all your 'non prog' friends to show them just how much fun and accessible a prog album can be. Well, now that I'm done with this review, I'm going to crank this one up again!

Man on Fire: Chrysalis
Posted by Scott Ward, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-08 09:53:01
My Score:

Man On Fire's recent offering Chrysalis gives the listener a decent dose of progressive rock and roll with a healthy heaping of retro groove that brings back visions of a group like Detroit's Rare Earth. Mixed with the modern sound is a funkiness that belongs in Motown. "in a sense..." is a prime example with a bass line and female background vocal that is straight out of that time period but then the violin and lead guitar give you a much more progressive tone. This mixture is very original and is highly addictive.

With the piano driven "A (post-apocalyptic) bedtime story" the band gives you a very regal sounding ballad complete with tantalizing orchestration that shows the diversity of the band and a willingness to explore all areas of music and do so with amazing ability to create a sonic atmosphere that the listener will easily absorb. This is just great music no matter how you slice it.

The four part epic title track "Chrysalis" is a musical journey that hits upon many different genres with a blend that keeps you listening and eager to hear more. Sometimes jazzy, pure rock and roll in another moment and as stated before, a real funky edge that has this Michigan native longing for his Motown roots.

All in all this disc is what an exceptional progressive band is suppose to do. Make you feel the music instead of just hear it. Not often will you find such a well crafted piece that has such an alluring dynamics as this disc. They have found a sound that should appeal to both the old time rockers and the fans of groups such as Spock's Beard and Porcupine Tree. It is a real treat to the senses and one of the most creative efforts I have heard this year.

Man on Fire: Chrysalis
Posted by Brandon Strader, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-06 05:50:06
My Score:

Disregarding the somewhat straight forward opener, "Repeat It", Man On Fire deliver an intricate and stunning album. The production and songwriting is quite modern, yet it would be hard to mistake Chrysalis for anything but progressive rock. Primary differences may involve shorter, more focused compositions, yet still expansive enough to propel the music above your standard rock. Chrysalis sounds very uplifting and hopeful with a few darker, minor-chord portions strewn about. It's very reminiscent of a younger, more humble Pain of Salvation with the quality of vocals, and diversity of instrumentation. The guest trumpeter and violinist add a unique flair to songs like "The Pundits" and "A (Post-Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story".

The songs are condensed enough that the listening experience does not become tedious; on the contrary, Chrysalis is quite enjoyable and easily accessible. The large variety of instruments and stylistic shifts keeps the music from ever becoming stagnant. The electronic effects and glitch sounds scattered throughout are also very well done, such as those in the funky jam "Tear Gas". With Chrysalis, Man On Fire show a high level of creativity as well as a superb attention to detail.



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