Like all Enchant albums, the magnitude of Tug of War (the band's seventh studio album) doesn't hit you immediately. Sure, the eloquent and atmospheric genre-bending San Francisco-area quintet has a way with melodies that suck you in upon first listen. But to fully appreciate and understand the depth of Enchant, you need to succumb to its aural pleasures slowly and over time. Enchant's attention to musical details (minor-key guitars and keyboards dance with a groove-heavy rhythm section in the verses of "Hold the Wind"), its willingness to show lyrical emotion (opening track "Sinking Sand" expresses singer Ted Leonard's anger after hearing his brother is HIV positive) and its wit ("Living In A Movie" recounts a comical and exagerrated bad day that borders on the absurd) gain added brilliance with each listen. And its organic approach gives the band a universal appeal that firmly roots it in reality. No tales of dragons and warlords here.
Of particular note on Tug of War are "Beautiful," a piano-based song written by guitarist Doug Ott after a fight with his wife, "Long Way Down," a bouncy track about the temptations of infidelity, and "See No Evil," an AOR-influenced rocker examining how society blurs the line between right and wrong. All three are perhaps the closest Enchant has come yet to crafting radio-friendly songs. A lush limited-edition version of Tug of War also includes a live version of "Below Zero" from 1997's Wounded and detailed liner notes with intricate insight into the disc from all five band members.
That said when you consider how Enchant upped the heavy quotient on 2002's Blink of an Eye and appeared to be in the midst of a creative fury, Tug of War could have been more adventurous. Only a handful of songs (the title track, "Sinking Sand," "Queen of the Informed") pick up where the last album left off in terms of heaviness. But as a tradeoff of sorts, the quirky instrumental "Progtology" remains true to its title and embraces more classic progressive overtones than previous Enchant records. Mellotron, anyone?
Despite a few personnel changes over the years – Bill Jenkins makes his recording debut here on keyboards – Enchant has clearly carved its niche. And while the band may not tour North America, garner airplay or even sell tons of CDs, the fact that its artistry is seldom imitated speaks volumes. Regardless of whether you've heard Enchant's older albums, by digesting Tug of War – song by song, passage by passage, lyric by lyric – you'll hopefully gain a greater appreciation of just how special Enchant has become.