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Saracen: Marilyn

British rock veterans Saracen are back with another concept album, this time focusing on the life of none other than Marilyn Monroe; that explains the title of the album, but leaves me bewildered in terms of the album artwork, which looks more like the artwork of a power metal or folk metal release well, enough about that. Let us focus on the music.

The main direction of the music on this album is that of metal-tinged hard rock (it is worth noting that Saracen's early efforts were considered part of the NWoBHM-movement) with symphonic and progressive tendencies. Some tracks, like 'Make this Body Work', 'Break the Spell' are 'Unfinished Life' straight hardrocking metal tunes and I especially enjoy the two latter because of their obvious NWoBHM roots, and 'Who Am I' contains a good ole boogie section, while the first and last couple of minutes are lime taken from a cheesy ballad. Other tracks are more along the lines of AOR-friendly melodic hard rock with metal elements, such as 'Norma Jean' and 'Marilyn' (cleverly linked together by the same theme and repetition of the same passages and sections) and the heavier 'Whither the Wind Blows', while 'Love Like a Razorblade' is a heavy and dark blues rock track. There are also ballads aplenty, some of which appeal to me while others do not. I do like the Country-Western oriented 'Hold On' and the more folky 'Not For Sure' which gives me goosebumps because of the vocal performance by guest vocalist Robin Beck and the overall melancholic atmosphere of the whole song. I am not a big fan of the above-mentioned ballad sections of 'Who Am I', and 'Feel Like Going Home' does not do anything for me either.

While not a progressive rock album as such, there are, as mentioned, some progressive elements on the album, such as the use of saxophones in metal songs (which I totally love about this album), keyboard figures akin to Duke-era Genesis, clean guitars overlaid on distorted guitars, the symphonic feel to many of the tracks, and, of course, Marilyn is a concept album.

Not all of the album appeals equally much to me, but that is because it is such a varied album. Being the metalhead that I am deep down, I prefer tracks like 'Break the Spell' (probably my favorite track on the album), 'Unfinished Life', 'Whither the Wind Blows' and the 'Norma Jean'/'Marilyn' pair to the more ballady tracks (well, as mentioned above, 'Nor For Sure' really is something else). There is no denying that the musicianship is high on this album, and some people may be interested to know that not only does Robin Beck make a guest appearance on this album, so do Issa and Steve Overland.

Marilyn is a very well put together album, and is recommended to fans of melodic metal and hard rock, and prog rock fans might also like it. I do not enjoy all tracks on the album equally, and my own personal rating would be 3 or 3.5 stars, but I have rated the album 4 stars because I consider the variation that causes me to not like all tracks a positive trait of album because, at the end of the day, variation is always a good thing.

Track Listing:
1. Norma Jeane
2. Whither the Wind Blows
3. Hold On
4. Make This Body Work
5. Who Am I
6. Love Like A Razorblade
7. Break the Spell
8. Not For Sure
9. Like Going Home
10. Unfinished Life
11. Marilyn

Added: August 28th 2011
Reviewer: Kim Jensen
Related Link: Saracen official website
Hits: 3339
Language: english

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Saracen: Marilyn
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-08-27 17:54:33
My Score:

Back in 2006, the Saracen album Vox In Excelso was a triumphant return for a band who had last released a set of new songs almost twenty years prior, with the bold concept which covered 2000 years of history of the legendary Knights Templar being as complex as it was captivating. Featuring sparse narration the songs were the sort of melodic pomp rock that oozed authority, authenticity and atmosphere, creating an album so complete that picking faults with it was nigh on impossible and I still think it is best release to come from the Escape label.

So move forward five years and Saracen have returned once more with a concept as bold, if somewhat more unexpected, moving from the mystical, if fact based story, to the life and times of Marilyn Monroe. It may be an odd choice for an album's story, but again Saracen's sympathetic lyrical turn and ability to write music that tells as much of the story as the words is in evidence, leading to another remarkably accomplished album. For a huge fan of the band like myself (I think you'd guessed that by now), there is however a little problem that I have slowly but surely been able to put to the side, but nevertheless it is still there. With the lyrics actually in places using the words of Marilyn, the use of a female vocalist was I suppose somewhat inevitable. However having Robin Beck (of "First Time" Coca-Cola commercial song fame) handle vocals on five songs, one as a duet with FM frontman Steve Overland, as well as Issa adding her dulcet tones to one other track, leaves little room for one of Saracen's most potent weapons to hit home. That weapon is the unmistakable voice of Steve Bettney, who while still featuring on the album does see much less action than I had hoped for, or expected. What that actually leads to is an album with a little more AOR/Melodic Rock styling than Saracen have ever provided before and in truth at first is a little disappointing. That's not to say that the three vocalists who "guest" on the album aren't all hugely talented, as they undoubtedly are, even if Beck is, as ever, just slightly too over the top for me.

After repeated listens and with tempered expectations, Marilyn does actually begin to release its charms, as well as its Saracen trademarks and while I would still like to hear much more of Bettney's rounded, blissful vocals, it does become apparent why the band have chosen to go down the path they have. Musically, as mentioned things are a little more MHR than Saracen have served up before, but it is still done with more than a tinge of the Magnum-esque pomp the band are known for. Like with Vox In Excelso, Saracen have also refused to shy away from the more controversial side of their subject, highlighting Miss Monroe's faults, as well as her attributes, making for a compelling story that is neither twee, nor gushing. Instead songs like "Feel Like Going Home", "Who Am I", where Beck and Overland combine quite superbly and the Issa track "Hold On" are believable story links that draw you in both musically and lyrically. Bettney stamps his authority all over "Whither The Wind Blows" and "Break The Spell" and personally I still think that these are the songs which work best, although I have to admit that I find it almost impossible to shake the chorus, provided by Beck, of closing track "Marilyn" from my head.

Yet again Saracen have taken on a project that many bands would quite rightly shy away from and created a hugely impressive album. It may in places be a bit of a departure for them, but all good rock outfits should move on from release to release and with Marilyn, Saracen sound fresh and have delivered another album straight from their heart.

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