It appears as if Mark Boals has put his unfortunate episodes with Yngwie Malmsteen — and some of Malmsteen’s musical influence — behind him. The over-the-top singer, you may recall, left Malmsteen’s band under less-than-amicable terms shortly before the release of the guitarist’s last album, 2000’s War To End All Wars, and began concentrating on his solo career. Ring of Fire is the new name for the band that joined Boals on his 2000 solo album (also titled Ring of Fire), which often sounded like another Malmsteen record — especially with guitar virtuoso Tony MacAlpine, keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij (Artension) and drummer Virgil Donati (Planet X) playing on it.
This time out, MacAlpine had prior commitments to fulfill, but Kuprij and Donati return and are joined by guitarist George Bellas (Mogg/Way) and bass player Philip Bynoe (Steve Vai). The Oracle remains an unabashedly neoclassical power-metal record. But as with Boals’ solo album last year, it’s not loaded with too many generic songs punctuated by double-bass drums, frantic keyboards and banshee vocals. And tracks like the title cut, “Vengeance for Blood,” “Land of Illusion” and “Take Me Home,” despite their cliché titles, carry surprisingly memorable melodies and harmonies that almost make you forgive Boals for such standard fare as “Circle of Time” and “Shadow in the Dark.”
The Oracle probably won’t alter your opinion — for better or for worse — of this genre, but at least it offers a few stunning diversions from the norm. And with crisp engineering and mixing by Erik Norlander and Neil Citron (Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane), the album sounds as cool as Eric Philippe’s cover art looks.