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The Scintilla Project (featuring Biff Byford): The Hybrid

Unsurprisingly, the sticker on the front of The Hybrid by The Scintilla Project proudly proclaims that "Biff Byford of Saxon & friends bring you a concept album inspired by the film 'Scintilla'"; the frontman of the NWOBHM being an undoubted draw, especially when you consider how few "extracurricular" projects he partakes in. However for those of us with more than a passing interest in UK Progressive Metal, what that sticker omits to tell us is that Biff's friends actually include Balance Of Power bassist and songwriter Tony Ritchie and drummer Lionel Hicks and while BoP guitarist Pete Southern doesn't appear on the album (he did co-write, alongside Hicks, the only track not solely penned by Ritchie), this is as close as we've come to a Balance Of Power reunion since 2003's Heathen Machine.

The project itself came together when Hicks, now a film producer, was introduced to Byford via Saxon album producer Toby Jepson when the band were asked to contribute a song of their own to the movie Scintilla - "No Rest For The Wicked" from the Call To Arms album being selected (and included on this release as a bonus cut). However as Byford and Hicks became more acquainted, so the idea to create a concept album around the movie began to take shape - The Hybrid being the result.

The story of the movie is perfect for a Sci-Fi concept album, with Scintilla being "A science fiction thriller set deep underground in the wilds of a former Soviet state where strange genetic experiments are taking place. A war weary mercenary is hired to lead a company scientist to the secret underground laboratory with his team of mercenaries to steal the research in the laboratory. Along the way the good people face dangerous militia involved in a bloodthirsty civil war, strange monsters lurking in the abandoned tunnels of the old Soviet bunker and finally they meet the scientist running the genetic experiments and her terrifying secret." More importantly from our point of view, the album created to expand upon this story is verging on stunning, Ritchie having pieced together eight tracks that sit neatly in the Prog Metal sphere that made Balance Of Power the special band they were. Byford positively thrives in these new surrounds, stretching his voice in directions Saxon's music seldom demands, yet still bringing the clarity, confidence and power that he is synonymous with.

As you'd expect, much of what's on offer here drips with drama and grandeur and when you factor in excellent, atmospheric spoken word sections lifted directly from the film itself, the overall feel is of a claustrophobic, yet energetically bullish album that hits the spot from start to finish. "Scintilla (One Black Heart)" sets the scene, drums galloping, riffs (courtesy of Stoney Wagner, Chris Masimore, Andy Sneap and Guzz Butt) burning, keys (courtesy of John K) dancing. It is a wonderful, memorable scene setter and one not for a second let down by the brooding "Beware The Children", where the guitars really let loose, the melodic grind of the album's most memorable track "Permanence", or the buzzing riff, atmospheric washes and superbly layered vocals of "Angels". While the aforementioned Saxon track which closes the album fits into the overall musical and atmospheric theme so well, you almost don't realise it wasn't initially created for Scintilla.

While I am a long term and loyal Saxon fan, it really is a pleasure to hear a singer as legendary as Biff Byford challenge himself to sing in a (slightly) different style. However if those challenging songs weren't top notch, it would count for little. They are and as a consequence The Hybrid becomes one of the best Metal, with a hefty slab of Progressive, albums 2014 is liable to produce.

Track Listing
1. Scintilla (One Black Heart)
2. Beware The Children
3. Permanence
4. Some Nightmare
5. Angels
6. Pariah
7. The Damned And The Divine
8. A Life In Vain
9. No Rest For The Wicked (Saxon)

Added: August 30th 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Scintilla Project at Saxon online
Hits: 2691
Language: english

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