On the aptly titled chain.exe, multi-instrumentalist Henning Pauly and his band Chain execute an 80-minute album of monumental proportions. After making the disc-long concept record Reconstruct (which spans the complete history of evolution) and then Unweaving the Rainbow (Pauly's Frameshift project with Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie, which contains a series of songs based on the writings of neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins), it would have been easy for Pauly to slack off. Some listeners might argue that's what he did on 13 Days, a straightforward rock record that Pauly made more complex by featuring 13 songs written, recorded and produced in 13 days using a variety of vocalists.
But chain.exe outdoes all of those releases, as Pauly brings his inner headbanger to the forefront with heavy guitars, driving rhythms, complex arrangements, fantastic vocals and harmonies, and an overall epic vibe. Speaking of epics, at the core of chain.exe is "Cities," a sonic journey that incorporates more musical styles (including symphonic metal, a cappella counterpoint vocal arrangements, some nu-metal influences and even a few Flower Kings moments) into seven passages and 38 minutes than most albums twice that long. Saga vocalist Michael Sadler even takes over the microphone for awhile.
On the remaining five tracks, Chain singer Matt Cash pours out his soul on the weepy piano ballad "She Looks Like You," while "Never Leave the Past Behind" mesmerizes with somber choirs and ambient sounds before morphing into a symphonic-metal tour-de-force. Sadler also returns to perform Saga's "Hot to Cold" with help from Maya Haddi and her exotic voice. The album closes on an elegiac note with "Last Chance to See," a song Pauly dedicates to the memory of author Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) featuring guest vocalist Victoria Trevithick and guitarist Mike Keneally.
Other musicians include keyboardist Stephan Kernbach and bassist Christian Becker (both from the German prog-metal band Transmission), drummer Eddie Marvin and sax man Steve Katsikas. Pauly plays everything else while overseeing this monstrous work.
Kudos to ProgRock Records for giving the man and his far-reaching musical ideas a viable outlet. This one's going on my Top 10 of 2004 list...
1-7) Cities (38:08)
8) She Looks Like You (4:52)
9) Eama Hut (9:51)
10) Never Leave the Past Behind (10:18)
11) Hot to Cold (6:33)
12) Last Chance to See (10:12)
Total Time: 79:56