Toxic Smile is a solid German prog band with plenty of diversity in their music. There are great Images & Words period Dream Theater influences, classic rock moments, AOR-like vocal melodies, awesome 70's keys, and great jazzy touches. Each song on the album released by Famous Kitchen Records has something different to offer, therefore earning the band its much deserved "progressive" etiquette. Rather than sounding like a dated "prog" band, Toxic Smile proves to be really pushing the boundaries of this kind of music. They may not necessarily be breaking new ground, but their songwriting is quite unpredictable and this gives them a unique edge.
The album begins with the short intro that kicks off with a modem connecting and then some Gregorian chants by male and female vocalists. Just when you wonder what it's all about, the Dream Theater influenced "Raised" opens the album. This is an excellent track with majestic keyboards, killer bass (it's so LOUD!!) and energetic guitars! The guitar solo on this piece starts really slow and builds up nicely. Then there is a unison solo which again recalls Dream Theater back in the early 90's. However, for the the rest of the album, Toxic Smile explores different musical ideas. "Fall Down" and "Steps Back" are two songs whose vocal melodies are very AOR-like; the latter actually reminds me Styx in their heyday. The instrumentation on these songs, on the other hand, is completely different. Lots of quirky melodies and time signatures abound the compositions. I really enjoy this dichotomy in Toxic Smile's songwriting. The same approach is prevalant on the song "Pyramid" -- one second you'll hear a modern sounding bass pattern and then it's back to 70's prog in the vein of ELP.
"Escape" is the band's most atmospheric moment in the way that it introduces a spacy Pink Floyd vibe with lots of analog keys. Vocalist Larry B sounds a bit like Vanden Plas singer Andy Kuntz with an octave lower. Halfway into the song, the Floydian influence is completely gone and the band delves into a nice jazzy passage. They improvise free-style for a brief moment, finishing the song off with a nifty soprano saxophone solo. Keyboardist and founding member Marek Arnold is a very key element in the sound of Toxic Sound. Not only does he play Emerson and Wakeman-like keyboards, but he also performs the saxophone forming the band's jazzy side.
The second half of the album is even more varied. "Stop Now" has samples, eerie bass guitar that once again brings Dream Theater to mind, but before you can put your finger on it, it's all gone and the song transforms into mid-80's Rush style classic rock. The 12-minute epic "Confidence in Deception" has great piano work that is followed by intricate drumming courtesy of Daniel Zehe, a very prog rock sounding guitar tone and a magnificent keyboard run. Towards the end of the song, each member does a short solo section, one by one, and while I love everyone's performance, Marek Arnold shines like never before. Very good job indeed.
More jazz is offered on the experimental piece "C.I.D. Addendum" which is just spoken German words, keys and prominent saxophone. This track segues into the instrumental number "O.T." reminiscent of Dream Theater's ACOS for some reason. The singer returns to the fold on "Sacrificial Flame", perhaps making his most Kuntz-like vocal performance. The last track is a 9-minute jam that is based on acoustic guitars in the intro, then classical synths duelling with Uwe Reinholz' sharp guitar lines and Robert Brenner's fierce bass (I've got to repeat -- the bass is absolutely skull-crushing sounding!) and then some more jazz... Toxic Smile is the band you've been looking for. Give them a listen.
1. Voix Du Passe
3. Fall Down
6. Stop Now
7. Steps Back
8. Confidence in Deception
9. C.I.D. Addendum
10. O.T. [instrumental]
11. Sacrificial Flame