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Presto Ballet: Peace Among the Ruins

What do you get when you bring together the styles of The Beatles, Aviary, Skid Row, Yes, The Flower Kings, Dream Theater, Styx, Kansas, and Deep Purple? Why, you get Presto Ballet, the new band formed by Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof. Before you say "you mean Metal Church the thrash band?", hear me out. Presto Ballet sounds like it could have been recorded in the late 70's, as Vanderhoof and keyboard player Brian Cokeley have utilized anolog synthesizers, real Hammond organ, and real Mellotron sounds. Add in some crunchy guitar work, plenty of catchy hooks, and the James LaBrie-meets-Sebastian Bach-meets-Brad Love-meets-Dennis DeYoung vocal style of Scott Albright, and you have a very enjoyable progressive hard rock recording that pleases more and more after each listen.

There's not a bad tune here, and really the CD contains something for everyone. The kick ass title track, is a super-charged number that starts off like a smokin' Deep Purple cut, with raging Hammond organ and beefed up guitar riffs, before the gorgeous Mellotron kicks in along with some wild synth passages. The mini-epic "The Fringes" contains some great bass work from Brian Lake, as the track starts off in fine Yes-like fashion with ominous Mellotron, Hammond & synths, frenetic rhythms, and the soaring vocals of Albright. Vanderhoof adds in some tasty distorted guitar leads, which play well off the scorching Hammond and synth runs of Cokeley. This is a great example of hard rock mixed with intricate prog rock and catchy pop, something that very few bands were ever able to do well, one of them being Aviary back in the late 70's.

For some great sing-along hard rock, check out the anthem "Seasons", a tune with plenty of hooks and hard driving guitar riffs. "Find the Time" is another lengthy piece, this one a straight prog masterpiece, with acoustic guitars, Mellotron, Moog, electric piano, and Albright's emotional & alluring vocals. You'll be hard pressed not to keep hitting the replay button on this gem folks. More acoustic guitars mesh with driving Hammond, heavy electric guitar riffs, Mellotron, and drummer Jeff Wade's pounding licks on the searing "Speed of Time", a classy and majestic number that hints at vintage Styx as well as Aviary, while the melodic "Sunshine" once again showcases Albright's soaring vocals over beds of Mellotron, Moog, nimble bass work, and acoustic guitars. The angular and riff-happy "Slave" comes the closest to prog-metal with its Yes-meets-Dream Theater complexity, and the CD ends with the emotional "Bringin' It On", again reminiscent of Aviary or Styx, with Vanderhoof's lush acoustic guitars and plenty of Mellotron and synths.

Peace Among the Ruins will no doubt wind up on many Best of 2005 lists this year, but more importantly it will certainly head the Biggest Surprise of 2005, at least in my book. Who would have thought a riff-monster from Metal Church has this much 70's prog stored up inside of him? Here's hoping this is not just a one-off project, and that Vanderhoof and crew plan on making this a permanent thing. Highly recommended!

Track Listing
1) Peace Among the Ruins (5:47)
2) The Fringes (7:34)
3) Seasons (3:39)
4) Find the Time (7:18)
5) Speed of Time (6:50)
6) Sunshine (4:51)
7) Slave (5:33)
8) Bringin' It On (6:43)

Added: July 24th 2005
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Presto Ballet Website
Hits: 5667
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Presto Ballet: Peace Among the Ruins
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-07-22 15:45:33
My Score:

Presto Ballet's Peace Among the Ruins strangely reminds me of one of my favourite bands Savatage. The name is similar to their Gutter Ballet album, whilst the title takes me back to Savatage's "Ghost in the Ruins" song on their Streets masterpiece. However, these similarities aside, Presto Ballet is a completely different entity. Put together by Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof, this record is his venture into 70's progressive rock with tons of analog keyboards, huge mellotron and Hammond organ sounds, 70's style drumming that focuses more on hands than feet and a great singer that will take you back to the glory days of Deep Purple mixed with Kansas, Yes, and Genesis.

The lineup on the album may not be the most well-known musicians, but they're no newcomers. Vocalist Scott Albright whose voice brings Dennis DeYoung from Styx to mind previously sang on Kurdt Vanderhoof's solo record while drummer Jeff Wade and bassist Brian Lake also have a touring history with Metal Church. On keyboards we have Brian Cokeley formerly of Earth, Quiet Riot and Vanilla Fudge fame. It's Cokeley who makes this disc so amazing actually. His retro sounds produced through his vast use of analog keys surround Vanderhoof's flowing guitar lines effectively providing the backbone of the music to a great extent. Most of the songs start off with slow, analog synths that are developed into energetic hard rock driven music thanks to a great singer and a powerful drum-bass combo. "Find the Time" has an amazing keyboard intro supported by an arpeggiated acoustic guitar melody and is eerily evocative of Yes' Close to the Edge era to these ears. Albright's vocals are at their emotional best as they soar over huge mellotron soundscapes.

Similarly, "Slave" continues to build on atmospheric mellotrons with a great guitar theme from Vanderhoof and possibly the most pounding bass section on the entire album. Brian Lake lays down a very impressive groove to this song. "Speed of Time" and the closing track "Bringin' It On" both have soft acoustic intros with great piano and synth passages again followed by some really heavy bass figures. "Speed of Time" is particularly to my liking as the song reminds me of Kansas in terms of its neat arrangement. Also note the magnificent drum solo that closes the track.

With all that said, the two most interesting cuts are the title song which is easily their most straightforward track - it's got a nice 70's vibe all over it and it's easy to notice that this is the band's nod to their 70's idols. On the other hand, the longest song "The Fringes" is also the most progressive and mindblowing piece on this disc. It's got everything you'd expect from a 70's-inspired prog rock band - analog keys with a very warm tone, super prog odd time signatures, a killer guitar solo from Vanderhoof that duels fiercely with Cokeley's keyboard run, and in closing, a nifty acoustic guitar that is so seamlessly hidden under a huge organ sound. Vanderhoof produced this record on his own and this song is proof that he's done a very good job. He also meant to revisit his past and pay tribute to his musical heroes, which he, without doubt, has achieved. Needless to say, a second Presto Ballet release would be more than welcome in the prog community.

Presto Ballet: Peace Among the Ruins
Posted by Steve Pettengill, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-06-04 08:17:51
My Score:

Presto Ballet is a new project founded by Metal Church guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof in which he gets to show off his many influences. Just look at the list of artists my colleagues mention in their respective reviews and you'll see that the band is trying to cover a lot of territory on Peace Among the Ruins.

The title track is a hard rocker that mixes up metal, prog and even some funk in the pre choruses-look out for those clavinets! "The Fringes" is the first epic and it really calls to mind a more ambitious Styx, especially with vocalist Scott Albright's uncanny similarity to Dennis DeYoung; no kidding, "The Fringes" could almost be an outtake from The Grand Illusion. But Presto Ballet also excel at shorter tracks amply demonstrated by "Seasons". "Sunshine" is another relatively short track that very cleverly walks the line between a Beatles pastiche and a loving homage to the Fab Four.

The only piece that doesn't quite cut it is "Find the Time", a leisurely space rock track featuring a dreadfully random coda that feels entirely tacked on. On the other hand, "Speed of Time" is a real gem, with an overtly Kansas style arrangement. Meanwhile, "Slave" may have you thinking someone slipped a Symphony X CD into your player. The great thing about this track is that it shows just how diverse a vocalist Scott Albright is and his pipes come close to that of Russell Allen or even Ronnie James Dio. The album is wrapped up by the grandiose anthem that is "Bringin' It On", featuring some great freaky Mellotron choir during the outro.

Mr. Vanderhoof is really onto something with Presto Ballet. I hope he has a follow up in store because Peace Among the Ruins shows a lot of promise. My only qualm is that the album is perhaps a little too eclectic for its own good and though most of the individual tracks are of high quality, they don't flow particularly well. Now that Presto Ballet have showcased their tremendous talent, here's hoping they can reign themselves in for a more focused future release. Still, I give Peace Among the Ruins a solid recommendation.

Presto Ballet: Peace Among the Ruins
Posted by Steve Ambrosius, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-05-23 13:37:40
My Score:

As stated in the main review, Presto Ballet is a new group headed by Kurdt Vanderhoof that plays melodic progressive rock in the style of 70s Arena Rock. The keyboards of Brian Cokeley and the guitar crunch of Vanderhoof, make for amazing melody and counter-melody. The singing of Scott Albright fits the music, but isn't the strongest part of the music. The rhythm section of Brian Lake (bass) and Jeff Wade (drums) seems out of place at times. Their style is mainly hard-rock instead of progressive rock, with too much machine gun bass drum.

The opening track, "Pease Among The Ruins", flat out rocks. This song contains the most impressive guitar work on the CD. But thankfully Vanderhoof doesn't rely on one style. His crunchy guitars are replaced by Saga-like interaction with keys on "Seasons" and "Find the Time". The hardest, and closest to prog-metal, complete with 80s style "slow intro that just kicks in", is "Speed Of Time". This song has some nice interludes, but the rhythm section just can't keep up. On the other hand, "Slave", which is a traditional metal piece, shows the rhythm section in their element.

Pease Among The Ruins is an excellent CD that contains excellent songwriting and the diversity to keep you entertained throughout the CD. This is a good introduction to a band that has the ability to put it together. Unlike The Tangent who surprised us all, Vanderhoof, Cokeley, Lake, and Wade all are fairly new to the progressive rock arena. There are times on this album where it feels a little like they are trying to "copy" the style, rather than imprint themselves on it. That said, I recommend Presto Ballet to all fans of Melodic Rock-n-Roll.

» Reader Comments:

Presto Ballet: Peace Among the Ruins
Posted by Darrin on 2005-05-16 23:35:07
My Score:

I've known this drummer for 20 years, Jeff Wade is a brilliant and gifted drummer. Finally the whole world will be able to experience what we in the Pacific Northwest have ejoyed for many years........... Darrin

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