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Stride: Imagine

Leave it to Ken Golden's Sensory label to take an already promising progressive metal band and guide them to their path to greatness. 2001's all-instrumental powerhouse Music Machine was seen by Sea of Tranquility as a strong threat to the throne held by instrumental proggers Planet X, but in actuality the band has been looking for that extra special singer all along and never intended to remain an instrumental outfit. In comes vocalist Gary Belin in 2004 to take up the long vacant slot, and the result is the excellent Imagine, complete with stunning artwork from Mattias Noren. Surprisingly, Imagine is not simply just a progressive metal shred fest, but a collection of 9 songs that contain great melodies and AOR hooks, making the CD a must have for fans of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Andromeda, as well as Journey, Saga, or Kansas.

It's the combination of bone-crunching guitar riffs, symphonic keyboards, complex rhythms, and Belin's soaring vocals that really make songs like the adventurous title track work. The icing on the cake is the virtuoso solos from both guitarist Joel Gregoire and keyboard player Rick Flores. Both are extremely talented players on their own but paired together they elevate their game tenfold. Take the intro to the blazing "Alive" where both burn intense unison lines with each other, eventually leading the path for Belin and his Steve Perry inspired vocals, turning this song into heavy, complex, yet accessible progressive metal number. The chorus, with lyrics that tell the importance of positive beliefs, is extremely catchy and memorable, and the instrumental breaks jaw dropping. Drummer Matt Kanzfer and bassist Mike Martin are a rock solid pair and keep things together quite nicely while also throwing in some virtuoso fills of their own throughout the album.

There are two kick ass instrumentals on the CD, "Endeavor" and "Ion Drive", both killer excuses for the band to perform some insane virtuosity. Gregoire's chops are pretty scary, but he doesn't go on with endless solos like other shredders of the genre, instead going for blazing quick breaks and trade-offs with Flores. Other highlights on the CD include the crunchy ballad "How Far", the symphonic "The Waiting" (which has hooks aplenty), and the epic feel of the closing track "Time".

In all honesty, there's not a weak track here, and the overall production and presentation of the CD is of such high quality that you can't help but continually hit the replay button and keep digging into the wonderful looking booklet. This band was hot already, and the addition of Gary Belin seems to be the perfect fit and put all the pieces in place. While many progressive metal releases this year have left me feeling a little flat, Imagine stands out head and shoulders among most of them, and will certainly bring Stride to the forefront of the genre very quickly.

Track Listing
1. Imagine
2. Alive
3. Endeavor
4. How Far
5. Role Model
6. Waiting
7. Ion Drive
8. Face the Day
9. Time

Added: January 27th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Stride Website
Hits: 6253
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Stride: Imagine
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-01-27 15:55:02
My Score:

Remember the first three Journey albums (between 1975 and 1977) with Gregg Rolie on vocals? They were a great melodic prog rock band then with awesome keyboards and fusion-inspired guitar work. Though they were mainly focusing on complex and impressive instrumental work, they also knew how to write melodic choruses. Such is the case with Stride's second album Imagine. Now with a vocalist, the band have retained their head-spinning instrumentation, but there is also plenty of room for excellent harmonies and the powerful vocals of Gary Belin.

Gary Belin's voice is a cross between Steve Walsh of Kansas, Steve Perry of Journey, and perhaps Jon Anderson of Yes. He sings with complete power and perfect pitch, opting for both crystal clear harmonies and angrier, more pronounced vocal stylings. He is one of the most expressive singers I've heard in prog metal in recent years. At times his enunciation evokes Enchant's Ted Leonard in the way he knows when to take the lead of the song and when to let the other members shine. Actually, Stride could be likened to Enchant on a higher scale as well. Similarly, the guys in Stride are also excellent musicians with tremendous technique, but they never sacrifice melody and are most interested in penning solid, cohesive songs. Perhaps that's what makes Imagine so amazing. However, when the moment calls for it, they will also break loose and sweep you away with outstanding instrumental passages, all subtly injected into the songcraft. Almost all songs start out with majestic keyboards played by Rick Flores, who deserves a special mention. This guy is insanely talented and can play anything from AOR synths to uber-complex solos to 70's Moog stuff. "Alive" exhibits an intense interplay between Rick Flores and guitarist Joel Gregoire, who is also an excellent player. His soloing is always restrained and full of melodic hooks. Besides beautiful harmonies, he also goes for circular lead work. And guess what? His tone is absolutely beautiful. His rhythms are crunchy, always in diametric opposite to Flores' angelic piano or keyboard melodies.

One of the most interesting tracks is "Role Model". It starts out rather differently than the other pieces. It is also longer and quite atmospheric. Characterized by creepy textures and an almost cinematic vibe, the band suddenly delves into one of their most complex and attention-demanding instrumental moments until a soothing piano break is introduced, emphasizing Belin's passionate vocal melodies. All the while, the cinematic vibe is retained, as traces of indecipherable spoken voices continue in the background. Come to think of it, the layered production of this disc is stunning. "Face the Day", my personal favourite, marks the band's heaviest songwriting to date. For a change, it begins with a low bass lead and leads into a dreamy and almost poppy Steve Perry type of harmony draped over sparse piano notes. Fans of Journey, particularly those who miss the earlier Perry albums, would love this track, if not the whole album. All of a sudden, the relaxing and toned down vocals of Belin erupt like a volcano and form one of the biggest and most aggressive choruses you'll ever hear. This song proves how diverse a vocal style Belin actually has and what he is capable of. The latter part of the track is simply out of this world. Hyper-speed synth soloing a la Dream Theater meets Symphony X gives way to a Steve Morse meets Neal Schon type of a solo guitar spot and is finalised with Matt Kanzler's drum attack that would even surprise Deen Castronovo.

Stride hasn't gone all AOR meets prog metal though. They also included two all instrumental songs, except that they are a lot more cohesive than the ones on their debut. "Endeavor" is a fast, guitar and keyboard duelling effort, leaving enough space for AOR synths and more multi-rhythm drums, while "Ion Drive" is a nod to the instrumental work on Symphony X's overlooked The Damnation Game. Gregoire's riffs are dark and thick and contrast Flores' analog synths. Although he alternate picks in the same speed of John Petrucci, his playing is a lot more melody-friendly.

This was one of those albums I missed in 2005. I'm glad I finally got to hear it. Pick it up, I can't see it disappointing any prog metal fan that enjoys some AOR and 70's hard rock too.

Stride: Imagine
Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-11-17 15:59:25
My Score:

Imagine ... if American hard rock met American prog metal; it would sound like this. Stride hails from Houston, Texas, and was the only American band to perform at September's ProgPower USA VI festival in Atlanta -- opening Day Two and raising the bar for the rest of the bands, which included Symphorce, Pink Cream 69, Therion and Stratovarius. Even though Imagine hadn't been released yet, it was evident at the time that the album would contain some scorchers. "Face the Day," a highlight of Stride's set, also emerges as a highlight of Imagine. It's a feel-good song with a magnificent chorus, which can actually be said about most of the nine songs on Imagine. Although there's nary a dud here, the title track, the Journey-esque closing ballad "Time," the searing rocker "The Waiting" and the mind-bending instrumental "Ion Drive" prove to be the most memorable. Vocalist Gary Belin's gigantic voice recalls Steve Perry, Steve Walsh and Tony Harnell, while guitarist Joel Gregoire and keyboard player Rick Flores proudly channel Symphony X and Dream Theater. Stride makes everything sound effortless and relevant (not retro), and the cross-over potential within the metal, prog and AOR communities is huge. This is a major musical accomplishment that deserves worldwide recognition.

» Reader Comments:

Stride: Imagine
Posted by Carlos Canales Vega on 2005-11-18 08:59:15
My Score:

I couldn't agree more.This work is like Circus Maximus without the blatant similarities with their influences.Although i like Circus too.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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