Nearly three years in the works, Parallel Lives, Section A's sophomore release, finally got released a few weeks ago. What we have now is an album that is better and worse than its predecessor. The better thing is that Andy Engberg is even more impressive this time around. This guy has always had an incredible voice, starting with his Twilight album and then Lion's Share. When he sang on the first Section A disc, he blew everyone away, especially with his performance on the opening title track. Parallel Lives sees him growing into an even more confident singer, exuding great power and intensity. He also co-wrote the lyrics of the album together with Conny Welén.
Guitarist and main songwriter Torben Enevoldsen has toned down his highly neoclassical shred work, and opts for a more melodic and somewhat bluesy playing throughout. He also doesn't overpower the other instruments and plays with admirable restraint. That said, his erupting fretwork is still very much there. On "Hunted", which begins with great vocals and a textured synth line, Enevoldsen slices through the piece like a madman and lays down a searing lead solo. Enevoldsen and Engberg are backed up by Engberg's former Lion's Share band mates, namely Johan Koleberg on drums and Pontus Engberg on bass. The quartet also gets significant support from guest musicians, including Mats Olausson of Yngwie Malmsteen fame on keyboards. Vanden Plas members Andreas Lill and Gunther Werno are sadly missed in some places, however. Koleberg is a more groovy drummer than Lill and even goes off limits, as he does on the 10-minute epic "Dark Allegiance", displaying some 70's-styled drum solos. This is the centrepiece of the album starting with footsteps, someone breaking a door open, and weird spoken stuff. A nice Egyptian-themed keyboard solo runs through the track with heavy drums and bass pounding alongside Enevoldsen's guitar. Similarly, "Hoping for a Miracle" expands on the storyline, giving some vital details, but this one is slightly jazzy number with great bass notes. More slowed down than "Dark Allegiance", it features a good dose of keyboards and I wish there were more of them on some of the other songs.
Enevoldsen's blues chords open "The Gift", amidst wailing sirens and police cars, and give way to a Queen-inspired multi-vocal harmony that really matches Engberg's catchy chorus. "Awakening" has some female vocals, probably depicting the therapist or wife of the protagonist, trying to comfort him. The vocals are amazing and the spoken parts recall the despair of the characters on Evergrey albums. Conceptually, the album deals with a guy named William who can travel between universes, during his sleep. In a way, the storyline draws parallels with Evergrey's In Search of Truth, but I wouldn't say it's as effective or emotional. There are lots of spoken segments in-between tracks or during the intros. Usually it's two people speaking, William and the aliens, and William seeks help through therapists and tries to overcome his fears, and make himself believe it's all just a dream. However, once he comes to accept the reality about the aliens and they won't let him go, he tries to protect himself and his family, without success. Eventually they murder his wife and daughter and the album cuts off abruptly. Not the most interesting concept, but then making concept albums is not easy anyway, and one should certainly refrain from doing them unless they have a very coherent and interesting subject matter on hand.
"Beginning of the End", the last track, has a great riff dangerously similar to Savatage's masterwork "Jesus Saves", but it takes a different path musically, taking on some operatic female vocalists backing Engberg, as the rest of the band litter the piece with hard rocking rhythms.
Fans of the first Section A album are going to like Parallel Lives. Whether they'll like it more or less, however, depends on what they are actually expecting to hear.
- The Gift
- Dark Alliance
- Moment of Truth
- Hoping for a Miracle
- Changing the Past
- Beginning of the End