23 years after the recording of their debut Opening Act (which was recently reissued and reviewed on this website) comes The Abyss from Colorado's Stencil Forest. For many, the long wait will be well worth it, as The Abyss is an enjoyable and fun progressive rock release that hints at classic sounds of the 70's and 80's yet is no doubt a modern recording.
Comprised of Doug Andresen on vocals, Frank Cassella on guitars, keyboards, and vocals, Jim Cassella on drums, Ron Perron on bass and guitar, and Rick Cassella on additional keyboards, Stencil Forest create a full and rich sound both vocally and instrumentally on the album, not unlike bands such as Gentle Giant, Ambrosia, and Styx. The opening "Lifeline Suite" gets things going with loads of melody and bombast, a sure winner for fans of long instrumental passages, symphonic keyboards, and stunning vocal interplay. In fact, on this one I'm reminded of latter day Gentle Giant from a vocal perspective. "You Pull Me In" and "The Captive Heart" contain lovely vocal harmonies, lush piano and acoustic guitars, and addicting pop-based melodies.
I'm quickly becoming a huge fan of "Morning Glory", a memorable and quirky little number with a great hook amidst the classically inspired arrangements. Again, vocally I am reminded by Gentle Giant on this one, with a hint of Ambrosia for good measure, and the synthesizer/guitar solo battle in the middle section adds a nice touch. The short yet majestic "Our Little Secret", a tune about hidden and secret love, is a nice little pop number with waves of muti-tracked vocals, and "Here Today" features some gorgeous piano and stylish guitar picking amidst the soaring vocal dynamics.
Keyboard strings and piano drive "Broken", while "Room With a View" cranks up the guitars for some hard rocking sounds, easily the heaviest piece on the album. "Is Love Enough to Save You?" sounds a bit too much in the same style as "Here Today" for my taste, although it's still a pleasant yet moody vocal and keyboard based tune. This one segues into the sprawling album ending title track, all 24-minutes and change of it. For my money, the two bookends of the album, "Lifeline Suite" and "The Abyss" really make this album and let the band show off its prog-rock roots. The title track is broken down into five parts, and it's symphonic rock all the way, featuring an assortment of keyboard sounds, soaring guitar passages, and more of those great vocals from Doug Andresen that are so present on every song on the album. I also detect a strong rootsy, almost jam band-meets-Southern Rock feel on this one as well. A real sophisticated and classy epic, and I'm sure a lot of young bands could learn a lot from listening to these veterans on this one.
Hopefully the prog community won't have to wait another 20+ years for the follow-up to this one. The Abyss is a strong release filled with sharp instrumentation, catchy melodies, and wonderful vocals, and sure to be a favorite for many before the year is up.
1. Lifeline Suite (11:01)
2. You Pull Me In (5:26)
3. The Captive Heart (4:57)
4. Morning Glory (4:30)
5. Our Little Secret (3:33)
6. Here Today (4:10)
7. Broken (4:35)
8. Room With a View (4:38)
9. Is Love Enough to Save You? (5:24)
10. The Abyss (24:16)