Singer Mark Boals has been a busy guy lately. In addition to releasing solo albums in 2000 and 2002 and making several guest appearances on various albums, his Ring of Fire project has also issued two albums — The Oracle in 2001 and Dreamtower in 2002 in Japan. Now, Dreamtower gets a more widespread release by Italy's Frontiers Records. To his credit, the former vocalist for Yngwie Malmsteen isn't afraid to branch out here with his band of all-star musicians — guitarist Tony MacAlpine (Planet X), drummer Virgil Donati (Planet X), keyboard player Vitalij Kuprij (Artension) and bassist Philip Bynoe (Steve Vai).
Ring of Fire shows off its neoclassical groove best on "My Deja-vu" and "The Pharaoh's Curse," standard genre tracks that sum up about half of the 13 songs on Dreamtower — high vocals, rapid-fire bass and drums, virtuoso guitars and symphonic keyboards. But the other half of the album is what really deserves attention here. "Ghost of America" is a rhythm-heavy track that's unlike most of the other work bearing Boals' name, both musically and lyrically. Meanwhile, "Blue Sky" is a soaring AOR ballad with background vocals reminiscent of Journey, "Make Believe" is another ballad that showcases new dimensions of Boals' voice, and mid-tempo rocker "Laputa" sounds more like Toto than anything else.
Granted, Boals and Co. don't redefine neoclassical metal by taking it in new directions, but they do abandon some of their previous faster-than-thou playing and fantasy-based lyrics — making for a refreshing album that's not afraid to defy expectations.