Manufactured band? Supergroup? Frankly, when the music is this good, who really cares how the band came together?
Shadow's Mignon are the brainchild of Henning Pauly, who is known for a variety of albums, most notably his releases with Framework where he collaborated with Dream Theater's James LaBrie and ex-Skid Row's Sebastian Bach. Listening to some classic 80s metal one day, Henning decided to try and write some music in that style. He then recruited vocalist Juan Roos to provide the metal edge to his songs, as well as keyboardist Stephen Kernbach, who brought along his Roland D50 and Hammond B3 for three of the songs. Pauly plays everything else himself!.
Result? To a sixties child someone like me who has always enjoyed heavy-rock/metal bands that have plenty of musicality, growing up with Magnum, UFO, Blue Oyster Cult and similar bands that followed, then Midnight Sky Masquerade sounds like a great album of medium-to-fast paced metal, interspersed with a few incursions into ballad territory, balance-wise coming close but thankfully avoiding the crossover into AOR.
The start of the album is immense and really kicks some ass! "A Dragon Shall Come" immediately cheers you up with driving guitar riffs and superb vocals from Roos - an absolute highlight of the album, great vocal! The main soundscape elements are the guitar riffing, the lead solo breaks and Roos's voice. Kernbach's contribution is notable but sparse and isn't "center-stage". This superb start is followed by the anthemic "A Slave to Metal", an early contender for best track of 2009, and I challenge you to listen to this without jumping up and chanting along: a feat that only the dead will achieve! The title track follows in similar fashion - it's a cracking opening to the album.
The foot then comes off the gas for the first ballad, "Goodnight Boston", a slow tempo song that begins with a pretty acoustic guitar accompaniment before other instruments join the arrangement in the latter half. "Darkness Comes to Light" and "A Beast Abandoned" pick up the pace again, more great vocals and guitar riifs + solos, plus keyboard adornments on the former, but just fail to match the brilliance of the opening three tracks.
I found the next number, "I Will Never Ever Stop", a more successful ballad than "Goodnight Boston": the electric piano and guitar arrangement sounding more in keeping with what is essentially a metal album than the earlier effort. This is important within the context of the album because there are quite a few reductions in pace through its run and - this is the only criticism I have of the album - it is on the verge of losing its identity.
"All Hail the Warrior" is back in ass-kicking mode, super guitar breaks, great song, but then we drop tempo again for the opening of "Kingdom of the Battle Gods". Its second phase, which starts after about four minutes, becomes metal and the pace picks up again, such that when it returns to the opening theme for the last section, the arrangement is a bit heavier and more satisfying. It's an excellent song overall with strong melodic phrasing (very catchy, reminds me of something that I can't just quite put my finger on at the moment).
"Spirit of the Elves" is a straight rocker and "No Metal Son of Mine" reverts to rock-ballad, verging on an AOR in its opening before quickly developing some metal bite.
Now then, when is a bonus track not a bonus track? This is the first release of this album, so why is the acoustic "Midnight Sky Masquerade" billed as a bonus? Am I meant not to listen to it with the album? My advice to fans would be to consider it fully a part of the album and that's how I'm treating it.
Right, having decided that it's a 13-track album, I'm happy to report that it ends in the same brilliant fashion that it begins. "Out of Control" is another excellent anthemic metal rocker and the acoustic version of the title track is stunning. It doesn't drop the pace like some of the ballady sections and provides a fitting and dazzling finale to what is, overall, an excellent album.
Had the dynamics of the album overall been slightly different then we might have been looking at a full 5-stars. Personally, I would have dropped "Goodnight Boston" altogether (it's not that it's a bad song, but I'm thinking about pace, momentum and identity) and allowed "Darkness Comes to Light" to be the fourth rocker in a row, perhaps then slipping in "I Will Never Ever Stop" before "A Beast Abandoned". I haven't tried that on my mp3 player yet but I have the feeling that the momentum and identity (the "metal" identity) in particular would benefit.
But please don't let me put you off: this remains an excellent album, brilliant vocally and instrumentally and with some great songs, including a few real belters. Very, very enjoyable: the second release in a row from ProgRock Records that I've enthused about, very different to the Andrew Gorczyca album but just as enjoyable.
Evocative art work too, very much in keeping with the album's feel, and the artist Mo Stublig gets a backing vocals credit too!
Well done everybody!
1) A Dragon Shall Come (4:57)
2) A Slave to Metal (5:51)
3) Midnight Sky Masquerade (6:50)
4) Goodnight Boston (4:42)
5) Darkness Comes to Light (4:36)
6) A Beast Abandoned (4:49)
7) I Will Never Ever Stop (4:27)
8) All Hail the Warrior (4:56)
9) Kingdom of the Battle Gods (10:06)
10) Spirit of the Elves (3:39)
11) No Metal Son of Mine (6:26)
12) Out of Control (3:58)
(13 - bonus track - Midnight Sky Masquerade (acoustic mix) - 6:29)