From the opening barrage of rippling keyboard runs and crunchy power chords on "Prologue: Project Blue Prince", it's quickly apparent that the new solo album from Rocket Scientist leader Erik Norlander will provide a melting pot of the hard rock/metal style of his recent releases, and the more progressive/symphonic sounds of his earlier work. Music Machine, a 2CD concept album, does just that over its nearly 2 hour length, and does it quite well. The story here is of a character named Johnny America, the genetically created "music machine", a teenage pop idol created by a huge music megaconglomerate to take over the world. It's a fun story, and one that doesn't take itself too seriously, yet bridges an interesting gap between pop culture and science fiction.
Norlander has ammassed a super cast of musicians here for Music Machine to fill out the musical and vocal seats. While Erik of course covers all the Hammond, Mellotron, and multiple synthesizers, he's got Virgil Donati (Planet X, Ring of Fire), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio, Lana Lane), and Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth, ELO, Vai, Satriani) on drums, Peer Verschuren (Vengeance), Neil Citron, and Donald "Buck Dharma" Roser (Blue Oyster Cult) on guitars, and Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, The Firm) and Don Schiff on bass and Stick. This team creates a huge wall of symphonic sounds that at times are as much intricate progressive rock with an electronic edge as it is bone crunching heavy metal. Vocalist Scott Kail adds the right amount of aggression to the raging "Heavy Metal Symphony" and the churning "Turn Me On", both tunes backed up wonderfully by the harmony vocals of Robert Soeterboek. Guitarist Verschuren puts on a killer shred-guitar clinic on the former, proving to be a perfect foil to Norlander's deft Fender Rhodes, organ, and vibrant synth work. Other highlights include the emotional "Lost Highway", featuring the lead vocals of Roeser, who also throws in a neat melodic guitar solo to boot, and the irresistable "The Fire of Change." This tune has "airplay" all over it, but it's too bad this is 2003 and not 1987. Once again, newcomer Kail lets his pipes do the talking, alongside Mark Boals, and the result is a catchy yet heavy masterpiece. Boals, Donati, Franklin, Verschuren, and Norlander do their Ring of Fire impression on the neo-classical metal of "The Fall of the Idol", and vocalist supreme Kelly Keeling adds his talents to the main theme songs which open and close the story, as well as the metal stomp of "Beware the Vampires", a song that is not about the fanged legends with wings I can assure you.
Fans of Norlander's early solo work will be pleased to know that there are many hot instrumentals throughout this 2CD set. His mindblowing technique, whether alongside the powerhouse Donati or the nimble Bissonette, is just amazing to hear. Using a wide array of keyboards, Norlander crafts spacey soundscapes with lots of texture and just enough flash. Music Machine really has it all, a great concept album, filled with enough musical variety to please any progressive music listener. Now let's see if he can bring this great concept to the stage (nod, nod, wink, wink...)