What do you get when you cross instrumental progressive metal with jazz-fusion? Why – everyone knows that you get Planet X, right?
Wrong! Stride does the Planet X thing better than Planet X does it!
Music Machine is the debut album from Houston-based foursome. The band was formed in 1996 and were known for their amazing musical abilities. But the CD was only released in 2002 and has enjoyed little recognition other than Stride's playing the ProgPower IV pre-show party. It features fiery fretwork, funky basswork excellent guitar / keyboard interplay, and they are as tight as a drum. It is composed, well produced music, guitar-heavy, and all instrumental.
It is easy to draw similarities to Dream Theater, LTE, Steve Morse, Tony McAlpine, Symphony X, and of course, Planet X. But that would limit your understanding of the range of sounds in this album. Stride's biggest strength is their variety. At first listen you get the impression that this is a brilliant group of musicians trying to find their musical niche. Then you realize that the very wide range of sounds is their deliberately niche-busting direction. Some tracks are pure progressive metal, a few are downright fusion funky, and all are simply beautiful with intricate melodies and tightly woven soundcapes.
Joel Gregoire, of the metal band Helstar is a maestro. Not in the mold of a virtuoso like a Satriani or a Vai – but closer to a John Petrucci with his guitar work contributing to the music rather than dominating it, and promoting melody rather than showcasing technical effects and shredding. Keyboard player Rick Flores trades solos with him and weaves his sounds seamlessly into every track.
The third track "Travesty" is a primary example of how gut wrenchingly emotional a beautifully played lead guitar can be, especially when backed by delicate piano work. "Elevated" is a too-short two minute piece with acoustic guitar backed by rich but muted keyboards. "Boogie Man" on the other hand, starts with a metal-sounding fuzz, and after 15 minutes it cuts over into straight up fusion. The thirteen minute closing piece "Eargasm" ranges across the full spectrum of music influences and the track's name is well chosen. Intensely melodic.
Vocalist Gary Belin has recently joined the band, and it will be interesting to see how (or if) his singing shepherds the music into one or other sub-genre. Either way – expect Stride's next release to be very different.
Put the right kind of promotion behind this band and they will quickly eclipse Planet X.