(23 December 2010) New albums from the Canadian progressive band Dream Aria don't come once per year. The band's projects--led by Don Stagg (keyboards), Ann Burstyn (lead vocals) and Garry Flint (drums, producer)--instead, like the finest wine, take some time to mature before the cork is popped and a new album emerges from the Dream Aria team. In early 2011, their steadily increasing worldwide following will be graced with Dream Aria's latest offering, a nine-track (plus a small outro) album entitled Fallen Angel (Dream Aria (Canada), 2011). Our staff was provided with the final tracks for review immediately following the album's mastering.
Dream Aria continue to grow from strength to strength. The new album is a densly arranged project, one that will equally delight instrumental and female vocal enthusiasts. The cover artwork for their new release is equally stunning, isn't it? The last time we saw artwork like this was over 900 reviews ago on Celtic Fire's 2000 album Flames of Eviction (review). The white of the feathers and clouds work contrast so nicely with the flames in both covers.
Dream Aria's first album In The Wake received critical acclaim after release in 2005. The band went on to record contributions to other artists' work before releaseing the masterpiece Transcend in 2008. Since then they have become even more active on the web and have hosted live concerts to expand their footprint of live music played for world audiences. Work on Fallen Angel began in earnest in June when the demo tracks really began to take shape and form the structure of the new album. Like prior Dream Aria albums, the music is diverse. The majority of the tunes are upbeat rockers, each with a different sort of instrumental excursion to better develop the sound of each track. Ann Burstyn's lead and backing vocals are again perfectly mixed with harmonies adding depth to round out the overall texture the band have produced.
The lineup on the album is completed by Dream Aria stalward and Jon Cassleman (bass, acoustic guitar). In addition to Ann, Don, Gary and Jon, the band have incorporated the work of what Don calls the "Guitar All-Stars" who are Mark Crossley (1, 2, 4, 5); Kurt Schefter (4, 5, 9), Tim Welch (1); Mike Phelps (3, 7); Rob Masiokas (8); and Mark McLay (6). See the track list left under Ann's photo. In the album's credits, Don also provided his thanks to Maria Ouspenskaya for inspiration derived from the 1941 movie The Wolfman and to composer Eugene Doga for "Gypsy Songs" from the 1976 film Platoon Goes To Heaven. Although not advertised as a conceptual album, the tracks creatively revolve around a carnival theme.
Fallen Angel is a a tightly produced project. None of the songs are epic, but the 45 minute album includes two extended tracks that are going to be crowd pleasers in the band's live performances. The album's title track is also the rousing opener. Thick guitar work provides the foundation that Ann's lead and harmony vocals powerfully soar over. In the truest progressive style, the song's mid-section features a gentle ballad secton, Ann's lead backed with lush self-harmonies.
"Gypsy Heart" is the first track to clearly reveal the conceptual content of Fallen Angel and serves to illustrate the development of the band's sound in a harder, metal-edged direction. Crisp percussion contributes to powerful arrangements. In addition to keyboard excursions that add texture, Ann's especially dramatic vocal work and layered harmonies are outstanding contributions to the sound. The energy within the album and drama continues to develop in the rapidfire percussive texture in "Abstract Relations."
"Tale of Two Wolves" is a classic progressive rock number with excellently produced temo changes as well as vast keyboard and guitar excursions during the instrumental passages. Ann's solo lead is especially dramatic while harmonies make the overall performance more widely accessible. The album builds contrast initially with "The Illusionist," an album that varies between ballad and rocker. Ann delivers an outstanding solo lead vocal and lovely vocalise in gentle keyboard-led verses and is joined by layers of powerful self-harmonies and rich arrangements in the chorus. Instrumental breaks include both lush keyboard and rich guitar passages. Dramatic arrangements clearly underscore the album's conceptual tones.
The rousing and rhythmic "Carnival of Souls" is one of the centerpieces of Fallen Angel. The power and clarity of Ann's solo lead is perfectly balanced with offsetting guitar solos and second vocal part echoing Ann's powerful lead. Listen for the dense vocalise passage mid-song before the wonderfully produced tempo change. "Healer" is a gentler and warm guitar-laden rock track. The production of Ann's vocal layers is tight and perfectly joined with dense instrumentals and subdued effects.
Percussive instrumentals contribute energy to the upbeat track "The Gift." In addition to her tremendous multi-layering, listen for the range of Ann's vocal work in this powerful rocker. Stunning progressive styled guitar and keyboard solos are featured in the song's instrumental passages. Fallen Angel concludes with the almost-epic "Winter Storm." Effects, vocalise, extended instrumental passages and rich Wakeman-styled keyboards give the track somewhat of a Yes feel. At the beginning of the second half of the track, Ann's lead is crystalline and melodic perfectly delivering the lyrical content. Listen to the carefully arranged interplay of the short vocal with long instrumental passages. Unlike the balance of the album's tracks, "Winter Storm" is primarily an instrumental. The gypsy returns briefly to close the album.
Fallen Angel will be released by Dream Aria during the first quarter of 2011. The artistic development, outstanding production and strong new material will certainly capture the hearts of Dream Aria's worldwide audience and expand their following. Don and Ann have done a tremendous job on this new project and clearly have a lot more music in their future. Bravo!