Unknown & Underrated – Shadow Gallery
Today sees another band take the spotlight in my ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series, in the hope that it brings with it a few more fans and a little more well-deserved success.
If you are interested in reading previous entries in this series, they can be found via the following links:
My choice on this occasion happens to be one of my all-time favourite bands and so I’m going to do all I can to persuade you to give them a listen if you’ve not done so already.
My choice is: Shadow Gallery
A quick look at certain social media sites and my choice would seem to be justified. I’m not saying for one second that ‘likes’ on Facebook and ‘followers’ on Twitter are an accurate barometer of a band’s success but I have to admit that I was slightly surprised by what I found. Just over 18,000 ‘likes’ and 1800 followers does seem a low return for a band that has been releasing top quality music for around a quarter of a century. But then again, one has to consider that maybe the traditional demographic of the fans does not lend itself to the world of social media. Either way, these figures seem low to me, so it’s about time the spotlight was shone on this tremendous band.
Formed in the mid-90s in Pennsylvania under an original moniker of Sorcerer, it wasn’t until 1992 that the world was introduced to Shadow Gallery via their self-titled debut album. Since then, over the intervening 22 years, a further five albums have been released, ‘Carved In Stone’ (1995), ‘Tyranny’ (1998), ‘Legacy’ (2001), ‘Room V’ (2005) and ‘Digital Ghosts’ (2009).
It isn’t the best back catalogue in terms of volume and frequency. However, this can be seen as something of a double-edged sword: infrequent album output can dent momentum but it does tend to guarantee that the music is given the time it needs to ensure that each album is the very best that it can be. Based on the Shadow Gallery output, I’m firmly seated in the latter camp.
Each of these albums holds a very special place in my heart but special mention has to go to ‘Tyranny’ and ‘Room V’. The former was my introduction to this great band and remains in my top 5 albums of all time. The latter is the reason behind my most lavish music-related purchase, as the original artwork for the album, created by the highly talented Rainer Kalwitz, sits proudly in the study area of my house.
The question remains though: why do I love this band so much?
The reasons are several to be honest and include sophisticated song-writing, fantastic melodic sensibilities, a relatively unique vocal approach, the variety on offer and the fact that the band are not afraid or ashamed of taking the listener on massively long and often self-indulgent instrumental tangents. I love it all and I suspect that most progressive rock fans would too if they’ve not checked them out before.
Dealing with the biggest and saddest part of the story next, the band suffered a great tragedy on October 31st 2008 when lead vocalist Mike Baker suffered a fatal heart attack. Having had the pleasure of talking with guitarist/keyboardist Gary Wehrkamp on a few occasions, I know that it was a big decision for the band whether or not to continue. However, spurred on by the memory of Mike and by the touching messages from fans across the globe, Shadow Gallery soldiered on, in the process discovering a new lead vocalist, Brian Ashland.
Whilst on the subject of vocals, this is actually one of the big strengths of the band. Whether it was with Mike Baker or Brian Ashland at the helm, the rest of the band have always contributed backing vocals. The amount has increased in latter years but what I really like is that each member of the band can sing and they enjoy contributing vocals to the music. And, whilst there are bands out there who have bigger name vocalists standing front and centre, Shadow Gallery offer some of the very best vocal performances in rock and heavy metal circles. Some of the occasional a capella work is simply stunning, but regardless of whether it stands atop a heavy section or a lighter, more introspective segment, the vocals stand out every time, often giving me goosebumps in the process.
I mentioned earlier about the song writing and the variety of the music. Let me elaborate. Just about every album has a concept story or a theme that runs through it. To bring these concepts to life, the music runs the gamut from quiet to heavy, fast to slow, up-tempo to quietly brooding, symphonic to simple aggression and back again. There are quick-fire instrumentals and interludes which segue from one part of a story to another as well as larger, more epic pieces that last for half an hour or so, telling a story in its own right. This symphonic element is a very important to the Shadow Gallery armoury, one that creates a very dramatic, theatrical and occasionally cinematic veneer.
Music like this would not be successful however without the talent to back it up. And in Shadow Gallery, you don’t have one decent musician, you have several. Gary Wehrkamp (guitars/keys), Brendt Allman (guitars), Carl Cadden-James (bass), Joe Nevolo (drums), Brian Ashland (lead vocals/guitar) and Eric Deigert (vocals/Keys) are all masters of their chosen arts and come together time after time to produce some of the most striking and beautiful progressive music that I have ever heard.
And, whilst some tend to shy away from the perceived excesses of progressive music, Shadow Gallery proudly embrace them. This, above all, is why I love this band. Extended guitar solos, keyboard solos, duels, instrumental passages that last for the length of entire songs, they all feature heavily for this band. For the most part, the dexterity and musicianship just boggles the mind and I just love listening to the band sweeping me off on another tangent within a tangent. It is the precious antidote to those bands these days that think that guitar solos are not cool. In my world they are and when done this well, they sound magnificent.
The instrumental parts never sound out of place either – they always fit and are a natural inclusion into the music. For many years, the band did not tour and so one always wondered whether they could pull it off in a live setting. In 2010, I finally got my chance to find out, at ProgPower Europe. Aside from a few sound gremlins and technical issues, their headline show (only their second ever show) was a thing of beauty, with the band’s overt enthusiasm the main thing that sticks in my mind to this day.
In a nutshell, if indulgent, dramatic and technical progressive music with big melodies is your thing, I strongly believe that you need this band in your life as soon as possible. You will not regret it, trust me.