(No Remorse 2018)
To some of us, Lethal’s Programmed is something of a holy grail album. Released in 1990, it brilliantly synthesized, refined and crystallized the very best of the American progressive power metal movement epitomized by bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, Heir Apparent and so on. With impeccable songwriting (I could make a compelling case that “Obscure the Sky” is the best heavy metal song ever written) and the other-worldly vocals of Tom Mallicoat, Programmed vaulted Lethal to instant legend status. Contrary to rampant Internet rumors, Lethal (minus guitarist Eric Cook, who sadly passed away in 2012) remains a going concern today, with sporadic live appearances and a long-awaited new album in the pipeline. To tide us over during the seemingly-interminable wait, however, Lethal members Dell Hull (guitars), Glen Cook (bass) and Jerry Hartman (drums) formed a new band called Open Burn, adding the not inconsiderable talents of Eric William Johns on vocals. After self-releasing a 5-song EP last year, Open Burn have now unleashed their full-length debut, Divine Intermission, via Greece’s always reliable No Remorse Records.
That classic, timeless Lethal spirit is alive and well, as that band’s fingerprints are found all over Divine Intermission. Songs like “Drawing Lines,” “A Stone’s Throw” (after jazzy intro), “Mary’s Lament,” and “Pointless” are very much in the Programmed style, featuring those classy trademark “marching” guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and acrobatic vocals. Fantastic stuff. Elsewhere, Open Burn indulges more of a dark progressive vibe on cuts like “Statues” (which appears here in two versions), “Seven Orchids” and “Dissection Lullaby.” Throughout Divine Intermission, Open Burn manages to balance the classy melodic/traditional sound with the more introspective, experimental sound, with outstanding results. For his part, Johns fits the band perfectly, seemingly shrugging off the inevitable Mallicoat comparisons by delivering a stellar performance: high-pitched, soaring, emotive, expressive, and ideally suited for the Open Burn style. Sometimes he sounds a bit like Harry Conklin, sometimes a touch like Tim Owens, but always firmly in the progressive power metal mold. Lyrically, too, Johns’ contributions have a positive effect on Divine Intermission. His writing is thought-provoking, ambiguous and perhaps more than a bit melancholy, such as in “Pointless,” where he sings, “There is no higher purpose / There is no higher calling / Did you jump my friend / Or were you always falling?” Or in “Prison of Me”: “You can change the walls / The cage remains the same / Locked behind my own eyes / More a number than a name.”
If there’s a knock on Divine Intermission, I suppose it’s that the album reprises all 5 tracks from last year’s self-released EP, so anyone who has the EP is getting only four new Open Burn compositions. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me; after all, No Remorse Records can arrange for much wider distribution and consumption of Divine Intermission than the band achieved on their own with the EP. Stellar songs like “Drawing Lines” and “Pointless” should not be relegated to some rare private band pressing, but deserve to be heard by everyone. If that means I bought them twice, then so be it. Also, be forewarned that Open Burn are all about contrasting light and shade, heaviness and serenity. There’s a darkened, restrained, subdued vibe running through Divine Intermission that may not appeal to the beer-chugging, leather-and-spikes-gauntlet-wearing crowd. But for those willing to invest the time and the effort, Open Burn will handsomely reward you with a remarkable album of pure, classy American thinking man’s progressive power metal that follows in the footsteps of Programmed and effectively burnishes the Lethal legacy, albeit under a different name.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~