4.5 out of 5 Stars!
This is one female-led band I’ve discovered only recently and am currently enjoying both their short EP (Sanctuary) as well as their debut album (What If Never Was). Well, in truth, I’ve been doing so for more than a year and have been itching to write a full review of Scarlet Hollow’s debut album, but only until now did I find the perfect moment.
Anyway, Scarlet Hollow is led by singer Allison von Buelow, a gifted individual who has a voice extraordinarily similar in tone and texture to that of Sandi Saraya (of the band Saraya), although Scarlet Hollow plays a cross between Progressive Rock, AOR, and Progressive Metal. The music is a delicate blend of guitars and keyboards, with an equal number of quiet passages and heavy sections, all with a rather dreamy and melodic atmosphere enveloping many of the tracks.
And the band displays a wide variety of styles, often within a single track. For instance, the opening song “The Path” starts out sounding as if it’s going to be a Heavy Metal/Progressive Metal excursion, but then the keyboards suddenly pop in with that “dreamy” atmosphere I mentioned earlier, and the female vocals deliver the first verse, and the listeners find themselves in another new territory, a delightful cross between Prog-Rock and Prog-Metal and Neo-Prog and AOR and…well, you name it. Near the song’s midway point, a light synth solo prevails, followed by a gentle section with acoustic guitar and another enthralling vocal passage (sung in a foreign language, no less), showing that this band is just crammed with pleasant surprises for the patient listener. So, just when that listener thinks one type of song/genre is about to occur, another type of song/genre (or many) shocks the listener from his/her complacency.
So many songs are appealing on so many levels, both aurally and emotionally, depending on which musical style one is seeking. “Apathy’s Child,” for instance, is a lighter foray into almost jazz-influenced Prog-Rock territory liberally mixed with strong AOR influences, thanks to the engaging melodies of the verses/choruses. Whereas “Thermal Winds,” subsequently, begins as a harder-rocking track with yet another absorbing (and haunting) melody line that, overall, might have seemed appropriate on an early album by Heart, only with some extra atmosphere in the Prog-Rock universe, thanks to the song’s midsection. It’s such a spot-perfect blending of moods and styles that it’s difficult to label Scarlet Hollow as any one specific genre of music when so many are obviously—and readily—abundant. Definitely a major plus!
And then, other styles abound. “The Waiting,” for example, begins with an acoustically-driven melody line, that eventually gives way to a hard-rocking buoyant chorus in the style of Lana Lane, Saraya, and Heart, yet almost—and always—eerily moody. Similarly, “Beyond The Lines” is a track that starts with an acoustic guitar and singable vocal line with a touch of yearning and angst that reminds me of early Heart or even Melissa Etheridge. Then “All That Remains” engages the listener in more low-level acoustic-based AOR with some emotional overtones, before a synth solo takes over, and then a piano joins the instrumentation in the final section before another memorable melody line (with thunder sound effects) brings the song to a close.
“As the Blade Falls” is a rockier track that approximates a “Heart meets Led Zeppelin” style of music, and once again, an intriguing melody line reigns supreme. “20/20” provides yet another mood, with some of the song being heavier in parts, yet lighter in others, and yet another intriguing melody shines through while an almost-Gothic atmosphere dominates much of the track. And the final song, “Nightfall Overture,” once again brings Prog-Rock elements to the fore as the band traipses through Saraya AOR-territory but wrapping it up in a blanket of almost creepy (at times) Prog-Rock/Metal influences in the style of darker Jethro Tull or (again) “Heart meets Led Zeppelin” dreamy, acoustic-driven rock.
Now, up to this point, I’ve held off mentioning my favorite track since it’s quite exemplary and definitely needs its own full paragraph…
At eleven minutes, “Around The Bend,” the album’s fourth (and longest) song, contains so many engaging moods—some spacey, some Gothic, some rocking, some AOR, and many progressive to boot—with each style performed with excellent instrumentation and vocals (Marillion and Magenta influences pop up everywhere, alongside a healthy touch of Lana Lane’s best material). And the track is performed mostly in a unique 7/4 time signature. Crap! Every damned instrument—from guitar and keyboards, to bass and drums—fits together into a hypnotic puzzle of perfection to enhance the melodic vocal line. And an eerie background— including exquisite vocal ad-libs, synth, guitar, and organ fills—just adds to the overall sound-tapestry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked REPEAT during this track in an attempt to absorb every seemingly flawless portion of its instrumentation. During every full play of the album as a whole, I can never get past this song. It’s as if I constantly hear something excitingly new every time I play it. I’m obsessed to hit REPEAT and revel again and again and again in its glory each time I listen to it. This is undoubtedly the spotlight track, the one to certainly “hook” new Prog-Rock fans into a love affair with this talented band. Absolutely brilliant! Now, let me pause the writing of this review in order to replay this track yet again…and again…and again…and, I kid you not, again…
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no other female-led band that has quite the same sound or style as Scarlet Hollow, so in that respect, there’s something definitely unique about the band’s approach. This is one act I’m going to watch closely to see how it progresses!