Review Summary: The Great Gamble pays off.
It feels like it's been a long time since America's had a really strong progressive metal band start up and take off. Bands the caliber of Dream Theater and Symphony X really don't happen every day, it seems, and so it's a real treat to witness the birth of a band with that kind of talent and direction. And yes, if it weren't apparent enough, I am talking about The Great Gamble, a band whose first LP, Book 1
will easily cement them as the
up and comers to watch in American metal.
And I use the phrase "up and comers" very loosely, considering how toned and polished this album is. for being a debut, Book 1
rivals the quality of albums like The Divine Wings of Tragedy
in not only musicianship and production, but in scope as well. Spanning nearly a full hour, Book 1
contains only two tracks clocking in under ten minutes of runtime - and one of them is an ambient transition track ala Cynic's "Bija!" while the other is a "mere" eight and a half minutes in length. Naturally the first thing this should bring to mind is a giant, fluorescent yellow street sign that says "EPIC POWER METAL AHEAD," and that would be accurate.
But while this approach fails for some bands (resulting in a rather sarcastic use of the word "epic" and a rather shoddy reputation for power metal in general), The Great Gamble incorporate all of the successful tactics used by others in the long-form arena and disregard much of the fluff and cheese associated with power metal, instead meshing its musical tones and lyrical themes with the musical direction and sheer display of skill found in progressive metal. And while opting for a hard-hitting sound ala latter days Symphony X paired with the sort of solo-heavy virtuosity seen in Dream Theater and vocals reminiscent of King's X, it's not hard to see how The Great Gamble have no problem keeping long-form tracks dynamic, interesting, impressive, and even catchy.
While the work is powerful in its entirety (and flows seamlessly from track to track), there are a few incredibly standout moments. While most of "Breach at Fort Mycenae" is musically impressive, there is a moment shortly after the 4:30 mark where a piano interlude introduces a technical duel between Al Joseph's guitar and the violin skills of Matt Weaver that can't help but evoke the same kind of awe experienced in one-of-a-kind tunes like "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Of course, while this may be the capstone achievement of the album, it's simply littered with great moments, such as Steven Michael Joseph's bombastic drum solo outro to "The Ghost of Three Reflections" - perhaps the greatest display of his otherwise subtle in the mix but grand in sound approach to the kit. Audible, groovy bass makes itself known at many breaks, just as keyboards push through in atmospheric builds that propel the tone of the album into something positively huge.
In truth, what really drives the success of Book 1
is that The Great Gamble really do have the pure talent to back up the machismo required of any band launching such an ambitious effort in the power/prog metal genre. And with such talent combined with the ability to write huge, powerful songs displayed here, it's hard to imagine these guys NOT becoming a massive force in the genre.