Label:Steel Gallery Records
Well I would put it straight and simple: I was anxiously waiting for the comeback -fifth- album by STAR.GATE from Thessaloniki Greece for two -obvious to me- reasons:
First of all I strongly believed that with their fourth “The Dream” masterpiece -an album that I have been listening non stop for almost two years now-, STAR.GATE have managed to reach the peak of their inspiration, delivering an absolute “just killer no filler” release, so I was curious enough to check out what they would have to offer on a possible next album.
Secondly when I learned about the addition of Vasilis Papadopoulos, on their vocal slot, I was somehow blown away. I was aware of Papadopoulos charismatic voice not only from his works with the cult Metallers KONAN from Thessaloniki, but mainly from his solo live appearances where he really took the hard rock and AOR classics he was choosing to cover, on the very next level as far as the vocal performance.
We all have the chance to witness a small gimps from the new STAR.GATE heaven through “The Tree” single that was released some weeks ago. “The Tree” is a beautiful composition, mainly based on its nostalgic chorus melody. Using the term “nostalgic” I mainly want to express the flashback that was made possible straight to the well known -and absolutely favorite- mid 70s – to early 80s Pomp Rock universe. As I heard the first single, I was starting to think that if such musical features would be spread through the album’s overall music, then the result would be something really amazing. Little I knew about the magical journey I was about to witness some weeks later, as I had the chance to listen to the whole album.
First things first. Who is behind the 2021 edition of STAR.GATE? Kostas Domenikiotis on bass, Vasilis Papadopoulos (ex-KONAN) on vocals, Anthimos Manti on guitars, Sakis Bandis (HORIZON’S END) on keyboards and Stergios Kourou (HORIZON’S END, WARDRUM) on drums. The above gentlemen are shaping the band’s current line up. The new fifth studio album will be released in almost a month from now and it is called “Unbroken Diamond”.
The “Unbroken” interlude opens the album’s gate. A small neoclassical theme enforced by the magic bass lines of Mr. Domenikiotis. 40 seconds later, the intro keyboard melody of the following “Unbroken Diamond” track would fill the room’s space. The vocal melodies are soon overtaking the first verse and the majestic chorus would drive the composition on its first glory. The track is following the well known neoclassical root of the band. Bandis have put some beautiful keyboard melodies in here -without forgetting to kickstart the song using a little retrowave theme-. Manti’s guitar solo is fabulous.
The catchy, neoclassical mood would be also followed on the following “Christmas Night” song which is the album’s second single. You can start counting the repeated plays for this one as you enjoy the beautiful vocal harmonies both in the verse and chorus and of course the keyboard solo -soundwise it straightly reflects the Vitalij Kuprij vibe found on ARTENSION’s debut album-. If you search for some real magic for the Christmas days to come, well search for this tune and do not waste your time on your hometown’s Christmas festivities.
The album’s first 70s touches are starting to appear on the main verse of the “Believe” song that follows. Papadopoulos highlights a beautifully mysterious and melodic theme for the main vocal lines of each verse, preparing us for the chorus. David Byron would have been proud for the verse melody and Ken Hensley for the keyboard solo. So what to we got here? URIAH HEEP Epic / Hard touches on the STAR.GATE realm? Oh yes! And this is only the beginning!
What follows is one of the album’s top moments IMO. “Birth of a Star” is a fantastic composition highlighting the Pomp Rock orientation that can be heard in many songs of this release. Should I refer to the amazing vocal melodies? Should I refer to the epic / romantic piano parts or to the fantastic guitar solo? This is a magnum opus. If you worship bands like STYX, KANSAS, PATRIARCH, ASIA (US), BURST and the similar you would sure get the vibe of this one. Mid 70s to early 80s Pomp Rock meets early 80s Crossover & Hard / Prog, under a neoclassical touch. Well ok. I am in heaven!
The overall structure and approaching on the next song’s intro part reminded me the “Just Between Us” song by TALISMAN -and I am making the above point under a positive mode-. I soon realized that the “Don’t Think About Tomorrow” track has one of the catchiest choruses in the whole album. Musically is balances between Pomp Rock and AOR, with the keyboard orchestration to be one of the main song’s highlights. Great track.
I have already refereed to “The Tree” song. It is one of the most brilliant compositions of this particular album, highlighting the Pomp Rock magic that we all hope to be a key feature into the future STAR.GATE journeys. Everything is top class in this song. I enjoyed the guitar solo very much in this one. You will loose the counting of the repeated plays for this song. I guarantee.
I would consider the “Sunlight” song as one of the biggest moments in the overall STAR.GATE repertoire so far. This is one of the songs that are able to bring tears in your eyes. The URIAH HEEP influences are passing through the magical kaleidoscope of Mr. Domenikiotis and the result is magical! You got to listen the song’s verses! You got to listen the pre-chorus bridge -probably the best moment of the overall album- and of course you got to listen to the chorus. Bandis is offering some Hammond and piano magic in here while the emphatic drums of Kourou are expanding the greatness.
The URIAH HEEP magic will remain in the next song as well. “I’ll Wait for You” is a pompous and emotional hymn to fantasy-romanticism (“fantasy” is for the music and “romanticism” is for the lyrics). I love Manti’s 70s oriented solo in here. This song is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
The album’s epilogue belongs to a wonderful composition of Sakis Bandis. “Diamond Dust” is a small, melancholic musical fairy tale that carries a strong Manos Hatzidakis influence, an influence that is one of the trademarks in Bandis musical creations. I wish that one day Bandis would offer us a complete album full of similar material.
I haven’t yet refereed to the bass lines of Kostas Domenikiotis but I will do it now. As I have pointed in the past he uses his bass as the main composing instrument of his music, so it is obvious and expected that the bass lines are a huge element on this new STAR.GATE album for one more time. However I am feeling that it is much more important to focus to Domenikiotis capacity as a songwriter. The composing talent of this particular musician is something really spectacular. Not only he managed to offer us some great new songs but he managed to evolve the band’s overall soundscape highlighting a lot of new elements that are really taking STAR.GATE to the very next level.
Stergios Kourou has once again delivered some drumming perfection on the album, offering not only the needed groove to each and every song part but a complete range of rhythm expression. I have paid some real attention not only to his technique in this particular recording but on the drum sound as well and I can assure you that the drum sound is one of the most noteable features on this record. Here we are listening to the overall physical drum sound that was recorded in the studio. No triggers, no banks with drum sound samplers, nothing like that. Just the pure, natural sound of a good set and the feeling that is produced through the musician’s performing dynamics. This is pure excellence.
I guess that the drum mixing was one of the challenges in here. A challenge suitable for Kostas Scandalis, who once again mixed and mastered the album on Infinity studio, and has offered a crystal clear production. It seems that Scandalis is playing an important role as far as the band’s sound and I am pointing this, having in my mind the great production that he achieved on their previous album as well.
Conclusion: Here we got a brilliant album that combines the Neoclassical Metal sound of the 90s with the Pomp Rock sound of the mid 70s-early 80s plus the 70s Epic / Hard sound and vibe that was mainly expressed by the URIAH HEEP pioneers on their golden era. I see this album as the beginning of a new age for the band.
I hope that the new musical elements founded in this album will get evolved to big sound trademarks in the future. For one more time the album’s key feature is the top class songwriting. So if you are searching for a record that includes really top songs and no fillers, go and spend your hard earned money in this one -no matter what is our favorite musical taste, I mean it-.
Vasilis Papadopoulos appears to be a wise choice as far as the vocals. I strongly believe that his warm and emotional voice can support the band’s evolving -or new if you prefer- musical direction to a world of fantasy and magic where miracles are still possible. “Unbroken Diamond” is one those miracles. For sure!
The album will be released on Steel Gallery Records, January, 21st, 2022. You can pre-order it here.