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Seven The Hardway - 'Seven The Hardway' http://www.rocktopia.co.uk/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/67/50/0e/885_seventhehardwayseventhehardway_1292970557.jpg Hot

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Talented people proving how talented they are, but be warned, it's not an easy listen.

Although an unfamiliar name, Seven The Hardway is a US supergroup that brings together three consummate musicians who should be well known to anyone who really knows their rock and metal. Featuring ex-Yngwie Malmsteen and Royal Hunt vocalist Mark Boals, solo and Project Driver guitarist/keyboardist Tony Macalpine and Soul Sirkus/Southern Sons drummer Virgil Donati, all three have a history together, with MacAlpine and Donati both being members of Planet X and Steve Vai’s band, and all of them being three-quarters of Ring Of Fire. Seven The Hardway however, despite having the outstanding level of musicianship you would expect from its collaborators, also contains a lot of surprises.

I’d already had an e-mail conversation about this album with our resident virtuoso guitarist expert, the lovely Monica Castedo-Lopez, who assured me that my initial aversion to the sheer heaviness and modern down-tuned vibe of the music, would soon pass. To some extent she was right, but after half a dozen plays there are still parts that are so alien to my senses that they make the most obtuse work of bands like Fates Warning and Zero Hour sound like a 3 chord boogie band.

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At their most accessible Seven The Hardway play inventive progressive metal with well thought out arrangements and multi-layered vocal parts. Opener ‘Liar’ is stark and modern sounding at first, but familiarity reveals there are hooks aplenty and Boals sings his ass off, similarly the lumbering metal riffs of ‘All I Had’ make for one heavy dark verse, but the chorus and MacAlpine’s shred solo (straight from his early neo-classical albums) turns it on it’s head. ‘The Wall’ is another one with harsh uncommercial riffs juxtaposed with Boals’ highly melodic vocals, whilst the light and shade of ‘Good And Evil’ could almost be Dream Theater, right down to the LaBrie-like vocals. The only totally accessible track is the subtle ballad ‘Where I’m Going’, which is built around acoustic guitars and has an excellent acoustic guitar solo. ‘Blame’ is another oddity, a modern juggernaut of a tune that comes across as a more metallic and angular Winger.

It’s not all good news though, the likes of ‘Solitary Man’ and ‘The Cage’ have too many time changes and crazy rhythms from Donati to be totally cohesive, whilst the rap vocals on ‘Guilt’ don’t really do the song any favours. With a powerful production and good separation of the instruments, Seven The Hardway have made an album that can be appreciated by people who admire good musicianship, and I have no doubt that Messrs. Boals, Donati and MacAlpine (who also handles bass) wholeheartedly believe in what they’re doing. However, in the complexity of the route they’ve chosen I fear they’ll alienate a lot of people who like their back catalogues. Seven The Hardway is the sound of talented people proving how talented they are, but be warned, it’s not an easy listen.

Phil Ashcroft

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