American proggers Strange Land's debut album Anomaly was a great mix of progressive rock, metal and hard rock, displaying well crafted songmanship and impressive musicality. Quite some time has passed since Anomaly, but thankfully they've arrived with their second album. It's great to see they've been carrying on, unlike most independent bands who have to call it a day for various reasons.
First off, Blaming Season is no sophomore jinx. It is quite different from the band's debut offering though. This album is a lot more mid-paced and marked by more distinctive musicianship focusing on remarkable bass and guitar playing. Vocalist Chad Novell's voice has improved significantly and his bass playing simply makes this album. Though not quite in a melodic sense, he reminds me of the great Doug Pinnick of King's X, employing both gripping vocal harmonies and stand-alone bass lines that characterize much of Strange Land's compositions. On some songs, he sings the way Pinnick does on his last solo album Emotional Animal. His nasal delivery on the somewhat grunge-inflected opening cut "Obliquity" immediately stands out for its sludgy guitar work and Rush meets King's X type of bass drive. The song is rather midtempo and brings Novell's great voice to fore before things take a 180 turn on the following number "Cause and Defect", the longest and most engaging song on the album. After hearing this amazing tune, I had to visit the official Strange Land website to check the band members' influences. The rhythmic drumming and ever-changing riffage in the intro evoke Zero Hour's finest moments on The Towers of Avarice album. Honestly, I wasn't surprised to see this disc listed in one of the members' profiles. This song, with especially its independent bass motif, is so uncannily Zero Hour it's almost electrifying. No cloning whatsoever, it's just obvious these guys were influenced by Zero Hour's amazing chops. Halfway through, the complex riffage is reduced and in comes a beautiful acoustic section where Novell's emotional voice once again takes the lead. Even his vocals could be likened to Erik Rosvold's, except that Rosvold has a wider range. The last 30 seconds or so of this song features a sick guitar soloing that proves these guys have improved a lot since their debut, both songwriting-wise and technically.
On the following tracks, the album retains its dark and brooding tone that was set right off the bat by the first song. Raw and grim acoustic guitars kick "Marionette" off enveloping thick bass chords and striking rhythm guitar. A fiery instrumental passage unites everything a prog listener seeks in a good prog band before it segues into another solemnt acoustic section. It is amazing how much acoustic guitar is used on this album and how well it works. Keys are minimal on the other hand. They're just added in the brief intro of the moving "In a Mind" and the short instrumental track that precedes the creepy and wicked "Alone We Go". Along with the keys, the band incorporates gruelling bass tones, strange sound effects, whispered and out of sync voiceovers before Sean Gill cuts right through the piece with an amazing guitar solo that is formulated by long, sustained notes. It is really uplifting. Moreover, Gill's fretwork on "Dear Helena" is a bit akin to Ty Tabor's bluesy jam sessions on both his solo album and earlier King's X material. There is a lot of guitar to enjoy here. One minor complaint could be made about the drumming which is rather flat and even a bit too straightforward to match the spontaneity of some of the songs, and I guess that's because the band enlisted the services of a new drummer for the recording of Blaming Season. Nothing too serious though, as there is still a lot of good cymbal work and even pounding rhythms to boot, especially on the closing track "Below the After".
With Blaming Season, Strange Land have secured their place in prog circles, and one can only expect good things to happen on their third album.