Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast
Uli Kusch is at it again. After leaving Masterplan in 2006, the veteran drummer was asked by Bjorn and Benny Jansson of Swedish melo-prog metal group Tears Of Anger if he'd be interested in performing on one of their albums. Impressed by what he heard from the group, Kusch suggested the Jansson brothers also collaborate with him on a new project, then recruited Xsavior bassist Mathias Garnås and Dionysys/Circle II Circle keyboardist Kaspar Dahlqvist to round out the lineup of what was to become Ride The Sky - a rather ironic moniker given it's the title of an old song from Helloween, the band Uli was kicked out of back in 2001. Though 2007's NEW PROTECTION is the project's debut release, it's a little difficult to truly consider them a "new" act considering the combined experience of the five members comprises over seventy prior albums! Speaking of prior acts, it's interesting to note than Bjorn Jansson was the vocalist chosen to replace former Masterplan singer Jorn Lande in prog-metal group Beyond Twilight due to their similarity in vocal sound and style. With that bit of information in mind, you might assume the goal Ride The Sky set for themselves was to recapture the sound of the excellent power metal from the first Masterplan album, and you would be at least partially correct. What, in fact, the band has managed to do is to take the best elements of that album and incorporate into the mix some progressive touches from the Jansson brothers' groups in order to make an even better and more diverse end result.
The opening title track sets the stage nicely for the whole album, delivering a midtempo AOR-meets-power piece reminiscent of Masterplan with simple but effective riffs and strong atmospheric keyboard lines as well as well-written lyrics conveyed with excellent vocals that sound virtually identical to Lande's. Following this track is either a brilliant move or a colossal misstep, depending on your personal opinion regarding radio-friendly material. "A Smile From Heaven's Eye" is a major key pop-oriented tune with a keyboard-drenched choral melody which sounds vaguely reminiscent of any number of 80's hits - fans of hair metal will rejoice, but those who prefer their power metal dark will be disappointed. That said, the song is nothing less than ridiculously catchy and features some great guitar fills and leads from Benny Jansson. Benny and Dahlqvist manage to get much more into the spotlight on some of the other tracks on the disc, particularly on energetic and bombast-laden closer "A Crack In The Wall" and standout cut "The Prince Of Darkness," the latter of which brings the prog elements of the band to the forefront with much more aggressive and complex rhythms and vocals as well as a superb solo tradeoff section. Other highlights are plentiful and varied - there's something for just about everyone who appreciates any of the styles being incorporated. "Break The Chain," for example, is a slow and menacing chug-riff-driven cut which calls to mind some of the darker tracks from Dream Theater's AWAKE album and the slower numbers from Elegy's PRINCIPLES OF PAIN, "Far Beyond The Stars" is a faster early-At Vance-like keyboard-laden power metal tune, and while there's no actual 'ballad' per se on the album (much to the relief of some, no doubt), "Heaven Only Knows" packs plenty of emotion into its heavy-riff-backed delivery, especially in the excellent chorus.
Fans of Masterplan's early work, Jorn Lande's solo albums, and well-written, well-played blends of power, progressive, and AOR-tinged metal should definitely snap up this album as soon as possible. The group is still listed as only a side project, but if the contents of NEW PROTECTION are any indication of what Ride The Sky is capable of, hopefully they will continue on as a full-fledged band in the future.