If the title of this review doesn't make sense to you, then Mind Control may not be your cup of tea. My title refers to a pair of art subjects, one from the world of literature and the other a classic musical milestone. Each work, in its own way leads you to this masterpiece by the group Souljourners. For as a work of literature, Mind Control is as original and as thought provoking as the tale told by George Orwell. As a concept album, this work rivals one of my all time favorites from the band Rush. So be prepared to open up your mind as well as your ears for one of the best albums I have heard in recent years.
Recommend this product?
When lead singer Michael Couts says at the start of Mind Control, "It's time to wake up", he is not talking about getting out of bed. He is speaking about taking a look around at a world not too different from the one that Orwell predicted. Where creativity and individuality are suppressed by the powers to be. From that point on, well, I will let you find out for yourself where the story leads.
And what a story it is. Complete with a soundtrack that is the heart and soul of the soon to be major recording artists Souljourners. Beginning with lead singer/guitarist Michael Couts who trained under the very underrated Oz Fox from the band Stryper, this band has the talent to overwhelm you with their musical ability. Couts is in a league with the best of the best in both his guitar playing and his articulate vocals that remind me of an early Jon Oliva from Savatage.
The musical talents of the band don't stop there. Keyboardist Paul Ellingson who has been classically trained under the tutiledge of Dr. Corry Bell, adds a touch of class and melodic structure to a band that uses every tool at their disposal to produce a debut album that sounds like it was made by already seasoned veterans in the world of progressive rock.
To round out the group is the rhythm section of Scoop, otherwise known as David Brockenborough on bass and drummer Chandler Taylor . This able pair provide the backbone needed for such a talented group of musicians. The complex diversity and unique time changes of this music require a very talented pair to keep them on track. This is no problem for Souljourners.
But the real treat is what this team has been able to create together. Mind Control will be without a doubt on my list of the greatest finds in music. From the opening song "Permanent Scars" with its rich textures of solid metal supplied by Couts and the subtle keyboards silhouetted by a string section, you will be hooked and reeled in! They are definitely using the right bait. By the time you get to the shreaderific guitar solo, the senses are way past the point of permanent overload and Souljourners will undoubtedly become a habit that is next to impossible to kick.
Wow, all that and we only touched on the first song! Just imagine what is to follow. An album that hits you with the force of a sledgehammer. With a majesty reserved for the likes of Dream Theater or maybe Blind Guardian, Souljourner joins the ranks of these heavyweights with Mind Control. The guitar work will amaze you on tracks like "Crazy Times" (with a little help from Phil Collen of Def Leppard), the metallic thunder of "Tangent Universe" and the crunching "Fall". But there is so much six string magic on this album. Throughout, Couts delivers a brand of fiery metal majesty that is in the league of dare I say, my hero, John Petrucci. I could go on and on about his playing but I must make sure to save space for the other fine points of the band.
I was totally enthraled by the interplay between keyboards and guitar in the title track "Mind Control". Paul Ellingson makes me wonder just how good his instructor must be if he is still learning from him! Paul has such a gift and he uses it to perfection on this disc. Not only on this track but on songs like the mesmerizing "Lost Vision". His classical training comes to the forefront and takes center stage on this haunting melody that is as captivating as any piano work you will ever hear.
The other aspect of this band that makes them so special is their unique ability to arrange pieces that are grandiose and harmonically perfect. The stunning "I've Waited" is a prime example. There is so many surprises in this song that it would be a shame for me to spoil it for you. Just say that you have been warned how good a piece this is when it sweeps you away with its majesty. And as a tip, brush up on your Spanish.
But for me, it all comes together perfectly in the album closer "The Avenger". Not only does this give you the stories parting message, it does so with such musical brilliance that you won't realize you have been holding your breath until the song is over. As you finally let the air escape, it hits you, it is time to take a look around and not be passive bystanders. If you do not take control for yourself, someone will do it for you. Guys the message is loud and clear. A mind is a terrible thing to waste as the saying goes. Thanks for the wake-up call.
This band has no weakness. Instead it has a destiny. One that will undoubtedly carry them to the top of the heap. I feel lucky to be a part of their journey. I also have to say thank you to the band, as they have helped me to open my eyes. As I said before this is a concept album. The story is really an outline for which the listener can fill in the blanks. When I spoke with the manager of the band she told me that this album's real purpose is to make people think and if that is all that people take away from it, then that would be awesome. Well Tina, Souljourner has done their job and done it well. This is one of the most thought provoking albums that I have ever heard and musically a total rock and roll treat!
Another amazing fact about Souljourner is that this project was started 2 years ago when Michael and Paul were grizzly old codgers at the ripe age of 19! Scoop was all of 18 at the time and Chandler was looking forward to retirement by just turnig 17 at that point! They were "discovered" the night they won the award as Best High School Band in Southern California. This great work gives me hope once again in the youth of this country. I guess not all are being swept into the mind numbing world of todays radio wasteland. Such things as integrity and character can still be found in a generation that seems to look upon these qualities as a negative. Not to mention how much we have to look forward too as this very talented band becomes the grizzled old rockers that they already surpass in ability.
Track listing for Mind Control:
1. Permanent Scars
2. Crazy Times
4. I've Waited
5. Sapphire World
6. Lost Vision
7. Medicated Memories
8. Half Life
9. Mind Control
10. Tangent Universe
12. The Avenger
What does Souljourners bring to the world of music that no one else can? I posed that question to Michael and his reply reveals just what this band stands for, he said that Souljourners is all about "Artisic expression musically that carries a unique message". Well Michael, your message IS music to the ears and also a jump start to the grey cells. I should have asked him if getting hooked on Souljourners is another form of Mind Control!!
But praise comes for this band from many sources. I had a chance to ask co-producer of the album, Karen Stever just what she thought of it and her reply tells you what other great artist think of Souljourners:
"It was one of the most challenging records I have worked on due to sheer volume of extraordinary content and yet it has been one of the most rewarding records to have finished and I still play it ALOT! I am very proud of them".
Soaring virtuoso guitar work, fabulous keyboards interwoven and a touch of orchestration where needed. This is as good as it gets. If you want to take a chance on an album this one will not disappoint. It has it all for any progressive music fan. Just remember to put your thinking cap on before the headphones!
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