Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins – Pawn And Prophecy – Album Review
You can always tell a band is ready to rock when the first words you hear are shouts of “whoa” & “yeah” – am I right? Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins are back in the mix here at the page with a brand-new record called Pawn And Prophecy – first time we’ve had’em back since hearing them in 2016 on their self-titled record. And you know…it’s funny…I never really considered the irony that existed in the moniker of this Metal crew of all-stars last time around…you gotta figure it’s at least made these guys crack a smile or two at some point in time…I mean…they’re pretty much anything but silent in any way.
They get the blood pumpin’ quickly in the build-up of the opening tune “Masters Of The Hall” before they unleash the freakin’ BEAST around the forty-five second mark, taking the tempo and killer sound well-beyond whatever the maximum you’d find in damn near any other band. Michael Romeo has done an exceptional job of the drum programming on this cut and filling in the atmosphere with the keyboards, and the guitar solos from either Lance Barnewold or Rod Rivera – or both – are hot enough to start the fretboard smoking. “Masters Of The Hall” roars with energy & complexity every bit as much as it shines through epic hooks and gripping instrumentation – and I haven’t even mentioned Alan Tecchio’s vocals yet! Believe me, they’re worth a sentence or two at the very least – this dude is INSANITY INCARNATE – and absolutely fucking awesome on “Masters Of The Hall.” I’ll admit, lyrically, I usually go for a lot less Vikings in the stuff I normally listen to, I ain’t gonna lie – but content not completely aside, I think what’s been written IS interesting & engaging – they’re using themes you’ll often find in Metal & its surrounding genres, but if you’re not normally dipping into those pools, it’ll make the uniqueness in the word department stand-out even a bit more for ya. Because it’s very much like a tale, a fable, a story – a legend perhaps; whatever you want to call it, it certainly comes with legendary sound. The amount of demands on Tecchio’s vocals for “Masters Of The Hall” are absolutely killer – the kind that would 100% need someone with the technique, skill, confidence, and power to deliver – and thankfully, Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins has exactly that & more in Alan, who essentially earns his whole paycheck on this first track with the brilliantly inspired performance he puts in. Beyond clear how dialed-in this band has become; they were tight before – they’re even more deadly now.
Mike LePond gets a bit more of the spotlight on “Black Legend” – his low-rumble & smart musicianship can be heard more throughout this second cut. Also the lead-single if I’m not mistaken – at the very least, it’s got itself a video already, which you can check out below and watch these music-savages storm and stomp all over the stage to the wild riffs & energy “Black Legend” pumps out. They’re a band full of serious Metal all-stars…the top-notch level of musicianship that you’ll find on these first two cuts are solid examples of the band’s extreme capabilities – you can count on them to deliver flawlessly no matter how complex it gets or how far their song structure will take them. “Black Legend” has less time to roam and explore than “Masters Of The Hall” did; not necessarily an intentional effort to write a hit, but much more adherent to a quicker flow that would make it more suitable as a single for sure. Chorus hooks are solid, the passion is relentless as ever, the vocals are crushin’ it hard once again – BUT…I suppose I’d have to argue that when it comes to this particular tune…it’d be damn near impossible to steal the show any harder than the guitars on this track do. That’s where the real hooks of “Black Legend” occur perhaps more than any other element…which is awesome, because the bass from Mike and the vocals from Alan are seriously impressive too – I just don’t know what could beat the riffs of the guitars of this track when it comes to its most memorable aspect. In any event, it’s a rad ‘problem’ to have when you’re spoiled for choice like this…pick an element of “Black Legend” and you’ll find five players that are all kicking ass towards a sum total even greater than its individual parts. Awesome.
Keep in mind, I’m far from any kind of expert on Metal as I’ve explained many times…sometimes I wonder if I’m actually an expert in any kind of music at all when it comes right down to it, and I’ve written nearly 1800 reviews personally for this site at this point. Jack of all trades and master of nothing – that’s me. It’s also what I love about seeing/hearing the opposite side of that coin…when you run into dedicated musicians like Mike LePond and his crew that do what they do SO DAMN WELL that it’ll drop your jaw to the ground in amazement at times. And whether or not you know one kind of music or you feel like you’re more familiar with other styles – it DOESN’T MATTER when it comes to being able to hearing how invested & interested the players of a band are. When you listen to a song like “Antichrist” – I mean…at least to me, these guys ALL sound incredibly inspired and seriously into this wicked groove. Guitar rhythms lead the way with a resounding crunchy riff to pull you in, Mike’s bass again displays that killer innovative style & instinct he has for how to beef-up the structure & punch of a song, and the vocals…good LORD…the VOCALS of this band…Alan is leaving nothing out of these performances. Tons of character in the music…sounds like there’s a choir-like effect or something added by the keyboards at points, which I dig – and I think the solo heading towards the three-minute mark is freakin’ magnificent. Like no joke – that’s the kind of solo that takes you on a true journey…the kind of break in the music that even people out there looking for that sweet-sweet hit of only verse/chorus/verse can appreciate, just because there’s truly so much there to listen to, even in the short space it exists in. The riffs these guys are comin’ up with…like with or without vocals, this band is just fantastic to listen to; there’s zero doubt that Alan had yet another killer performance on this cut, but I found that the beginning & ending of “Antichrist” and the instrumentation during the middle was just as amazing, if not maybe even more-so.
The TONES these guys get from their instruments…I mean…between the settings they’re using and the stunningly skilled musicianship Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins possesses – you just can’t fuckin’ beat a sound as punishingly awesome as what you’ll find on “I Am The Bull” as it begins. That’s GNARLY people, full-stop. The texture and menacing atmosphere of “I Am The Bull” is SO GOOD. And ALRIGHT people…dear readers…dear friends…you’ve been WAITING for the main man of the moniker to really show you WHY that is right? Well, this is his moment more than any we’ve heard so far. Mike LePond is on a whole other level in this track if not a whole other planet…he makes moves throughout this song that are easily some of the awesome you’ll hear this year, highlighting why he’s one of the best of the best out there in the scene today. I think some of these more progressive ideas like you’ll find on “Masters Of The Fall” and “I Am The Bull” as opposed to the more riff-friendly tunes like “Black Legend” and “Antichrist” have a bit more of an opportunity to flex the depth of the musicianship in this band and explore their songs to the fullest with longer length…and I mean…it just comes out SO MEATY and SO SATISFYING when they really have a chance to get it all in there. I think a song like “I Am The Bull” and its more slow-burning approach of course will likely have a more gradual reaction to it when it comes to listeners out there in comparison to the hooks on display throughout the first three tunes – BUT (I know, I know, there’s always a but with me…I ramble, so sue me) – when it comes to the instrumentation here – there’s not a single thing you’ll hear in this cut that wouldn’t send a musician into a raging full hard-on or get their lady-bits moist. “I Am The Bull” is damn near terrifying in its intensity – those keyboards really add power to what’s already a killer mix stuffed full of threatening vibes…for as subtle and sly as it might initially appear to be – make no mistake, this cut is as compelling as music can be. Love the way they’ve started it out with its unique intro, LOVE the way they storm into the bulk of their power nearing that first minute…it’s like they snap straight into place, as a completely unified front of Silent Assassins on the hunt to entertain ya. Just complete GOLD around the three-minute mark for about the millionth time on the record so far – NBD, just another day in the life of Mike LePond right? Jeeeeeeeez! “I Am The Bull” is wall-to-wall impressive from its mythologically-inspired lyricism to its grippingly inventive ideas & powerful execution flawlessly coming together to create one seriously unforgettable moment.
They respond to what’s essentially one of the slower cuts you’ll find on Pawn And Prophecy in the menacing mayhem of “I Am The Bull” by shifting gears entirely to burn the barn down on “Avengers Of Eden” – the record’s shortest song. There’s no time wasted on this cut…not that there has been previously either, but you get what I mean; they cut to the chase freakin’ QUICKLY here and get this mother movin!’ Even in the shortest track, they still find a remarkable amount of time to put their instrumentation on display through fast & furious solos and a pace that would put most musicians into the dirt – but not these guys. Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins are no ordinary crew – they’re severe experts in their craft and clearly some of the most dedicated musicians out there; to me, there’s little to no doubt at all in my mind that they’ve created a better record in this follow-up to their self-titled. That’s no slight on the old tunes – that’s a complement to their evolution – things SHOULD get better as time goes on with a band and they find their way as a unit together; I felt like every inch of this record speaks to just how much a tight band can still continue to get even tighter…it’s bands like this that should inspire YOU to always push harder in your own art or music, because even if you’re all-aces to begin with, there’s ALWAYS more ground to be broken. Or more earth to be scorched when it comes to this particular case and the FIRE that this crew brings to the relentless energy of “Avengers Of Eden.” Certainly another huge highlight for Alan’s vocals…I think the chorus he’s got goin’ on in this cut and the way he sings it is pure perfection – but LISTEN and recognize just how much the backing vocals make a huge difference as well when they show up…they’re unbelievably well thought-out writing-wise and structurally, but they also serve to really raise the stakes of just how epic this short cut becomes too.
“Hordes Of Fire” is still a decent tune to say the very least…I think it’s really only by comparison to how rad the songs on this record have been that I felt like this one…I dunno…still needed a lil’ something at times for me. Not all the time…lord knows there’s about ten song’s worth of ideas in this one tune, so believe me, there’s plenty of redemption and entertainment to be had along the way…but perhaps that was it…maybe there was a few too many elements and directions on “Hordes Of Fire” to harness the same magic grip that the rest of the material has kept locked on us so far. I think those meaty low-end guitar riffs certainly do everything they can to keep us engaged…I think Mike has another song filled with personal highlights in the bass as well…might not have been my favorite vocal performance or flow – that’s a possibility here. It’s really hard to tell if I’m being entirely honest & I’m probably just splitting hairs anyhow…damn near TRYING to find a crack in the armor of this band as IF there’s one to be found. I have no beefs here with how things are being sung & played really…it’s probably more of a personal preference when it comes to “Hordes Of Fire” not quite nailing it as hard as the previous cuts did for me – but that has nothing to do with YOU – this could still completely be a crowd favorite for many out there. Every time they get to the spot around 2:35 and start their deadly approach to coming back into the grinding groove & slick rhythm of this cut, I gotta admit, it’s just as satisfying as the rest of the songs have been by the time I get to that point and I can’t take my ears off of the awesome crunch they’ve got in the bite of their menacing sound & stories. So what do I know? Maybe “Hordes Of Fire” is every bit as good as the rest are; I’d probably yield to any argument against me here – you’d probably have a point or two as well…there are still about a million & one reasons to love everything about this cut.
Alright…so…”The Mulberry Tree” opens up a few more doors for Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins towards the end of the record with a much softer sound that’s still equally intense to listen to. On a cut like this though, they could bring in those fringe supporters onboard much more easily; I could see fans of bands like TV On The Radio or Led Zeppelin getting right into this tune…and towards the end in particular, I’d argue you even hear some Chris Cornell-esque vocals from Alan as well. I think there is an element of shock that does come along with this tune on their record, because it really is a large departure musically from absolutely everything we’ve experience up to this point so far – but once you get past that, I think you’ll find quite a legendary folk-tale & tune at work here. Chorus-wise, I think there’s even a strong argument to be made that this is their MOST accessible tune, even with its more mellow vibe – people will remember that melody for sure, and Alan really gets the most out of it. He’s twisted & morphed his sound like a verbal contortionist throughout this record & you never really know what he’ll do when you’re spinning it for the first couple spins…but the man’s got great ideas and he definitely has a great understanding of what a song calls for & when to pull the trigger on his more aggressive tones, again, even in what’s likely the softer-side of Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins on “The Mulberry Tree.” Bottom line for me on this tune is that it really adds depth to the record’s resume of sound and every aspect from the music to the microphone is seriously brilliant to listen to…hard to argue with results like these and it’s certainly a tune that should encourage them to continue mining this mellower style.
And then there’s like, a whole second-half of this second-half of the record, with a GOLIATH of a final cut – the album’s title-track “Pawn And Prophecy” weighing-in at an impressive twenty-one-plus minutes. So you know, of course it’s obviously just verse/chorus/verse and a whole bunch of sing-along moments. Okay…maybe not exactly…I might be being sarcastic in saying that – I’ll let you be the judge after listening to the EPIC shifts and transitions and endless creativity you’ll find in this last song. The switch to female vocals for instance – that’s something you’ll notice – and you’ll also notice how damn good they sound! I mean…this is a whole damn cornucopia of stuff to love! From the opening bass tones, to the theatrical sound of the female vocals, the inspired and powerful vocals from Alan to follow, the winding & grinding guitars and the furious storm of intensity they kick up…you WILL find this song to be every bit of the achievement it actually IS. Essentially, they’ve built themselves a Rock-Opera out of this final track – and it’s just pure fucking brilliance, straight-up. Every switch leads them into another killer part you truly don’t want to miss – like LISTEN to the AWESOMENESS that happens around six-minutes and that entire minute or so to follow as they explore that section to the fullest, breaking into a gorgeous piano melody by the time its fury has subsided. Adding in the strings around 7:30 was another stroke of genius…the drums come back in…and you get this like…almost indescribable sense of heroism, majesty, and serenity that breaks through the hard shell of this band to get to that sincerity this moment deserved. They find their way back into the gripping rip & pace of their signature sound shortly after, bringing in a bit more of a pattern for the people to follow throughout the next several minutes as the song continues to ramp up in its intensity once again. Highlight solo around the eleven-minute mark that is colorful AF, leading right into another strong rhythm & groove and breakdown that’ll resemble the opening for just a moment before shifting into a blues-rock inspired sound around minute twelve. The female vocals are INCREDIBLE – and NOTICE they’ve even brought some DO WOP into the mix in the backing vocals, creating a seriously rad and so entirely unexpected fusion of sound you just couldn’t possibly see coming at you. EVERYONE in this band should NEED water at this point; Mike gets a solo, Michael takes another killer one on the key shortly afterwards…and then as we trip past the fourteenth minute, we start to take an oddly ominous turn. The drums start putting real space between the big hits, Alan starts to sing poetic lyrics filled with stunning imagery, Mike’s bass takes a lead role in keeping the song intact with the drums and keys filling the atmosphere – and then the ground shifts underneath us once again around 16:30 as they surge into a massive highlight moment in “Pawn And Prophecy.” Breaking it down to an acoustic moment before firing-up the machine at full ferocity – as they pound their way into the eighteenth minute, things are getting seriously intense once again. Alan continues to draw out the melody even further through the vocals, mixing it up with straight madness on the mic outside of the chorus…or that is, second chorus…or…third? I’ve lost count, but you’ll get what I mean.
And then OKAY…so like…you figure at this point, what ELSE could possibly be added to “Pawn And Prophecy” to make it any more awesome than it already is? And then you tick just past 19:15…and you hear this band LIGHT THIS MOTHER UP LIKE NEVER BEFORE with Mike leading the way on the bass, ramping up their title-tune to the true finale it deserved. I was almost the most surprised by the friendly vibes and smooth sounds of the exit out of that moment…and for a second there, they had me believing they might just go out on the mellowest part of the song – but I should have known better. Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins wouldn’t go out that quietly, no matter what the title of this band would have you believe…by now, at this point of the record, we should all assume they’d be hell bent on making a bit more noise before they end the experience, which they proudly do as they finish off this enormous adventure in sound in style. WHAT A KILLER CUT – and it’s nearly TWENTY-TWO MINUTES LONG!
I don’t even know what else to say…like I said, I enjoyed them before – but I felt like Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins just took their whole game to another level entirely on this new record. There are more brilliant ideas than I can count, there’s more commitment than you can shake a stick at, and there’s execution from production to performances on this record that all hands involved should be seriously proud of. Pawn And Prophecy is an essential addition to 2018 – this whole album is insanely badass.
Find out more about Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins at the official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/mikelepondssilentassassins
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