Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins – Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins
Reviewed by Kevin Hathaway
With almost everyone else in Symphony X having a solo career save for drummer Jason Rullo, Mike LePond must have looked around and said “Well, why not me, too?!” Yes, why not you, too, Mike? Easily one of the most talented bassists in modern metal, Mike could do with an outlet to display his skills where they wouldn’t get drowned out by terrible Pantera-reject riffs (wow, am I still that mad about Iconoclast?) and write material that just wouldn’t work for Symphony X. So for this project, Mike recruited former singer of the ridiculously underrated thrash act Watchtower, Alan Tecchio, and session guitarist extraordinaire Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford’s solo career) to do a more traditional-sounding USPM record. Rounding out the band is fellow SymX bandmate Michael Romeo on practically everything else, including a drum machine that he programmed.
The first thing one will notice about this release is the abundance of audible bass. Well, you surely didn’t expect Mike to drown himself out, did you? At times, it might feel a bit self-indulgent, but Mike is such a fantastic bass player that it’s hard to complain about two or three bass solos in almost every song, especially in a genre where the bass usually gets the shaft during mixing. Influences are also all over the board, from the Accept-like all-out metal assault of the title track to the slightly groovy but still fun “The Outsider”, to the proggy tendencies of “Oath and Honor”. The overall sound is a bit more stripped-down and not as sonically walled as Mike’s main band, but less is more in the case of this album, giving the tasty melodies a bit more room to breathe. And oh, are these melodies tasty! The first three tracks absolutely slay, with “The Quest” in particular being a highlight for me.
Lyrically, most of the songs revolve around mythology and history (as if the giant Trojan horse on the album art didn’t tip you off, right?), which isn’t a huge departure from Symphony X, but it’s the song structure and overall sound that differs. There aren’t a lot of, if any, neoclassical flourishes or even much technical showiness to be had here. But this album still has a lot going on most of the time between Mike’s stellar bass playing, the fun and hooky guitar riffs, and even the drum program getting to wow once in a while. Parts like the ending of “Apocalypse Rider” make me stop and think “Wait, this IS a machine, right?” All this insanity happening at once warrants multiple listens, and yet it never feels overwhelming like Symphony X can be at times.
As much as I love this album (yes, love), it starts to drag in the middle between “The Outsider” and the ballad “Masuda” before picking back up again with the speedier anthem-ready numbers “Silent Assassins” and “Ragnarok”, and then dragging again with the overlong and forgettable “The Progeny”. “Oath And Honor” also doesn’t seem to warrant the 11-minute running time, but still remains a decent song (even if it comes off as lengthy for the sake of being lengthy to appeal to SymX fans). But even “Masada” is at least thematically interesting, pertaining to the Siege of Masada by the Roman Empire in the First Roman-Jewish War. And the other songs mentioned aren’t by any means terrible, just not of the same quality as the rest of the material provided here.
Symphony X fans may be in for a bit of a shock but will hopefully be slayed by these silent assassins on an album which features really solid US heavy/power metal. While this album will hardly be indicative of the direction the new Symphony X album will go in, hopefully this will let Michael Romeo see that maybe he should hand off the songwriting reins to our bassist friend once in a while. Honestly, I can’t recommend this enough.
4.0 // 5