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By Jay Roberts, Massachusetts Contributor
Thursday, September 7, 2023 @ 10:18 AM

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InsideOut Music - 2023

RAY ALDER's 2nd solo album was released back in June of this year. So you might be wondering why it has taken me so long to write up my review of the II album now that we are in September.

Sure, partly that it just took me time to get around to fully exploring the album. But I have to also chalk up the delay to the fact I simply needed the time to fully "get" what was going on here. There's a lot to unpack and with some of my impressions I'm still not sure that those same impressions are even accurate.

I really enjoyed Alder's first solo disc What The Water Wants, so I was fully expecting this second solo disc to provide me plenty of great music to listen to as well. And believe me, that is definitely true.

There seems to be a theme of endings in more than a few tracks. You've got song titles like "My Oblivion" and "Changes" and there are song lyrics that would suggest the same kind of theme (like "the hands of time are moving forward/everything will soon be over"). Oddly enough, it took me a while before I actually developed that belief. The songwriting for the II album was interesting to me. While RAY ALDER wrote all the lyrics, the songs were once again co-written by Michael Abdow (the touring guitarist for FATES WARNING) and LORDS OF BLACK guitarist Tony Hernando. Even more notable is that for the six songs that Abdow co-wrote he played both guitar and bass on the tracks. Meanwhile, Hernando played the guitar and bass tracks on the three songs he co-wrote. Oh, and before I forget, Craig Anderson from the band IGNITE played drums on the album.

My first exposure to the album came when the lead track "This Hollow Shell" was released ahead of the album hitting the stores. And let me tell you, Alder hit it out of the park with this song. I played the YouTube clip a lot when it first was put up on the site. The song has a slow to mid-tempo pacing for the most part. It's a strong song with a great vibe to it. After the mid-song guitar solo the tempo increases and you get a more insistently delivered musical score.

The song "My Oblivion" immediately goes off in a totally opposite direction than "This Hollow Shell". It's pretty much a fast paced rocker type of track from the first few notes. And unsurprisingly, it is just monstrously good! The same can be said for "Hands of Time". In fact, that song is probably even faster than "My Oblivion" and it is fueled by some strong and heavy guitar riffing throughout the entire song.

The second song that was released prior to the album's release was "Waiting For Some Sun". And I have to admit that this song didn't quite hit home with me. Of course, with me taking the time to do a number of listening sessions, the song has grown on me to the point that I can't rightly figure out why I had a lesser first reaction to it. The track has a kind of slow start to it but after the first lyrical verse, the music ramps up and there's a lot of bits making up the music as a whole that gives the song something that really makes it stand out on its own.

The songs "Silence The Enemy" and "Those Words I Bled" are incredible songs. Each of the songs has a fast moving pace to them but differ in how they hit home for me. "Silence The Enemy" is powered by a guitar line that gets your blood pumping. Add in one hell of an incredible solo and each time you hear the track, you will find yourself blown away all over again. And then you have "Those Words I Bled", which is musically speaking such an incredibly exciting track. But as a kind of counterpoint to that lively stepping music soundtrack, the song's lyrical content is kind of dark. The line "Every breath inhaled becomes a burden I can't share" is rather chilling when you read it in the liner notes. And yet, that ying and yang combined make for a killer song.

There's more of a measured tone to the delivery of the "Keep Wandering" song. It's got a pretty sedate sounding score for most of the first half of the song and Alder's vocals are pretty calming in how they are performed. The guitar solo fits in beautifully with what came before but it also serves as the key in the ignition as well. Because over the course of the 2nd half of the song, the song's intensity picks up and becomes far more uptempo. And while drummer Craig Anderson does a great job behind the kit throughout the album, I really loved the way he shined through on this track, particularly at the end.

One of the things I like about any of the lyrics associated with RAY ALDER, whether it is his own material or what he has been singing with FATES WARNING, is they aren't always easy to figure out. Even if you think you know what the lyrics are conveying, there's always a chance you are getting something of a different read than intended. And that's what I have a feeling is going on with the song "Passengers". Don't get me wrong, the song is fantastic through and through. But as energetic as the finished track is, the lyrics were more than a little challenging for me to figure out. Short of getting to ask Alder himself the meaning behind the lyrics, I'm still not sure I fully get his intent. But I'm good with that all the same. The song is great and that's what is most important in my estimation.

The album closes out with the song "Changes" and as I said above it is one of the examples I'd cite for thinking so many of the songs and/or lyrics are about "endings". The song has a brief hard edged instrumental flourish at the start but the first verse of lyrics finds the music and vocals doing a 180 degree turn and comes off sounding more like "Keep Wandering" than any of the more faster paced songs on the album. But the song switches things up midway through to give listeners more of a musical swat in the back of the head. The last lyrical verse then quickly returns to the slower deliver for the first few lines before once again growing to be more in-your-face.

I've long been a FATES WARNING fan. And by extension, I've also long been a fan of RAY ALDER. With the II album, my fandom is continued and renewed all at the same time. The album makes you work for "it" but I found it to be one heck of a musical creation that will thrill music fans over and over again.

4.9 Out Of 5.0

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