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Serpentine - A Touch Of Heaven

posted 25 Jul 2011, 07:12 by Paul Woodward
(AOR Heaven)
"A Touch Of Heaven" is the debut album from new British AOR band Serpentine, formed by founder members Gareth David Noon (Keyboards), Gareth Vanstone (Bass) & Chris Gould (Guitars).  The drummer on the album is Charlie Skeggs but he has recently been replaced by Roy Millward and he joins fellow midlanders John Clews (Guitars) and experienced AOR veteran Tony Mills on Vocals. The album was recorded at Tony (Magnum)  Clarkin’s Mad Hat / M2 studio in Wolverhampton, mixed and mastered by the capable hands of Mark Stuart and Sheena Sear.

It’s a fantastic slice of pure AOR but it does have a modern flavour, it doesn’t sound dated in the slightest and sounds quite fresh compared to many bands within the genre. The band's influences are obvious but they have carved out their own identity and sound. I think one of the most obvious influences especially in the keyboards is Asia, and obviously Shy - with Tony’s distinctive vocals and AOR song writing. Having said that, although you can hear the influences, this is not an album you’d hear created by either band.

Although there are a lot of keyboards, this is far from being a lightweight album with extremely noteworthy guitar work from Chris Gould and John Clews.  Although I have to admit it's Noon’s killer keyboards that hit me, all the songs are riddled with hook-laden keyboard riffs and licks, his tendency to use very atmospheric keyboard parts gives a lot of the songs an extreme depth and increases the emotional drive of many of the songs.

The band have obviously benefited from Tony’s wealth of song writing experience, I really think the next album will be undoubtly better as the band will have been together longer and have some serious live experience with them seeing what works well not only live but on the album too as fans voice their opinions. Although I do think the music presented to Tony has brought out the best in his song writing, creating some amazing vocal melodies and some really enjoyable and relatable lyrics. Tony’s vocals are fantastic here and his emotion-drenched vocal delivery makes the album stand out amongst the crowd.  Without a doubt this is the best thing I’ve liked from Tony since Shy’s “Unfinished Business”.  Please note I’m a massive AOR fan so I’m probably biased towards Tony’s performances in that field rather than his extensive body of work in various styles and sounds - anyone heard his opera stuff?

Opening song “A Touch Of Heaven” has an atmospheric keyboard intro and the song is littered with infectious keys throughout and also has a cool guitar solo.  With it's really powerful chorus, featuring emotion filled vocals from Tony, I agree with Gaz Noon that this rocker will indeed smoke live!  “Whatever Heartache” is the obvious choice for lead song, instant and memorable, a great slice of bright pure AOR, well worth checking the video out too.  Some fantastic harmonies as well as some catchy as hell hard to shake melodies.  I also like the bridge which leads to a keyboard solo (yes it did put a smile on my face) which in turn leads to a killer melodic guitar solo!

“Lonely Nights” also has an atmospheric keyboard opening, and is a traditional smooth AOR mid tempo song. “For The Love Of It All” has some wonderful hook-filled guitar parts, great keys and a soaring memorable chorus.  The lyrics are about being a musician, and Tony’s passionate vocal delivery bring out the best in the lyrics and really make this song shine!  I particularly like the line in the chorus “And when the nights are long, you break your heart on every song, but you soldier on for the love of it all”.  I think this songs speaks for a lot of musicians in the underground AOR/Melodic Rock scene.  Next up is the rocking AOR anthem “Let Love Rain Down”, the guitarists let rip on this one.  A great upbeat song with a sing along chorus.

I know musicians think an album's track order is very important, but it’s not something I usually hear or think about, but here I hear definitive proof that track order can make a good album a killer album. Whoever chose to put the next three songs in this order is a genius and deserves a pint!  It was on my first spin after I heard these three songs I knew anything less than a five out of five rating would be an injustice to these quality songs.

“In My Blood” is just a killer song, near perfect AOR.  Fantastic keyboard intro, a bridge that builds strongly to an emotional chorus - instantly catchy, you’ll not get this one outta your head for weeks!  Great melodies, lyrics and some top notch keyboards complimented well by some cool guitar.  “Fashion” has a great energy and bounce - destined to be a live favourite methinks!   Another song that benefits from some atmospheric keys, especially in the intro.  An instant bouncy melodic chorus with some catchy keyboards from Mr Noon again.  “We Belong” has a fantastic anthemic sing along chorus, some great melodic guitar work here too complimented by some uplifting keyboards.

“Love Suicide” is a mid tempo driving song with some great memorable keyboard licks.  I never thought a band like this would ever consider covering “Unbreak My Heart” made famous by R’n’B warbler Toni Braxton but written by well respected song writing genius Diane Warren. Although I hate Braxton’s version with venomous bile, I know it’s a hard song to be covered by anyone regardless of genre - and no matter what it will inevitably be compared to the original. Obviously I think the cover blows the original out the water but my tastes are biased, given my distaste of the warble heavy version. Kudos to the band for taking the risk, as it could have very easily fallen flat on its face.  I think they do a great job with it, obviously they rock it up a bit musically and Tony tames the vocals and gives the melodies more justice - probably as Diane Warren originally intended.  This is the only out-and-out ballad on the album and I think it closes the album well.

A great start for the band that I see as becoming a driving force in the underground AOR scene for many years to come and further experience is only going to improve every element of the band.  A top notch anthemic modern AOR album for 2010 and I can’t wait to catch these guys live!  In short this album is the dog’s bollocks!  (It’s a million times better than the disappointing new FM album and you know it!).

Track Listing: A Touch Of Heaven / Whatever Heartache / Lonely Nights / For The Love Of It All / Let Love Rain Down / In My Blood / Fashion / We Belong / Love Suicide / Unbreak My Heart

Album Rating:

Woody’s Essential Track: 
In My Blood

A Touch Of Heaven is OUT NOW from all good retailers and