GENIUS
"Ep. 2: In Search of The Little Prince"

(Frontiers)

01. He Will Die
02. Playing In Their Dreams
03. You Won't Escape
04. Valley
05. Beware
06. My Dear Son
07. What He Has To Say
08. All My Fault
09. To Be Free
10. Fight Again
11. Far Away From Here

RATING: 6/10

After the star-studded AYREON project overseen by Dutchman Arjen Lucassen, rock operas now seem to becoming de rigueur in the metal marketplace — and god only knows how, because they must be an absolute nightmare to assemble.

In Daniele Liverani's case, he might only be a minor leaguer in his regular role as multi-instrumentalist with EMPTY TREMOR and KHYMERA (no, us neither), but all credit to him for assembling a singing cast that includes everyone from Mark Boals (ex-YNGWIE MALMSTEEN), Russell Allen (SYMPHONY X and serial rock opera performer) and Eric Martin (ex-MR. BIG), to Liv Kristine (ex-THEATRE OF TRAGEDY) and Edu Falaschi (ANGRA).

The plot behind "Ep. 2…" (this is the second installment) can best be described stylistically as a Japanese anime-type affair — to be honest, it's convoluted nonsense that warrants no further explanation — and each singer assumes the role of a character within that as the musical storytelling rolls along. Liverani and a couple of regular associates supply the backing tunes, and Philip Bynoe (STEVE VAI) narrates huskily between songs.

Without the benefit of a more detailed explanation of who sings where, it's difficult to judge where the lesser lights appear. But you can certainly tell when singer Russell Allen is in attendance — unfortunate, in this case, as the two early songs where he dominates ("He Will Die" and "He Won't Escape") smack of second-rate DREAM THEATER/SYMPHONY X/PAIN OF SALVATION. Things do soon thankfully improve with the jazzy "Beware" peeling off flashes of sonic brilliance (couldn't recognize the voice here). However, there are definitely times when it's evident that the singer is solely responsible for making some fair-to-average music credible. Mark Boals, for one, belts his lungs out on "Fight Again", and as much as you may try to will the music behind him to deliver the goods in the same fashion, it just doesn't.

Surprise winner in the proceedings is Eric Martin — a man with very good pipes but not necessarily renowned for his gargantuan — or indeed operatic — presence. Yet, even though his track is a bit of a softie compared to many of the others herein, the wistful acoustics fit perfectly with his delicately delivered lines. It eventually builds up to a gospel-flavored finale, which Martin handles admirably. The same, however, cannot be said for Liv Kristine's stilted warbling on "To Be Free", which is lighter-waving pap at its most bland.

Overall then, not a complete disaster — even though it won't be giving the likes of Arjen Lucassen too many sleepless nights.

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