If Zak Stevens (CIRCLE II CIRCLE, SAVATAGE) is involved, then you know it's at least worth looking into. In the case of MACHINES OF GRACE, the self-titled debut featuring vocalist Stevens, drummer Jeff Plate (TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, SAVATAGE, METAL CHURCH), guitarist Matt Leff and bassist Chris Rapoza, you get a solid ball of melodic hard rock with acoustic flourishes.
As Jim Gaffigan would say, "it ain't brain surgery," but it succeeds with its back-to-basics arrangements and emphasis on three essential components: the riff, the beat, and the melody. Radio friendly, yet not contrived, songs like "Just a Game", "Psychotic", "Between the Lines" (with an especially memorable chorus), and "Bleed" come with brawny riffs and stout rhythms, topped off by Stevens' always soulful delivery; he's got a way of making the simplest pattern come alive. Selective use of tuneful backing vocals make a big difference and bring out the shine in these songs as well. Acoustic guitars are heard at various points, such as on the smooth groove of "Innocence", one of a handful that unsurprisingly comes with a CIIC vibe, as well as on "The Moment", a power ballad of sorts that has a certain late '80s feel that actually works in the song's favor. On the whole, the sequencing and songwriting work together to keep things moving along pretty well, even during those moments that may seem a little too familiar.
There is obviously a formula at work here and that's kind of the point, one that you'll appreciate more with additional spins. No one is trying to recreate the kind of ingenuity that put the first man on the moon, yet there is a certain passion and heartfelt genuineness in these songs that is rather endearing. Given the choice, I'll always choose CIRCLE II CIRCLE. Then again, the comparison is not really relevant, as MACHINES OF GRACE has its own ideas of what melodic hard rock is all about. Available on July 7th as a digital-only release.