Friday, February 8, 2013

Michael Kiske - Instant Clarity (1996)

Michael Kiske departed ways with Helloween on not-so-pleasant terms in 1993. Also given his marching orders was Ingo Schwichtenberg. Kiske fared rather better than poor Ingo (who died shortly afterwards) and has gone on to have an extremely involved solo career - both producing his own solo albums, performing in Tobias Sammet's Avantasia project, guest staring on Gamma Ray cds and now joining up with Kai Hansen again in a band called Unisonic (I just bought that album, my third purchase this year - this CD buying must. end. now.)

This was his first solo album and I pounced on it and ripped into it. And yes, I admit, I was disappointed. Whilst Kiske's voice is as splendid as ever, the music stylings are not as heavy nor as sophisticated as those of Helloween - even the Chameleon years. It does have some really good tracks on it, but it's all a bit hoo-hum, middle of the road. I'd love to have seen more experimentation - like what happened in "Chameleon" and Helloween did later with "Unarmed".

Kiske is an accomplished singer - he possesses an almost 4-octave vocal range - according to wikipedia, and I gather this is note-worthy - it means he can do the higher pitched notes (and hold them for some time) and also the low baritone. Not to mention his clean, polished edge, like golden honey - rich, sweet and highly enticing. He also plays piano and guitar. Other guest stars on this album are Kai Hansen and Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden).

Packaging - a very green eye gazes out of the cover, long lashes - probably female. Lightning crackles around a sunset reflection-in-lake scene. Inside - lyrics, pictures of Kiske, looking faintly like he is daydreaming. There's a little comment at the back too, rather snidely directed at the "Remaining rest of Helloween..." This is one case where I am sure there shall not be a reunion tour.

Opening track - "Be True to Yourself" is something definitely worth being - and probably something Kiske feels he is finally doing, now that he is free from Helloween. It's a nice track, with great vocals and simple music stylings. More pop-rock than his earlier stuff. Still pretty catchy, especially in the chorus.
"Don't wanna look back, gotta to start to see the future..."
 "The Calling" starts a bit harder, faster. Again, catchy choruses, nice soaring vocals over those.

A plane soars in for "Somebody Somewhere" which is a gentler number, filled with longing and wondering. Vocals are very emotive.

Another slower number, "Burned Out" is the sort of song you might need to listen to, were you burned out without love. The vocals are, as always, amazing but the music is just that - music to support the vocalist. There is a hint of despair, or perhaps desperation, here. Not a lot, but enough to make you feel as though he were walking alone, along beside a river.

 We pick up the pace in "New Horizons", again the verses climax into the soaring choruses. This is probably one of the heaviest of the songs, with a  full on guitar solo - and it is noted that Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) did play a part in this track.

"Hunted" has a different pace and vibe, a little more anger.

"Always" is a beautiful number. It begins with piano and is probably the most memorable song on the album. This is one that will linger with you. It is dedicated to the memory of Ingo. The emotive vocals will bring a tear to your eye. Play it loud.

Alas, it is followed up by the rather bland "Thanx a Lot". Fast verse, more melodic chorus - this is beginning to get a bit of a similar structure. Some nice chug-chug guitars though. It does slow down a bit towards the end.

Acoustic guitar and vocals characterise "Time's Passing By" which is rather a rock number.

Another angry song, "So Sick" has slightly murky-sounding vocals and abrupt bass. Until, of course, he "sees the light" and Kiske's magical voice takes over.

The final track, "Do I Remember a Life?" is one of my favourites (along with "Always") and is an acoustic and classically rendered masterpiece. Gentle, soothing music that seems to speak along with the vocals. The song rises and climaxes, surging with power and force before descending again into a melody that will linger with you after the disc has finished its spinning.

It is plain to see, that with this album, Kiske wanted to take on a different direction and leave the past - and pain - of Helloween behind him. It is a very nice rock album, with some very good guitar soloing and powerful pieces, but ultimately, one that requires several listenings to to truly appreciate. I do like this album, and I like it rather a lot, but I could never quite pick up the energy to purchase his other solo ones - even the one in which he sings Helloween songs. The follow-up to this one, "Readiness to Sacrifice" has its charms, but I found "Kiske" to be a little bland. Maybe I should have listened to it again, in more depth.

I'm giving this one 7/10.

Tomorrow I'm up to L, and Swedish band Lake of Tears.

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