Multi-instrumentalist Marek Arnold is fast becoming one of my favorite artists. And although Arnold has been performing in a variety of bands since 1996, I've only recently discovered this brilliant German musician thanks to both Prognaut's Ron Fuchs and the German label Progressive Promotions Records which distributes his many projects.
Marek Arnold has amassed a lengthy discography throughout his career, including three from Seven Steps To The Green Door ("The Puzzle", "Step In 2 My World", "The? Book"), a pair of Guy Manning albums ("Margret's Children" and "The Root, The Leaf And The Bone"), the Flaming Row album ("Elinore"), the absolutely brilliant 2013 concept album from Cyril ("Gone Through Years"), and six studio albums from Toxic Smile ("M.A.D.- Madness And Despair", "RetroTox Forte", "In Classic Extension", "Overdue Visit", "I'm Your Savior") and the 2013 album I'm reviewing today, simply titled "7".
Arnold has appeared on recordings from such diverse artists as Stern Combo Meissen, Psychic For Radio, Twin, Testimony, Coloured Rain, Passage, Gabria, and The Pack Reloaded. He's expanding his repertoire even further with another side project, Bluance - which will feature swing and Latin music.
But Marek Arnold is just one part of Toxic Smile. The complete line-up on their 2013 release "7" includes Marek Arnold (keyboards, sax), Uwe Reinholz (guitars), Robert Brenner (bass), Robert Eisfeidt (drums), and the dynamic vocalist Larry Brodel (who handled lead vocals on the Cyril concept album "Gone Through Years").
The seven tracks making up he album combine Neo/Heavy/Crossover Progressive Rock with elements of Jazz Fusion, and Experimental Symphonic Post-Metal.
The musicianship is outstanding, highlighted by complex 'stop on a dime' time signatures from their powerhouse rhythm section of Brenner and Eisfeidt - the potent backbone of Toxic Smile - while the interplay between the smoking sax solos and blazing keyboards arpeggios of Arnold coupled with the flamboyant light-speed guitarwork of Reinholz create a sonic pallet that can shift from the delicate intricacies of Gentle Giant or Happy The Man to the unrelenting fury of Dream Theater or Queensyrche in 'full-on' sonic attack mode.
There is no better example of this chaotic whirlpool than the track "Needless"- a musical concoction one part Canterbury, a pinch of dissonant jazz, a saucerful of neo-prog, and a fistful of scorching metal - all tossed into a alchemist's smoldering pot then infused with Brodel's melodic counterpoint vocal hook. On paper it shouldn't work ... yet this abstract cacophony of melody and menace folds neatly into a perfect Origami butterfly.
The marriage of Metal and a variety of progressive rock sub-genres converge throughout the recording, such as on the track "Barefoot Man", which is very reminiscent of the band The Tangent. By injecting just a touch of the Canterbury influences like Soft Machine, Egg and National Health to an otherwise aggressive metal onslaught, the tune becomes greater than the sum of it's parts. This dizzying infusion of varying styles and textures makes for a unique 'jack-in-the-box' listening experience. With surprises at every turn.
Several of the tracks including "King Of Nowhere", "Love Without Creation", and "Barefoot Man" are comparable to the catchy hook laden tunes on last years Cyril concept album.
Another stand-out track "Rayless Sun", a hard driving rocker combining elements of bands like Kansas, Dream Theater, Magnum, OSI, YES, Spock's Beard, Echolyn, Kino, and UK.
"7" is a tightly constructed collection of songs with no bloated fillers or ego inflated soloing. A winner from beginning to end.
Highly recommended to fans of Neo-Prog, Symphonic-Prog, and Progressive Metal.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on January 31st, 2014