Initially a metal tribute band, Dark Sky Choir’s collective resume is quite impressive: Wizards of Winter, Exxplorer, Lords of Mercy, and Anvil. After amassing a large fan base, the hard ‘n’ heavy four-piece began to incorporate originals until they became the focus, resulting in an excellent self-titled debut LP meticulously produced by guitarist Fred Gorhaus at the fabled Trax East.
That South River recording studio has assembled works by a who’s who of Jersey hard rock: Skid Row, Atomic Bitchwax, Godspeed, Solace, God Forbid, Deadguy, Dillinger Escape Plan, E-Town Concrete, Misfits, Nudeswirl, Senses Fail, Vision, Symphony X, Megaforce and more. In the annals of Trax East lore, “Dark Sky Choir” proudly can stand alongside those works in part because of the strong production by Gorhaus and engineering by former studio owner Eric Rachel. But there’s also menacing yet tasteful, at times exquisite playing by Gorhaus, drummer Mike Sakowski, bassist Joe Stabile, guest guitarist Chris Gaffery of Savatage, and guest keyboardist Michael Pinnella of Symphony X. Surprisingly meaningful lyrics on several of the nine tracks and spectacular vocals by front man Hollywood How add to the record’s strength.
Throughout, Dark Sky Choir rely heavily on the influences they’ve developed over the years individually and as a metal tribute. A hint of Metallica surfaces on the political opener, “Death of a Nation,” which mourns the current state of government in America. Motley Crue get the nod in the snotty single, “Like It or Not.” “Walking By Myself” struts with the rebellious attitude of Skid Row but with the structure and progressions of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
Particularly snappy production helps “The Sails of Charon” glide into a nice acoustic finish. The mercy-minded “Cry for the Legions” shows the compassionate side of the bands as they march and stomp toward a solution to the world’s ills. They also have something to say about the lunacy and stupidity of war through the eyes of a combat sniper on the ironically versed “Show No Mercy,” featuring an explosive solo by Caffery. But the standout track is the most beautiful: the closing Wizards of Winter/Trans-Siberian Orchestra-like instrumental “Bedouin Caravan,” which ably blends layers of Gorhaus’ guitars and Pinnella’s keyboards into a suite of Tchaikovsky’s material, the traditional “Scarborough Fair” and “Greensleeves.”
However, the high point and centerpiece of this album is the massively impressive vocal performance by How. Not since Sebastian Bach of Skid Row has Jersey had such a strong vocalist to call their own. How is worth the price of admission alone to the band’s record release party on June 23 at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville. That you’re getting to celebrate a killer record with a killer band to boot means you should be there. I will be. See you then.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org