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Album Review: Heart of Cygnus' The Voyage of Jonas

To celebrate lockout week, I thought I'd take a look at Heart of Cygnus brand new, self-produced new album The Voyage of Jonas - available now on Amazon, iTunes or the band's own store. For those who don't know, Heart of Cygnus is a California-based band named for a constellation, but both members have ties to Colorado. In fact, one of them is a member of this very blog, which is how I first found out about them. They don't have a big label backing them up, but they apparently have gone the Hasselhoff route, with a growing fanbase in Germany - the only two reviews of the album I could find were in German. (here and here)

I'm not sure the best way to describe Heart of Cygnus, but they combine elements of progressive rock, heavy metal and with some classic rock in there as well, with lyrics ripped from an all-night D&D session. It's not exactly a dream combination for me, but I checked out their 2009 release Over Mountain Under Hill and liked a few of the tracks. Earlier this summer I saw the video above for "The Isles of Ice" and it immediately supplanted "The King and His Steed" as my new favorite HOC song. So, when the new album, The Voyage of Jonas, was released the other day, I did something I haven't done in years - I headed over to iTunes and bought the album.

I'm glad I did. There are a number of solid songs on here with solid guitar riffs, terrific drumming and, refreshingly, singing that fits the music. I'm a life-long hard rock / heavy metal fan and I'm quite familiar with the tendencies of many bands - some that I like, some that I don't - that tend to overplay, whether it's the flashy guitarist running fretboard jumping riffs every time there's a break in the singing, or the singer who needs to show off his vocal range with every word. There's an economy of talent here that really appeals to me. This is clearly a band with skill - check out Jeff Lane's solos in "Procession of the Damned" or "Sailing North" or Jim Nahikian's drumming in "The Isles of Ice" or "When Wargs Attack". But instead of flaunting the flash, Lane and Nahikian do a great job working within the song, and that was a nuance I really appreciated. Those four songs, by the way, are my favorites on the album.

Lyrically, the album follows the path of Jonas who hooks up with a princess and sets sail on an epic voyage to defeat the white witch. I'm going to go out on a limb here and venture that Lane - who is credited as the sole songwriter on the album - has read some Tolkein. It's a solid story, though, and works well with both the heavy riff songs as well as the slower ballads.

And those riffs are really what I dig about the album. It's impressive that Lane - handling all the singing and all the instruments besides the drums - is able to craft a wall of sound with many interlocking guitar parts that work great together. And Nahikian lays down a relentless battery of drums beneath it all. It melds together really well and never sounds like 2-piece band. It does start to feel a little "samey" by the time you get through all 16 tracks, but overall it's an entertaining album that's worth a listen - especially if you like the video above.