You know, I think it ought to be a requirement, that when a band changes singers they have to record the album twice...once with the new singer and once with the old singer. I just can't help thinking what this new Balance of Power album would be like with Lance King singing. In fact, it's driving me nuts. But alas, I guess I'll just have to put that behind me, cause BOP has moved on without Lance King and you either have to embrace the change or find yourself a different band to listen to.
On to the new album, Heathen Machine, BOP has enlisted the talents of John K. of Biomechanical for their vocal duties. As much as I miss Lance King, John K. has an incredible set of lungs on him and I'm really digging the vocals on this new album. Imagine a cross between David Taylor (ex-Jacob's Dream...but not as high), Geoff Tate (Queensryche), and Mike Lee of Barren Cross, and you'll get a slight idea of the vocals here. He does the aggressive stuff like it's second nature, but can also sing soft and pretty (like in the intro of "No Place Like Home"). And being that Tony Ritchie writes most of these songs, I can also easily see a few of these songs fitting his vocal style easily as well. (And maybe a return to Ritchie was the band's original idea before finding John K.???)
Musically, BOP lives up to the high quality that you've come to expect. We hear some similar sounds here from past albums. The band actually has forged a fairly different sound with each album, but this album stays very close to what they began with Perfect Balance. This is not a bad thing in any way though. They still retain all the heaviness and melody that fans love about the band, but the thing that sticks out more-so is the added emotion that John K. brings to the table with his vocals. King was a superb vocalist, but John K's vocals are drenched with emotion.
Back to the music...I actually hear a few similarities to the riffs of United States of Mind on this disc. Seeing that USM is made up of Ritchie, Lionel Hicks, and Pete Southern, it's not too surprising. Regardless, BOP is super tight on Heathen Machine whether is the crunchy riffs, the soaring guitar solos, or the fantastic rhythm section.
For those curious about the lyrics here, the band is really not all that different since Ritchie still pens most of the lyrics. They are still fairly understandable, but still have that somewhat vague and deep meaning that seems just out of reach. So the absence of King has not really changed things much. The lyrics of Heathen Machine basically center around the fact that the world is full of heathens. So, don't anyone go thinking that just cause King left and that the new album is called Heathen Machine that the band is calling themselves the heathens! For those really picky about lyrics though, the band does use the word "ass" in the song "Wake Up Call". The line says "and now your ass is ours". But who knows, maybe the band was talking about somebody's donkey. :) Speaking of "Wake Up Call", this may be John K's weakest song vocally as it seems to be on the far edge of his range. He gets a little bit too high for my taste here.
All in all, this is a very, very good album, by a very, very good band. Many bands crumble, or at least take a step back when they lose their singer. BOP has proven that when your band is a band of many people instead of hinging on the talents of one, you can survive change and even progress. This is a fine slab of melodic metal that is sure to please all past fans and possibly even some new ones. (Review by Matt)