Graeme Swallow

'Portrait of A Zebra'


MARK: 84/100


Despite the CD cover, Graeme Swallow's debut isn't a concept dedicated to zebras, even if one song whose lyrics are from actually covers the topic of zebras' fight for survival. The other lyrics deal with struggles, social themes, strength, end of a love relationship, the afterlife and doubts on the existence of a God.
"Portrait of A Zebra" is an album off a one-man powerhouse with several collaborators utlizing Prog and Symphonic metal as a means to spread one's musical ideas.

After an acoustic instrumental, "The Savanna", "Zebra Song" shows a refrain that works indeed and a Speed finalé, whereas "Father and Son" contains operistic vocals and a theatrical music texture based upon heavy kick drums.
"Racing Toward Destiny" is another instrumental containing a long keyboards solo; very Malmsteenian, it features killer fat drums, as well as a Magellan-like Progressive break in which the keyboards and the bass take the soundstage over. Masterpiece is the right word to describe it in a nutshell.
Some melancholic romanticism comes from "Love No More", based on a piano, a few keyboards effects and female vocals, while "Garmonbozia (Pain and Sorrow)" contains Chad Wagner's guest male vocals, altho it has to be said that his timbre is similar to a woman's in the way Placebo's singer would if he were a Metal vocalist; his style is declamatory and therefore the composition ends up sounding a bit like Savatage, especially when Chad has to take his balls out; noteworthy is the battle-like break before the fiery guitar solo in the end. If you define yourself a true metalhead you can't but love this song!
"(You Don't) Know Me" is backed by excellent drumwork and majestic keys, and the main riff urges along with the male guest singer again. All of a sudden we feel cast between the last 80s and the early 90s, halfway between Savatage and White Lion! The following Dark/Prog break makes the song special and unforgettable, with the keyboards requiring repeated listens to be enjoyed fully; but it's all worth the effort, because this piece made my soul cum and so will yours, trust me.
"Theories of the Dawn" is a lengthy instrumental track, first gloomy and later blowing up with pretty strong cosmic accents and guitar strokes; a sampled Peruvian flute on heavy riffs reminding of Dream Theater leads to the conclusion, made of meditative moments conducting us without pauses to "Unseen Power", first Porcupine Tree-influenced, and afterwards displaying an assault brought on by the rhythmic section for some time before an electro-acoustic guitar closes the track before powerful gusts; between all this, the angelic keyboards and the delicious vocals match with the lyrics, the best of the album, and I'm not referring only to the godlike refrain. Prog metal at its finest!
After the brief piano intermezzo ("Lament for the Innocent"), the closing "Thanksgiving" delights us with its appearance; almost nine minutes of obsessive Prog and thrashing drums, while the elegant vocals rise up on high peaks; the lyrics of this song are also unmissable, while musically in the composition Helloween echoes can be heard, as well as Prog/Thrashers Shattered Destiny's. How to remain indifferent in front of the chorus and the keys layers sustaining it?

Even if this project album is not devoid of small flaws, one of the year's finest Prog/Symphonic metal newcomers' first effort.

MARKUS GANZHERRLICH - September 20th, 2013

Line-up on this record:
Graeme Swallow - lyrics, g., d., synth (also in Revelation Project)
Jimmy Rokka, Thomas Irwin, Marissa Garrison, Chad Wagner - guest v.
Stuart Pendergast - g. solos
Kyle King - b.

Lenexa, KS - USA

Official sites:

-Portrait of A Zebra (CD - 2013)