Mike Lepond’s Silent Assassins are a heavy metal group hailing from New Jersey. Mike Lepond is perhaps best known for being the bassist in progressive metal band Symphony X. Silent Assassins were formed as an offshoot solo project and they have released one eponymous album before this. Their music is a combination of 80’s metal influences like Iron Maiden and Metallica with Folk/Viking metal made famous by mostly Scandinavian/Germanic metal bands.
This album, Pawn and Prophecy, consists of nine songs with the title track clocking in at an epic 21 minutes. It begins with a bang, Master of the Hall opening with a blaze of anthemic vocal chants and whirlwind drum patterns. It leads on to a section of brutal guitar riffage before lead vocalist Alan Tecchio takes centre stage. He has the perfect voice for the music, with an incredible range and falsetto.
Master of the Hall contains a colossal chorus and it’s actually their ability to write consistently strong, anthemic choruses that sets them apart from their peers. Lyrically, this song is somewhat of a manifesto: “We’re the killers of the sea, sing with me, ‘Save my Viking soul!’.
Special mention should go to the incredible speed metal drumming, but every musician in the band is exceptional; Mike Lepond’s rhymically driving bass is higher in the mix than in most metal (and rightly so) while Lance Barnewold and Rod Rivera cook up a storm together on guitar.
Black Legend is a little simpler musically but rocks like a mutha. It shows their more 80’s metal and heavy rock influences with strong shades of Iron Maiden and a touch of Gun’s N Roses in the classy, instantly addictive chorus. It’s propelled along by a fantastically wiry guitar riff and culminates in a climactic solo. One of their most accessible tracks.
Third song Antichrist is Silent Assassins turned up to eleven; it’s an apocalyptic metal epic with Faith No More-style choral keyboards that give it an almost Biblical feel. Alan Tecchio sings at the top of his remarkable range throughout, making Ian Gillan sound like Barry White. There is a plethora of pleasingly demonic riffs for metal fans to headbang to and the whole track is hugely entertaining.
I Am The Bull starts with a guttural bass ostinato before launching into a planet-sized wall of sound, the chords like hammer blows. While it is in standard 4/4, they incorporate a lot of rhythmic variety, such as an effective double-kick section and intricate syncopations throughout. One where they allow the music to really breathe. Lyrically, it takes its inspiration from Greek mythology.
Avengers of Eden returns to the Iron Maiden-infused speed metal of earlier tracks and they manage to deliver yet another killer chorus. The guitars get to really rip on this one, with some superb duelling solos and Avenged Sevenfold-esque lead guitar harmonies. The high note that Tecchio hits vocally near the end is simply extraordinary. One of their classics.
Hordes of Fire is rather more Metallica in its crunchy Enter Sandman-type low-end chordal riffage. The layered, cleverly arranged backing vocals on the chorus make this one stand ou, along with more stellar lead guitar work.
Eighth track The Mulberry Tree is musically quite a departure, showing the folkier side of their Folk Metal with strong use of acoustic guitar and various rustic-sounding instruments. It works as a distinct change of pace and shows their Led Zeppelin influence with a beautifully crafted chorus, once again. The Segovia-style lead classical duel guitar solo is exceptional, and the poetic spoken word section is a nice touch.
Finally, the title track of the album brings things to a suitably ambitious climax. It starts with a brilliant bass solo before an assault of keyboard and guitar riffs take turns. It could almost be described as a metal symphony with alternating sections of female and male vocals, breakneck speed metal featuring some radical chord changes and dissonant guitar lines.
Further on there are sections of angelic sounding piano and strings that show the musical range of this band. The energy they generate is almost unreal, and it never lets up over twenty minutes. As with the opening track, lyrically it is a call-to-arms to the converted: “Take up your swords and rise!“.
When a boogie rock section enters around halfway through it somehow fits, as does the Jon Lord-esque organ solo. For the last five minutes it breaks down to solemn blues rock then builds back up to a lighters-in-the air chanting half-time section before one final, very fitting, blast through galloping speed metal. Also fittingly, Mike Lepond gets to really shine with some remarkably fluent bass playing.
Overall, this is a thrilling and ambitious metal album that is fully realized in terms of its creative vision. Taking the best aspects of 80’s metal and forging it with the mythological lyrical style of metal makes for a highly effective fusion, aided by musicianship of the highest caliber. It deserves to go down as a classic of the genre.
VERDICT: 9 out of 10