May 16, 2021

One of the defining features of early rock’n’roll was that it did away with all the niceties of classical music. With a few guitar chords and a warbly voice, someone could become a massive international celebrity without any musical education, and with minimal ability. It’s rarely the case nowadays; top rock musicians are often some of the finest exponents on the planet, the music requiring such terms as Progressive or Symphonic Rock, often incorporating orchestral and choral composition. Symphony Of Sinners And Saints is right at the top of this particular tree.

Oklahoma composer Kitt Wakeley came up through horns, keys and synths before going into Electronic Dance Music, but the latter style was inevitably influenced by his classical education. It was only a matter of time before he set his sights on melding all disciplines into an ambitious, all-encompassing ballroom blitz, which he arguably accomplished with his 2018 album Midnight In Macedonia, in collaboration with the Macedonian orchestra and choir. For Wakeley though, more is always better, and his new offering Symphony Of Sinners And Saints strives to take it to the next level. Not only did he enlist the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a full gospel choir, but also a phenomenal rock band including a stunning array of guitarists. The result is a true definition of symphonic rock; heavy metal riffage and shredding solos backed by the full orchestra experience, not forgetting to add some electronic synths and features of EDM. The cherry on the cake is that two tracks feature ace axe-slinger Joe Satriani, although to be honest, it’s as much the name as the playing that is important here, the other solos on the album being in the same class. It’s essentially an instrumental album, although the choral backings add heavenly and hellish highlights.

Kitt Wakeley (centre) with his current selection of Sinners and Saints…

The opener Wicked Ways fades in rapidly on a heavy, electronic beat, until the crunching guitar comes in followed by orchestral strings; second track Sinners And Saints starts with an ominously grating ambience, with percussive thuds, deep horns and panning, distorted guitar. There is also a hint of a phantasmic, death-grunt vocal breezing across the background, with plenty of echo panning left and right; this is the second single from the album and the video is featured at the foot of this page. The third track, Forgive Me, is the first to feature special guest Joe Satriani, and also the first to include some intelligible lyrics in the choral backing, although this is still used as an instrument rather than to communicate actual meaningful speech.

The intensity is relieved somewhat with Hello Again, lighter in mood with beautifully rounded piano arpeggios augmented by some nice cello work. There is some heavy tom drumming towards the two-minute mark, but it’s basically a ballad, with aching strings in the second half and a melodic guitar solo at the end.

Conflicted, again featuring Satriani, is the lead single from the album, with its flowing beat and complex drum pattern. The actual musical structure is surprisingly simple – imagine Doctor Doctor by UFO, or some similarly simplistic chord progression, given the full symphonic treatment and a Joe Satriani solo, and you’d be there. It leads logically into the next track, No Apologies, which follows a similar chord pattern, but now with just piano, a violin or viola and some subtle cello. Sweet strings come in over the top as the chord structure starts to reach out a bit more, with the full band coming in after one minute. This is probably the highlight of the set for this reviewer, as the track builds to a catastrophic climax in 6/8 time, ending on a single, screaming guitar note. Track 7, Requiem Of The Fallen, reverts back to ominous type, building from a melancholy ballad to a driving rock screamer with full choir, and effectively drawing the concept to a close.

After that, there is a complete change of tone, with a deliberately lo-fi intro accompanied by vinyl crackling as the gospel choir presents a cover of the Lucie Eddie Campbell hymn End Of My Journey. This is followed by You Gave Me Wings, a melodic and uplifting major key piece, again with a simple, almost naïve chord progression, electronic percussion and an acoustic piano.

The set comes to a conclusion with Echoes Of Amadeus, with more stabbing pan-echoed guitar chords and a short section of deep, distorted bass. It seems almost – but not quite – like a reprise of Sinners and Saints, and includes an absolutely astonishing shredding guitar solo. Sorry I can’t tell you exactly who is playing on which track, but the sleeve notes credit more than one guitarist on almost every number, with Paige Harwell appearing on most. With eye-catching cover artwork, excellent production and a pin-sharp mix, It’s not rock with an orchestral backing, neither is it classical with rock highlights; the two disciplines meld perfectly in equal measure and absolute harmony. This is truly symphonic rock, with perfectionism seeping out of every pore.

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