Just a day after reviewing the new Crowne album, here's another band I've heard more than once on Chris Franklin's essential Raised on Rock radio show. Unlike Crowne, Ten have been around for a long while, forming in 1995 with a traditional hard rock sound that would have been seen as uncool in the extreme, not to mention backward looking, at the time but prophetic and ironically forward looking today, given the resurgence of this style at the expense of much of what the nineties were all about. This is their sixteenth studio album, the second they put together during lockdown from COVID after last year's Here Be Monsters.
The biggest difference between Crowne and Ten is that the former shift a melodic rock base into a firmly power metal style, while Ten take a hard rock sound and make it melodic. However, what I'd found after a first listen to this album and haven't yet lost after a couple more times through is its subtlety. Crowne are in your face from the outset and never quit with that approach. This is always a little subdued, letting the reliable riffs of Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott chip away at us and the voice of Gary Hughes lull us into the Ten mindset. There's no bludgeoning here, just coaxing.
That's not a bad approach and it's easy to be swept along by it. It's decent stuff from the opener, a sample-led Look for the Rose, to the closer almost an hour later, The Greatest Show on Earth. The catch is that it's so consistent that it becomes samey. There were many points I'd start to jot notes down on a particular song and suddenly realise that the band had already shifted onto the next, a startingly similar feel and tone and vibe making me fail to acknowledge to gap between them.
As such, it's hard to call out favourite tracks, because they all blur together into a single hour long track. Sure, Look for the Rose stands out because of its opening sample, a short section delivered by the witches in Macbeth, much quoted and the source of many a title, including this album. In a similar way, Parabellum stands out because a set of opening samples, politicians and newsreaders talking about the beginnings of wars. The title track stands out because of its keyboard intro and a jauntier nature. But, excluding intros, which often prompt notes, mostly courtesy of keyboardist Darrel Treece-Birch, what else stands out?
Maybe the prominence of keyboards early in The Only Way Out and the focus on power chords and ticking cymbals as it builds put it apart from everything around it, but it loses that individuality as it runs on. Maybe The Greatest Show on Earth has a little of that, courtesy of an excellent solo at its heart and an unusual phrasing to its verses, but again it gradually becomes another song here. It's a little prog in the way that early Magnum was often a little prog, but it doesn't want to flaunt anything like that. It feels like it wants to get back to what it's done all along.
At the end of the day, the only song I'd call out is The Tidal Wave. This one dares to be a little more than its peers, and I'll happily acknowledge that "dares" is a loaded term. It's no grand departure, trawling in new vistas of music to shift its genre and thrill us with originality. It's notably similar to the rest of the album, but more and better in a memorable fashion, with a bigger chorus and real sweep to what it does. Should that count as daring? No, but it does here and that's telling.
Maybe I need to listen a few more times. I certainly didn't dislike this. In fact, it's easy music to like and I'm not just talking about melodic rock in general there, but Ten's take on the genre. It didn't get old on me and I never got bored, even three or four hours into listening to the album. However, I expected it to build with those repeat listens and grow and deepen and it never did for me, with a single exception in The Tidal Wave. So, maybe I'll stick with it. Maybe I'll give it up and move along. After all, I have an unending stream of other 2023 albums to dive into.
All that said, I don't feel comfortable giving this a 6/10. I think it's a safe 7/10 with the caveat that, if you find an emotional connection to this band and this album, add a point more.