The amalgamation of American artists Gary Wehrkamp (born May 11, 1970, in New Jersey) member of the progressive rock band ‘Shadow Gallery’ and Mark Zonder (born 16 April 1958) member of the progressive rock band Fates Warning. Is not just the casual collaboration of two successful progressive rock artists. No, indeed it is far more than that, Seriously, I would declare “Welcome to a new and powerful songwriting team”. A team that can possibly be muttered in the same breath as- George and Ira Gershwin, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Elton John and Bernie Taupin. I could go on but I suspect you get my drift.
So, at this point in time, after writing masses of material together, ‘Gary and Mark’ are not only performing their own songs but have produced and arranged their first album entitled “If It Is Real”, the subject of this review.
The style of which is mostly a ballad orientated affair and which is penned in a style which leans very heavily towards the AOR end of the rock market, However, it is also sufficiently technically adept to appeal to the more progressive rock side of the spectrum, especially to those fans of ‘Fates Warning’ etc. Another factor which I’m sure will be realised, is the universal appeal of the music, whereby the songs are sure to be covered by many different artists of different genera’s. Music indeed that I think will live on and be regurgitated for many years.
The musical arrangements are all beautifully worked out and engineered with layer upon layer of saccharine infused instrumental delight. Each tune takes on its own symphonic identity created by a soundscape of swirling keyboard proliferations together with periods of acoustic rhythm guitar and other string-like resonances. An acoustic mixing bowl which altogether creates a veritable backdrop wall of sound that again, in turn, provides a foundation for both the vocals and the various lead instrumentation. This being mostly in the shape of glorious well-appointed lead electric guitar and nice snippets of piano. The drums and associated percussion throughout is amazing, nothing fancy or over the top just beautifully administered interesting timekeeping with oodles of fascinating little flurries adding much panache to the proceedings.
The vocals too are very special, Garry’s intonation and sentimental delivery style is rich and melodic and really does project the album to a very high level of enjoyment.
Summary: A very enjoyable set of songs, beautifully arranged and sung and very different from the material the pairing of Zonder/Wehrkamp are usually associated.
Gary Wehrkamp - Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Mark Zonder- Drums, Percussion
Interesting Notes from the Internet.
Long known for their work in the progressive and underground metal scenes in bands like Warlord, Shadow Gallery and Fates Warning, guitarist Gary Wehrkamp and drummer Mark Zonder are exploring darkness in a brand new light with their new band, Zonder/Wehrkamp.
The collaboration results in the album “If It’s Real” which resonates with a tenebrous emotional intensity wrapped in a more melodic, ethereal sound and philosophical take on progressive hard rock.
In the last two decades Zonder and Wehrkamp have co-written nearly 100 songs together for various projects and toured together for a reunion of Zonder’s seminal cult band Warlord. When the two were approached by a metal label to record a moodier, less traditional prog-metal album, they ran with the idea.
“We have spent a lot of time over the years doing traditional over the top prog and have some really great stuff, but when we were asked to do something different by the label, we dug in and really started to push the envelope on the production side of things,” said Zonder.
While the label situation wasn’t right, the organic result of their studio sessions was music that--while not as heavy or as fast as their previous bands--still contained a thematic and sonic link to their progressive roots with a brooding depth and complex instrumental performances.
From songs like the title track that delves into mental anxiety and suicide to cuts like “It’s Not the End” with a message that brings the listener back from the brink, “If It’s Real,” delves into how we cope with simply being alive and, many times, alone in our own minds.
“This album traces the journey of the human condition through an array of emotions ranging from painstaking pitfalls to glimmers of hope,” said Wehrkamp.
While Zonder/Wehrkamp takes the two musicians on a different path, their musical pasts are very much influences on their current project.
One of the most influential drummers in metal history, Zonder burst onto the scene with Warlord in 1982 and went on to play drums with prog-metal heavyweights Fates Warning for eight albums starting in 1989. With periodic Warlord shows on the European festival circuit, involvement in the bands Slavior and Spirits of Fire and stints with artists like Graham Bonnet and Arch/Matheos, Zonder maintains a steady presence in the metal world. Since 1993, Wehrkamp has been one of the guitarist/keyboardists in the innovative progressive metal band Shadow Gallery, which released six studio albums between 1992 and 2009 on labels like Magna Carta and Inside Out.
Having made critically acclaimed records and toured the world playing to hundreds of thousands of hardcore metal fans, Zonder and Wehrkamp are betting the departure from their musical roots will still generate enthusiasm from long-time followers because the soul and authentic creativity they’ve always delivered is the driving force behind this music, too.
“This album isn’t about doing something different for the hell of it,” said Wehrkamp. “It’s about challenging ourselves to step outside our own self-imposed boundaries and expectations and dare anyone who pushes play on these songs to do the same. This record is all about introspection and discovery. And we want our fans to take the trip with us.”