Skylark

Wings

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As suggested by its name, Italy's Skylark is quite the strange bird. Amazingly prolific, the band released eight albums in as many years leading up to 2004's Wings (supposedly the first part of a longer suite), and their majestic brand of progressive-cum-symphonic rock is nothing if not ornate, and full of surprises. The first -- arriving about five minutes into easy listening, epic-sized opener "Rainbow in the Dark," when speed metal rhythms suddenly kick in -- brings the startling realization that Skylark is some sort of heavy metal band! This is not an easy notion to stomach, but next number "Summer of 2001" (in many ways, merely a more concise example of its predecessor) truly comes off like a softer, wimpier version of Michael Kiske-fronted Helloween, with added synths and sporadic female voices. Making matters even more confusing, third track "Another Reason to Believe" has nothing remotely metallic about it (AOR verging on MOR would be a more accurate description), and raises questions about potential Christian affiliations for Skylark to boot. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you, but throw in the diametrically opposed message of "Belzebu 2" (quite possibly the least scary song ever written about Satan's buddy), or the truly baffling "A Stupid Song" (are they serious, kidding, oh never mind!), and confusion runs rampant. In fact, "confusion" may well be the keyword for describing Wings -- it's the sort of album that leaves one wondering if Skylark are onto something brilliant all their own, or completely out of their minds (they're probably both). Whatever the case, lovers of Helloween-styled power metal, and Nightwish-like symphonic overtones (see "Last Ride") who also harbor a patience for lighter pop fare (check out the ballad-y closing cover of Def Leppard's "When Love and Hate Collide") will probably greatly enjoy this curious release.

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