STRONGHOLD – Portal Of Illusion

STRONGHOLD - Portal Of Illusion


Perris Records
Release date: March 27, 2004

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

Portal of Illusion is a very unique CD. It can be classified as a Hard Rock/Heavy Metal hybrid, but the most unique thing about the CD is the vocals. In a time when vocalists who sound like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street are the norm, the band prides itself on the fact that not only can lead vocalist Kevin Razel sing well (which he does), but also on the fact that they feature 4-part harmonies. The harmonies are what set them apart from other Metal bands performing these days, and also lends a bit of a retro sound to the recording … not to confuse the term “retro” to mean 80s or 90s … nope, we’re talking retro 60s! They have a vocal sound similar to Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey To The Center Of The Mind” … very full and powerful.

Stronghold is a 5-piece Hard Rock/Heavy Metal band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, with a lineup consisting of Alex Demos and Dave Climo on guitars, Dan Climo on bass guitar, Chris Batton on drums, and lead vocalist Kevin Razel. Portal of Illusion is their debut offering, and is quite an accomplishment indeed. It was produced by none other than D.C. Cooper, the former Royal Hunt frontman. The CD is a little over 50 minutes long, and consists of 12 tracks, one being a “hidden track.”

Portal of Illusion opens with what appears to be an army marching, and leads into “Power Rises,” which is a great intro to the CD — full of hot guitar work and a strong backbone from the drums and bass, and, of course, the first sampling of the amazing 4-part harmonies prevalent throughout the CD. This is a song you’ll want to crank up on the stereo. Next, there’s nothing wrong with a little shameless self-promotion, if you can pull it off, which brings listeners to the second track, aptly named “Stronghold”. Luckily, they do pull if off. It’s another house-rocking tune with plenty of gutsy guitar work and a solid background, with a bit of synthesizer thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, almost every album has a stinker on it, and the next song, “Cyclone,” is the stinker on this album. It has a very cheesy, garage band sound to it, and the guitar work is repetitive to the point of being annoying. Skip to track 4, “Enemy Within,” which is a paradox unto itself. It opens with a Queensrÿche style lead-in, but totally morphs into some kind of zombie beach party style melody. You can almost envision Frankie and Annette, in undead form, doing the twist on the sand while trying to gnash on each other. Strangely enough, it works. It’s a heavy rocker with a ripping guitar lead played over some pounding double bass drums.

“Fractured” opens with the sound of breaking glass, leading into an unusual off-time rhythm that could also be described as fractured. The vocal harmonies are pretty cool in that they are reminiscent of The Moody Blues “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band).” The next tune, “Ironheart,” will make you want to put on your feather headdress and go on the warpath. It definitely has a Cowboys and Indians feel to it — minus the Cowboys. The drums have that tribal sound, and the guitars, although repetitive, have a heavy native sound.

The second half of the CD just gets better and better. “Twilight” starts off as a middle of the road tune, but then switches gears during the chorus into an Iron Maiden-esque rocker with some fantastic vocals. One of the two ballads on the album, “All That I Am,” starts with ocean sounds behind an acoustic guitar, and builds into a full blown powerfest. It’s good enough to be a hit single and features soaring vocals and an introspective hook.

Possibly the best song on the CD, “Before My Eyes Awake,” opens with a single line done a cappella, and then BAM — into a full blown headbanger that never lets up for the remainder of the song. The tenth selection on the CD is “Lockdown,” which is an open road, cruising down the highway anthem. It will make you long for summer and warmer days.

“Ad Astra” is the second ballad on the disc, and although not quite as impressive as “All That I Am,” the chorus is very explosive and powerful. During the guitar solo, for a slight moment it sounds as if the guitarist’s fingers are somewhat lost on the fretboard. However, he makes a perfect recovery and launches into some nifty Blues riffs. The last song on the CD, the “hidden track,” is a foot-stomping version of “S.O.S.,” originally written by Abba.

All in all, Portal of Illusion is a very impressive first outing, with the vocals being the main draw to this CD. There is a new E.P. due out in the spring of 2006, and it will be very interesting to see what musical direction the band has taken over the past two years.

NOTE: After the release of Portal of Illusion, there was a lineup change with Rob Droppa replacing Dan Climo on bass, and Bill Staley replacing Dave Climo on guitar.


  • George Wagemann

    George was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio, based out of a town about 35 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois, USA. His parents bought him his first stereo and some cool music to go along with it including Led Zeppelin II, Foghat, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He took private guitar lessons from the age of 10 through the age of 15. Throughout that time he played in various garage bands both on bass and lead guitars. He had gotten to the point where he was considered a “pretty decent” guitar player. Then, he heard Yngwie play for the first time and realized that “pretty decent” guitar players are a dime a dozen. He sold his guitars and gear not long after that. Of course after getting older and wiser he ended up regretting it. His favorite styles of Metal includes Power, Progressive, Hardcore, Thrash, Melodic Death Metal, and Euro-style Metal, which is far different than American-style Metal, which he also likes.

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