SL Theory is the brainchild of Greek multi-instrumentalist Sotiris Lagonikas, Co-founder of the bands What’s The Buzz? And Double Treat and a former member of six piece ‘Four Wheel Drive’. Based out of Piraeus, Lagonikas is a long time veteran of the Greek rock and metal scene, having performed over the years with heavyweights such as Spiritual Beggars, Cathedral and Irish Rockers The Answer. With a huge influence based in the classic and AOR rock scene, ranging from Queen, Kansas, Styx, Toto, Deep Purple and sounds reminiscent of modern progressive rock bands like Greece’s own Poem and Mother Of Millions and of course, the works of the legendary Arjen Anthony Lucassen. With “Cipher” being the project’s 4th release, this former one man endeavour turned into multi-person musical operation seems to have got a solid grasp on what they want to do with their music, so the only thing left to do is to try and crack the code using the cipher provided.

Opening up the release is the epic 9-part, 13+ minute progressive metal opus “The Life & Death Of Mr. Ess”. With such a long run time, it fits perfectly into the progressive rock/metal opera styling and the variety of sounds and influences you can pick up across the track is rather impressive. From the opening section’s piano work which is reminiscent of Elton John, Queen and Kansas, loaded with bright sounding arpeggios, slick guitar work and clear and powerful vocals, it transitions into a more metal friendly sound, borrowing a few tricks from the Ayreon playbook and sharing some similarities with atmospheric Greek prog metallers Mother Of Millions. The attention to detail in the composition and voicing of all the parts is tremendous and the way the lyrics deliver the story with great dynamic shifts, powerful emotive sections and they complement the ever changing musical background. A superb opening track and a fine example of the talent those involved in this project have.

From here, the next couple of tracks shift things towards a more AOR/Stadium rock styled setting. It is extremely 70’s and 80’s in style and feel for the most part, only having a few moments of more modern prog metal and the current day tweaks and engineering to show that it isn’t music which was created in the yesteryears. “You Never Happened” is a prime example of a solid rock single, loaded with melodic hooks, catchy vocals, a simple driving beat, strategic synth augmentation and slick virtuoso work on the guitar front. It is basically a modern take on a classic AOR track, something you’d expect Journey or Foreigner to churn out! “Devil’s Suites” has the synth and vocal intro to grab the attention before it goes into a moodier but still highly infectious rocking number, “Tables Turned” is just straight up chugging rock with plenty of flair thrown in and “Grave Danger”, the last of the more high octane rock leaning tracks shows a bit more complexity, tipping its hat to the likes of Kansas and Rush. Across all these tracks, the vocals are powerful and extremely expressive. Loaded with strong solo performances and solid group sections with some call and response moments, they would all fit on any modern radio station.

The turning point of the album is the short “If It Wasn’t For You”. The vocal and keyboard dominated track is short in length and rather dramatic with its subtle orchestral arrangement’s augmenting the melancholic atmosphere created by the keyboards and lyrics and the vocal display just oozes emotion, but it is a subdued affair, seeming to suck all the life and momentum out of the release which has been built up in the first half of the album. After this, things are more subdued. The length of the tracks increases slightly and the overall mood is gloomier. Sure, the dark, depressing and moody can sound beautiful at times, but when you’ve just had half an hour or so of fist pumping rock, you want things to keep that vibe right?

“Anyone Anymore” is atmospheric, again leaning on the Queen and Kansas like vibes musically, coming across as colder and more clinical in its delivery, “If You Saw Me Dead” which follows is a melancholic number which has some great brass sections, solid vocals and a highly dramatic chorus. It shifts round the 3-minute point to being more progressive and expressive but it retains that moody edge overall by the time it wraps up. “Silence And Loneliness” is something you would expect to find on a Foreigner record (think ‘Cold As Ice’) but it has some late 80’s Deep Purple moments in there, especially with the way the Hammond Organ rings out in the later stages of the song. “A Song About Nothing” is similar to “Anyone, Anymore” in the moody and expressive stakes and the final track of the album proper, “Happy” is a total curveball of Funk Rock proportions, ripping a leaf out of the Extreme playbook. As an extra, there is a more progressive metal friendly version of “If You Saw Me Dead” which plays more on the vocal performances, strategic breaks and pauses and a crushing guitar riff driving it along, something which I feel makes it better than the version in the main running order of the tracks.

Overall, “Cipher” is a solid album. It’s got some fantastic musical moments, great composition and arrangements, slick lead work and phenomenal vocals. The main fault I can find is how at the half-way point, it seems to just shift in a completely different direction. Whilst this is common in progressive leaning bands, it does sap the momentum to a noticeable degree, but it still remains an enjoyable experience.

(7/10 Fraggle)