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Sandstone – Epsilon Sky

Epsilon Sky
by Mark Machlay at 16 November 2021, 3:46 PM

Following an extensive break after relentless touring and the release of their fourth album, Irish progressive/melodic metal band SANDSTONE have recuperated, feeling refreshed and reframed to release their fifth full-length album “Epsilon Sky” on November 5th, 2021. Establishing themselves in 2003, the Londonderry based group was founded by guitarist Stevie McLaughlin and singer Sean McBay. They gained attention in England when IRON MAIDEN vocalist Bruce Dickinson took note of their second album “Purging the Past” in 2009 when he declared, “this is the most impressive album to come from Ireland in many years”. Fueled by this praise, they tried upping the bar - freshly armed with a newly added second guitarist – and built upon the further progressive metal-oriented sound out of a purely melodic metal one and released the follow-up “Cultural Dissonance” in 2011 to honors and mostly good reviews from the international press.  Heavy touring to support the release and some inner turmoil leading to member changes, they still soldiered on releasing next album “Delta Viridian” – a semi-concept album based on the novella ­Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut just another two years later.

With the kind of heavy work ethic and speed of album releases, it’s hardly a surprise that SANDSTONE decided to take a break to refresh. The whole band took a short stint from 2014-2015 becoming Tim “Ripper” Owens’ backing band, guitarist McLaughlin released a solo album in 2018, but the band would reform, renewed to release their heaviest album to date, their fifth, with “Epsilon Sky”. The band themselves describe their latest as “an album for fans of deep, thoughtful songs in a compact ‘all killers no fillers’ package, with supporting elements of metal, hard rock and progressive tendencies that unite perfectly”. The entire album was produced, recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered by the band’s own Steve McLaughlin, giving them complete creative control of the album. He also created the cover are and illustrations as well as creating the logo for the band that has endured throughout the entire band’s career.  While the music may be written by McLaughlin, the entire band had a hand in arranging the songs and all lyrics were written by McBay.

Overall, SANDSTONE’s return is a welcome one but unfortunately, despite a few choice standouts, the whole of “Epsilon Sky” didn’t really send my metal heart soaring. It opens quite well with the catchy choruses, spellbinding guitar work and overall amazing production on “I Know Why”. It started to give me memories of listening to the band THRESHOLD and wondering what else was up their sleeve. There is even a nice serenity in listening to the rocking rhythm and almost theatrical vocals from the always amazing Sean McBay on the following track, “Cuts to You”. There is even an emotionally stirring outro-ish guitar solo given at the end that nearly made me tear up. But by “Worn Soul” with its passing between gentle, and seemingly forced vocals and the heavier edged sections, the album started to show some cracks in the foundation. Another highlight was “Made Up” in which the heavier and softer sections are more even and made for a nice epic, despite only being a little over 5 minutes. I even liked the aggression and power that I heard on “Silhouettes Drown” reminding me of DREAM THEATER’s “Honor Thy Father” at times. Unfortunately, the rest of the tracks just did not seem to capture my attention, despite it being an impressively produced record.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 7
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. I Know Why
2. Cuts to You
3. Worn Soul
4. Fractured Time
5. Made Up
6. Dies Irae
7. Silhouettes Drown
8. Critical
9. The Last One (CD Only Bonus Track)
Thomas Alford – Bass
Dee Kivlehan – Guitar
Sean McBay – Vocals
Stevie McLaughlin – Guitar
Eamonn McNaught – Drums
Record Label: Limb Music


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