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SL Theory – Cipher

SL Theory
by Santiago Puyol at 11 December 2019, 7:37 PM

SL THEORY is a Progressive Rock and AOR band from Greece. Founded in 2009 by Sotiris Lagonikas as a one-man project, it has grown into a ten-piece band, with a stable chorus of backing vocalists. "Cipher" is the first album with the full line-up, following three releases by Lagonikas under the band’s moniker. "Cipher" mixes elements from Progressive Rock and AOR with a couple of touches of Hair Metal and Synth Rock.

The nine-part, 13-minute "Life and Death of Mr. Ess" opens the album in full-on Prog mode. The listener is introduced to the sound of the record via a QUEEN-esque first section, with jaunty piano and extravagant guitar lines. Through several time signature shifts and tempo changes, the band shows a myriad of influences among which KANSAS, JOURNEY, STYX and RUSH seem to appear the most. Towards the end, beautiful acoustics and atmospheric keys take the track to a euphoric finale.

"You Never Happened" comes next, with a strong eighties Hard Rock and Hair Metal fair. It is a catchy track, heavy on vocal harmonies. There is a bit of great dueling guitars, a little shredding and the rhythm section drives the track home. "Devil’s Suites" doubles down on the eighties feel, with Gavalas’ synthesizers provide a sci-fi vibe to the track. It becomes clear why it was chosen as a single before the album’s release, with a strong, memorable chorus.

More STYX influences appear on the melancholic "Tables Turned." Its nostalgic guitar melodies add an introspective mood underneath the catchy synth melody. Meanwhile, "Grave Danger" is a fun and Pop-like track, even if a little derivative, adding nothing new to "Cipher" so far.

Soft and delicate piano playing changes the tone of the album on "If It Wasn’t for You," a lovely short ballad. It is a massive departure from previous tracks, adding some necessary variety. Powerful vocal harmonies and synth orchestrations provide a warm blanket against which electronic percussion feels icy in contrast.

"Anyone Anymore" takes the backbone of the melody from the previous track and gives it a spin, making for a Progressive power ballad for the first half of its six-minute run. The female backing vocals contribute a dash of dramatic theatricality, before everything explodes into a complex, heavily syncopated sonic exploration with great organ runs and guitar soloing.

The flanger-heavy "If You Saw Me Dead" feels straight out of a twisted circus before it gets into some hard-hitting guitar. The alternative version that appears at the end of the album manages to be even better, by taking an Industrial-tinged route, sounding surprisingly different to the original version and the rest of the album.

"Silence and Loneliness" and "A Song about Nothing" continue with the ballad trend. The former features more QUEEN-esque harmonies and jaunty piano, with a strong 1970s Rock feel thanks to the bluesy organ and guitar combo. The latter goes a little heavier, with a stronger presence Gavalas’ organ and the guitar going in for a little shred-fest.

"Happy" comes completely out-of-field, being a psychedelic track that delivers the largest surprise of the album. One that I simply cannot spoil for anyone who has not checked it yet. Even if it doesn’t entirely fit the mood of the record, is an unexpected highlight and a delightful addition.

Overall, "Cipher" is a solid record with some strong tracks that ends up feeling a tad overlong considering many songs feels a bit similar between them. SL Theory is filled with talented players and when the songwriting takes a full-on Prog, theatrical route or when it caters to a more experimental feel. When it falls into 1980s pastiches and clichés it loses power and becomes a bit too repetitive.

Songwriting: 6
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 7
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

1. Life and Death of Mr. Ess
2. You Never Happened
3. Devil’s Suites
4. Tables Turned
5. Grave Danger
6. If It Wasn’t for You
7. Anyone Anymore
8. If You Saw Me Dead
9. Silence and Loneliness
10. A Song about Nothing
11. Happy
12. If You Saw Me Dead (Alternative Version)
Mike Karasoulis – Lead Vocals
Alex Flouros – Guitars
Yiannis Nigdelis – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Chris Kollias – Bass
Manos Gavalas – Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Sotiris Lagonikas – Drums & Backing Vocals, Lead Vocals on "The Life & Death of Mr. Ess" Part I & Part X and "If It Wasn’t For You"
Christina Alexiou – Backing Vocals
Kandia Bouzioti – Backing Vocals
Alexandros Louziotis – Backing Vocals
Margarita Papadimitriou – Backing Vocals
Anna T. TaRba – Backing Vocals
Manolis Tsigkos – Guest guitar on "Devil’s Suites"
Costas Kefalas – Trumpet on “Happy
Giannis Arvanitakis – Trombone on “Happy
Lefteris Pouliou – Sax on “Happy
Record Label: Rock of Angels Records


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