Named after a Rush song, Different Strings is a band put together by Maltese multi-instrumentalist Chris Mallia. The band has released four albums and an EP, with the two parts of The Sounds of Silence from 2012 and 2015 originally planned as one double CD. Although inspired by Rush, the music is a mix of modern rock, neo-prog, prog metal, classical and especially symphonic rock influences. Sometimes they evoke references with Pink Floyd and sometimes, in the heavier sections, Dream Theater. Criticism has so far suggested that they are on the one hand too heavy for symphonic rock fans, and on the other too light for the real prog metal aficionados.
Just released, The Sands of Time was partly made possible by crowdfunding and contains thirteen songs with a total playing time of approximately one hour. All compositions, both lyrics and music, are by Chris Mallia and The Sands of Time is a concept album in two acts, a symphonic rock opera with an enormous amount of orchestration. The story is about an ordinary Maltese man after World War II, topics such as poverty, hunger, prostitution and immigration playing an important role. A full orchestra accompanies the band on different sections, The Gathering specially composed for orchestra, is only available as a bonus track on the CD version.
An acoustic intro with guitar, children’s sounds and plaintive vocals by singer Andrea Casali opens the album in the form of Out of time, which seamlessly flows into the instrumental The Hourglass Overture, which strongly refers to Rush, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The tempo slows down for Poverty and Agony, featuring singer Casali in a melancholy ballad.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, we are treated to a tenor sax solo by Arthem Zhulyev. Quite strange, I did not see this coming. Strangely enough, Broken Childhood fits well into the album’s concept. The songs largely merge into each other, as befits a good concept album, and this also applies to Freedom (living hell), although a completely different (progmetal) approach is taken. The title track is the second-longest and most proggy sounding track to date, with a mix of old-fashioned synth sounds, guitar and vocals. End of act one.
The heavily orchestrated and bombastic bonus track The Gathering could easily have been the soundtrack to a sci-fi movie. Ten Dollar Love goes heavy metal with double bass drums, shredder guitars, female solo vocals from AnneMarie Spiteri and Ronnie James Dio-like vocals from Casali, but also brilliant keyboard work on, among others, Hammond by all-rounder Mallia. Glimpse of Consciousness (including spelling mistake on the cover) is actually the piano and vocal intro to the album’s longest track, The Plan, an exciting heavy prog piece with oriental sounds and heavy guitar solos by guest musician Jeanpierre Zammit and Dio/Klaus Meine (Scorpions)-like vocals by Casali.
Again, a seamless transition to Castles in the Sand with Us and Them-like theme, instrumentation and tempo, in this long sympho-prog track. The short Gilmour-like solo is by Mallia, and The Hourglass Overture (reprise) returns to the original theme in the proven instrumental reprise format, Dream Theater-like in style. Whereas Out of Time opened the album, it also closes it, again in reprise mode. Curtains.
A striking feature of the Different Strings sound are the vintage keyboards combined with extremely tasteful guitar soloing. And let’s not forget the vocals. The choice of Italian singer Andrea Casali, known from the Maltese band Icefish, has turned out to be a good one. On the other hand, the songs are sometimes a bit unbalanced in structure.
There is definitely potential, as mentioned before. The missing link seems to be the lack of a definitive choice with regard to the musical direction of the band. Mallia seems to be still in two minds: prog or (prog) metal. When he has finally made up his mind, I would like to take a closer look at the next musical product. Currently there’s insufficient balance between both musical styles. My preference is clear: “sandy” songs like The Sands of Time and Castles in the Sand are perfectly aligned with melodic symphonic prog, and for me personally this always strikes the right chord (or strings).
01. Out of Time (2:32)
02. The Hourglass Overture (4:38)
03. Poverty and Agony (3:37)
04. Broken Childhood (1:44)
05. Freedom (Living Hell) (4:08)
06. The Sands of Time (7:36)
07. Ten Dollar Love (5:33)
08. Glimpse of Consciousness (1:00)
09. The Plan (8:04)
10. Castles in the Sand (6:43)
11. The Hourglass Overture (Reprise) (3:37)
12. Out of Time (reprise) (1:17)
~ Bonus track:
13. The Gathering (5:44)
Total Time – 56:34
Chris Mallia – All Instruments, Backing Vocals
Andrea Casali (Icefish) – Vocals
AnneMarie Spiteri – Vocals (track 8)
Kurt Aquilina – Guitar Solo (track 11)
Jeanpierre Zammit – Guitar Solo (track 10)
Arthem Zhulyev – Tenor Sax Solo (track 4)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Malta
Date of Release: 31st March 2021
– The Sands of Time (2021)
– The Sounds of Silence, Part II: The Counterfeits (2015)
– The Sounds of Silence, Part 1: The Counterparts (2012)
– Victims of Love [EP] (2010)
– …It’s Only the Beginning (2007)