Shotgun Symphony -- _On The Line Of Fire_ (Pulse Records, 1998)

We may just need a Shotgun Symphony to blast away some of the collective rock 'n' roll doldrums of the late 1990s, so it's a good thing we have one.

Hot on the heels of their awesome "Forget The Rain" album, Shotgun Symphony returns with the first great hard rock record of 1998, once again making it seem like other groups simply aren't trying hard enough. Fusing elements of bands like Rush, Styx, Dream Theater, and Pink Floyd, "On The Line Of Fire" filters a '90s edge and guitar crunch through late '70s Classic Rock, using keyboards to enhance the music's energy rather than polish it away. Loaded with killer songs and explosive musicianship, the album is ready to blow away fans of both Hard Rock and Classic Rock. It is a desperately-needed reminder that there's more to listen to than the bludgeoning sameness of modern rock radio might suggest.

As with all great albums, there are moments of timeless brilliance. The band shows melodic firepower to burn on the sizzling album opener, "Generation Clash", an upbeat rocket that keeps its atmosphere while it careens along, like the best Rush and Dream Theater songs do. Even more widely appealing is the captivating goosebump-generator "Hard To Hold Onto", a smoldering midtempo ballad with latent intensity for the rockers and inviting textures that even pop fans may be unable to refuse.

But there's plenty on "Fire" aimed at '90s audiences, too. "Big Mistake" nods to beat-heavy '90s metal, for instance, but keyboard accents and a sweet bridge section leave a Shotgun stamp on the tune. Many other tracks combine a modern, dark, post-psychedelic swirl with Classic Rock elements, a catchy and intense blend accessible to hard rock fans of all ages.

In Classic Rock, we haven't had that spirit here since 1979 -- consistent, diverse songwriting combined with an aptitude for creative musicianship that feels positively orchestral compared to sparse modern rock. I only hope the audience that wants to welcome it back can find this needle of an album in the major-label modern rock haystack out there.

*****

"On The Line Of Fire" is one of the first releases by new label Pulse Records, perhaps the most mainstream album on their heavy rock oriented roster. For more information on Pulse Records, phone (630) 529-3070, fax them at (630) 529-3089, or email them at (impulse@enteract.com).


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