NEW REVIEW FROM POWERPLAY MAGAZINE UK: Those American pomp rockers, Stencil Forest return with a brand new album. 'The Abyss' follows hot on the heels of 2004's reissue of their debut, 'Opening Act'. If you remember my review of that album, way back in issue 69, then you'll know that I compared them to early Styx, Starcastle, Avalon and Alpha Centauri. Well nothings changed in that department, in fact, nothing has changed full stop! The arrangements are still overblown, if a little bit more laid-back, this time, the musicianship is still of a high quality and in vocalist Doug Andresen, they still have one of the best vocalists to grace this genre, in many a year. 1st Review on The Abyss courtesy of Kev Rowland, Feedback Fanzine, West Yorks, England-UK: After the success of the reissue of the Stencil Forest debut 'Opening Act' the guys have now released their second album, only 23 years later! Three of the guys who were on the debut are on the follow-up, Doug Andreson (vocals), Frank Cassella (guitars, keys) and Rick Cassella (keys) and they have been joined by Jim Cassella on percussion who played with the guys as part of the later band Five by Five and bassist Ron Perron who has played with Frank and Rick in bands before Stencil Forest originally came into being. This is an album that I can honestly say I have been eagerly awaiting. When I was sent the reissue it got onto my player and it just stayed there, I couldn't take it off as it was so good. There is always the worry that a follow-up, particularly after so long, could well be something of an anti-climax so I am very happy indeed to report that is not the case. This is an independent release but the production is spot on and the artwork within the booklet is very good indeed, so much so that one definitely feels that this is an album that has been put out by a major, and certainly the music contained within it definitely reinforces that view. This is melodic AOR pomp rock that contains elements of bands like Boston and Styx, throws in some Kansas and then their own special dose of hook-laden songs and the result is an album that yet again defies all attempts to have it removed from the player so that I can listen to some other albums. Doug has a great voice, and the band have arranged the music so that it is pushed to the fore - it may be rocking along with great choruses or there may be some delicate piano and lush harmonies as on "The Captive Heart" and the quality stands out a mile. This really is a superb album and I can only hope that the band don't wait so long until the third as this is music that deserves and demands to be heard. Stencil Forest - The Abyss. Reviewed by Ken Whowell It was in 2003 that I was invited round to a fellow Ambrosia fan's house to listen to several Ambrosia tracks as well as other obscurities on vinyl and tape. That friend was Mike Jones, an AOR aficionado who knew about many more 'Good Music' albums and groups than I could ever hope to discover. After pleasant hours listening to Mike's rarities, he played a couple of tracks from a rather battered old cassette tape. In my amazement, I asked him why he had not told me about these tracks, which I insisted were previously unknown early Ambrosia songs. 'Not so, kennyboy' he scoffed. 'It isn't Ambrosia at all, it's Stencil Forest'. That was my first encounter with 'Opening Act', Stencil Forest's first (and at that time only) album. Now, after the impossible has happened, and Stencil Forest has re-formed, I am sat here reviewing SF's new album, 'The Abyss'. If you haven't heard it, I have not the slightest doubt that, after this review, you will want to hear it. It is an amazing assembly of songs put together as if the band had woken from a quarter-century of cryo-sleep and continued without realising that the band had been in the freezerinos all this time. It is continuity to the 'N'th degree. Only last week I wrote about Ambrosia and how the guys needed to put aside their apprehensions about a new album and just 'get out there and DO it'. Joe, if you are reading this, get ahold of 'The Abyss' and see how Stencil Forest just got out there and DID it! Track 1....Lifetime Suite....(11:01) This one starts with a tinkling piano accompanied by the wash of the sea on a faraway shore...with the vocal kicking in courtesy of Doug Andresen......after this intro there's a terrific piano-drum hectic session which you will slap you around the ears and shout 'top that, Ambrosia'.... if you loved The Brunt, you'll die for this. Around the 5:00 mark, Doug returns with a wistful vocal accompanied by some beautifully understated background harmonies along with the recurrent 'Life is a bitter pill'....theme. Track 2....You Pull Me In....(5:26) I got half-way through this track and had to go back to the start....it was so good.....especially the bridge of the song....I just couldn't wait for the end of the track...I had to hear the beginning again...right now. This track has a guitar-drum-orchestra mix to die for........it alternates from accoustic rock to sweeping rock to semi-orchestral silky smoothness. The vocal has so many hooks that you could go deep-sea fishing ! Thanks, Doug Andresen, for a superb track. If your feet and fingers don't tap along to this, then double-check to see if you are still alive! Track 3 The Captive Heart...(4:57) This reminds me very much of Ambrosia's 'Somewhere I Never Travelled' album. It's sparse in places, poppy in places, but with piano and guitar segments that show Stencil's musical taproot source in the heady days of late 70's / early 80's 'new music'. Track 4 Morning Glory...(4:30) Again and again, Stencil Forest fashion a song using all the ingredients of the great 80's. It's like they have found a cache of musical memories that have lain frozen in time...and they have thawed them out, brought them back to life, nourished them and are now parading these songs as fully revived musical mammoths for all of us to hear, gawping in astonishment. Track 5..Our Little Secret...(3:33) A thudding piano intro that could have been written by Brian Wilson himself opens this quirky, lyrical track. It has a spiritual feel to it which reminds me of all my favorite bands (Sneaker, Player, and, yes, Ambro too). This tune is a real grower and it's yet another song for me to karaoke along to in the car. Track 6..Here Today.....(4:10) No, not the old Beach Boys toon.... This song starts with a cute little intro and bursts into life when the vocal kicks in with a plaintiff cry....but what appears to be a straightforward song belies the slightest hint of menace in the song... (well, I thought so!). Track 7...Broken....(4:35) Another wonderful tune, with soaring vocals and that now-familiar piano with a hint of double-vocals and that oh-so-catchy arrangement which begins with a harmonica-sounding intro. This brought more than a tear to my usually bone-dry eyes. This song sums up Stencil Forest perfectly....a band that released a stunning first album in 1980 and then broke up and disappeared from view, only to find each other again at the cusp of the 21st Century. The liner notes of this album very generously credit me (Ken Whowell) with 'precipitating all of this'. I'm truly flattered, honored and proud to be involved in the ressurection of this fine band. And this track symbolises, better than any other, the joy and enthusiasm of these guys getting back together and continuing where they left off, some thirty years ago. A magical, joyous track which celebrates the rediscovered camaraderie of Stencil Forest. This is my favorite of the whole album. Track 8....Room With a View.....(4:38) The jangling guitar, percussion and thudding bass along with a great angst intro propels listeners into a thumping rock track with a knockout keyboard mid-section. Track 9....Is Love Enough to Save You.....(5:24) A light, airy confection filled in with a eerie, ethereal vocal from Doug, Another 'spiritual' feel permeates this penultimate track. It's so much more than just another song about drifting apart...the lyrics describe an almost forlorn, nay, lovelorn plea for another start, a fresh beginning. Great track. Track 10 - The Abyss.....(24:16) When I saw the running time for this track...(24 minutes)...I thought to myself...this conjures up all the old images of those groups who inflicted those unbelievably dull 20-minute drum solos....the sort of self-indulgent pap that tolled the death-knell of 'progressive' music in the late 70's and 80's. So, fearing the worst, I resigned myself to 24 minutes of endurance. Well, I have been wrong before, and boy was I wrong this time. The Abyss is a slap-your-face-told-you-so ride on a harmonic roller-coaster that I haven't heard since Ambrosia's 'Cowboy Star'. It has everything you could wish for....pipe-organ, accoustic guitar, piano, 'ol' west' country-n-western segment...you name it...it's there. So many other groups and songs are evoked....but don't get me wrong...this isn't an attempt at copying Ambrosia, Player, Sneaker, Steely Dan, early Genesis or any of the other eclectic heroes of my youth.....this is clearly Stencil Forest. Just close your eyes and relax...and suddenly you are on a journey....full of adventure, discovery, danger, excitement and thrills, but right from the start...you feel instinctively that you are in safe hands, as Stencil Forest Tours Inc take you on a journey around the musical world....and you know all along that you will reach that safe haven, that rainbow's end, of harmonic heaven. I enjoyed the trip immensely. You will, too........ The whole album was written by Frank Cassella with additional lyrics by Doug Andresen on 'Face in the Mirror', part of track one. But this is no one (or two)-man job. Jim Cassella on percussion, and Rick Cassella with additional keyboards, plus groupmeister Ron Perron on bass and additional guitar....combine to make this a true group effort. And Doug can certainly hold a tune, too. How can guys who have been apart for so long just get back together and pick up where they left off twenty-five years ago? I don't have a clue, but if I was pushed to answer, I'd say that these are wandering friends who went their own separate way, but who, eventually, heard that inner voice telling them that they had 'unfinished business' to attend to....and they certainly have heeded that voice. I have one hope...and it is that Stencil Forest have many more albums to release before that 'unfinished business' is well and truly finished. You really should give this album a try!