by Kev Rowland
I have been having quite a few conversations with keyboard/sax player Marek Arnold about his various musical outlets, and he recently provided me with access to virtually everything that has been released by Toxic Smile. Prior to this, I had only heard their fourth album, ‘7’ (which was their seventh overall release), so I was looking forward to this and jumped into the task with relish. For those who haven’t come across them before, the band started as a collaboration between Marek, drummer Daniel Zehe and guitarist Uwe Reinholz in early 1996 when they were still students, really coming together as unit two years later when they were joined by singer Larry B. ‘M.A.D’ was their debut album, released in 2000, but what I am playing is the 2011 reissue which contains two additional songs, one of which is a cover (more of that later).
Musically these guys are at the intersection of prog metal, heavy prog, symphonic, crossover, neo-prog, and more straightforward hard rock. At times they are reminiscent of classic Saga, at others Dream Theater, while IQ has also had an impact, as has Steve Howe. What really ties this all together is the way that Marek and Uwe are joined at the hip, while bassist Robert Brenner is incredibly important to the overall mix with a strong warm bass that can be sat quietly at the back or also provide touches right at the front to provide a completely different and unexpected emphasis. The music swirls, it moves, it switches and loops like a rollercoaster, and right at the very front of this is Larry B., totally in control. He can be emotional, he can be rough and raw, or pure and melodic. The only time he comes unstuck is when the band play “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”. While the arrangement is interesting (I personally would have stuck with the harder riffs they used in the introduction), Larry is singing at the very limit of his range and has to go into falsetto. It would have been more interesting if they had moved away from trying to replicate Anderson and instead did something in a lower register to provide a harshness.
But, that and the sound quality of the snare drum are the only low points of what is a great debut album, and I find it strange that it has taken nearly twenty years for me to come across it and that there isn’t a single review of it on ProgArchives! Well, both of these issues have been rectified now. Well worth investigating.