DEMON’S EYE – The Stranger Within

demon's eyeDemon’s Eye, as their name suggests, are a bunch of chaps who are more than a bit fond of the classic era of Deep Purple. In fact, for over a decade, they plied their trade as a Deep Purple tribute act in Germany – eventually being given the chance to work alongside actual Deep Purple members. This release teams them up with Scottish hard rock vocalist for hire, Doogie White, best known for his stint with the last line-up of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in the mid 90s. Aside from that, White also found cult status as the vocalist with Midnight Blue, a much hyped AOR band, whose album was scheduled to be released on the UK label Now & Then. Eventually that album was given a belated Japanese only release. Over the years, White also performed with Axel Rudy Pell and Yngwie Malmsteen, as well as releasing albums with his own Deep Purple/Rainbow-esque hard rock band Cornerstone. Given both parties’ history and general musical bias, their work on this collaborative album ‘The Stranger Within’ offers absolutely no surprises, sounding exactly how you’d expect.

A wash of Hammond organ opens ‘Stranger In Us All’ before a thunder of drums breaks into an arrangement full of Eastern motifs a la Deep Purple’s ‘Perfect Strangers’ or Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’. While the old school bombast of the arrangement should not be overlooked and White’s vocal style –a cross between a poor-man’s Ian Gillan and bad Glenn Hughes impersonator – is well suited to the task in hand, it’s not long before this is shown up for being no more than a second rate homage. Similar traits can be heard during ‘Sins of The Father’ which melds moments of ‘Burn’-era Purple with Doogie White’s wail which, in places, manages to resemble Saxon’s Biff Byford. This number has the distinction of having a better chorus, but musically speaking doesn’t push either Doogie White or Demon’s Eye’s collective talents. ‘A Foolish Man’ is a fast hard rock workout, the kind which held a strong place on Deep Purple’s classic ‘In Rock’; but while it’s musically spot on as far as imitation goes (the ‘Highway Star’-esque guitar solo particularly charming), the spirit is squashed under the weight of White’s vocal, which clearly attempts to imitate Gillan throughout. It goes from being questionable to flat-out embarrassing at the end, as White bravely aims for something resembling Gillan’s screaming in “top A”. Gillan may have impressed by screaming in tune during the early 70s, but when given a similar task, Doogie White really doesn’t. As the music stops, he exclaims “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” Oddly, you may find yourselves thinking the same thing…

The lengthy ‘Far Over The Rainbow’ gives an even more obvious nod to Demon’s Eye’s Blackmore obsession – and White’s previous employment – but while Mark Zyk’s guitar riffs evoke The Dio-era Rainbow rather strongly, the vocal doesn’t always do the music justice, and the hook is weak. An ugly keyboard solo stretches out over more bars than is necessary, but things then take an up-turn as Zyk steps forward for a lengthy guitar solo. Throughout his piece, plenty of string-bending and whammy-bar captures the mood of Ritchie Blackmore’s work during those early Rainbow years. The huge instrumental passages definitely present Demon’s Eye at their strongest and by the end of Zyk’s showcase, it’s obvious ‘Far Over The Rainbow’ is this album’s obvious highpoint. Once White steps back up to the microphone, the greatness ends; the spell is broken and we’re reminded that this isn’t a lost Rainbow outing after all…

White’s voice is somewhat of an acquired taste even by old-school rock standards, but he fares better on the softer stuff. The power ballad ‘The Best of Times’ provides one of those all too rare moments where his gentler side shines; it’s such a great pity Demon’s Eye couldn’t afford a proper string arrangement to lend it a more epic quality. Naturally, Florian Pritsch hammering string sounds from his keyboard is a poor substitute for the real thing– if indeed it can be regarded as a substitute at all. The only time ‘The Stranger Within’ stretches beyond overtly macho tributes to Blackmore, Lord and Paice is during the short acoustic instrumental ‘Le Vent Lament’, where Zyk gets to air his prowess on a classical influenced piece . Beautifully played as it is (despite a brief moment where it almost lapses into ‘Greensleeves’), it feels a little tacked on to the end of the album.

Both Jon Lord and Ian Paice have gone on record praising the quality of Demon’s Eye as a Deep Purple tribute act. That’s as maybe, but although Demon’s Eye’s musical chops sound as authentic as possible, it’s not enough to stop most of their self-penned material on ‘The Stranger Within’ sounding a bit tired. Despite the best musical efforts of everyone involved, the songs themselves seem unable to muster up anything greater than workmanlike Purple-isms. …And if it’s workmanlike Purple-isms you wanted, you probably own Deep Purple’s ‘Slaves and Masters’ and ‘The Battle Rages On’ anyway.

April 2011