TEN – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ten’s fifteenth studio album ‘Here Be Monsters’ was easily the band’s finest collection of songs in many a year. Although a lot of their post-Chris Francis albums are home to some great tracks, Ten’s later output, when taken as a whole, sometimes feels patchy or like a band desperately trying to recycle old glories. ‘…Monsters’ was a cut above. It’s choruses were often great; the music had a sense of fire that had been partly absent for a while, and the vocal contributions from the great Gary Hughes were especially good throughout. With all of that in mind, 2023’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ had a lot to live up to. The fact that the songs were recorded in tandem with ‘Here Be Monsters’ automatically stood the record in good stead, but would it merely made up from the tracks that weren’t good enough to make the cut almost a year earlier?

It comes with a real relief that the answer is no. There are a couple of weaker moments within the ten cuts, but the bulk of the record continues in the vein of top tier Ten; the sound of a band that really believes in their material.

Beginning with the epic ‘Look For The Rose’, there’s little mistaking it for anyone other than Ten once the guitars crash in with a huge sound, set against an equally huge stabbed keyboard line. Halfway through the opening riff, you’re cast back to the more bombastic elements of ‘The Robe’, even before Hughes has sung a note. …And with his arrival, all of the best ingredients present themselves. Clinging onto a huge pomp-driven melody, Hughes curls himself around a lyric that often sounds like a composite of past Ten narratives, but at the same time, comes with an energy that ensures it isn’t stale. Better yet, a shift into a far more melodic pre-chorus hook with a floaty melody shows how Ten can still balance their rock excesses with some truly accessible AOR, and the featured solo from guitarist Dann Rosingana is terrific. Taking all of the ingredients into consideration, this number has the potential to outshine half of ‘Here Be Monsters’. A superb start.

For those who love the rockier end of Ten’s material, ‘Brave New Lie’ will immediately hit the spot with a darker, chunkier riff that borrows influence from some great late 80s hard rock. Hearing Rossingana and second guitarist Steve Grocott in tandem as they tackle a sizeable chug is enough to make the track stand, and their trading solos during the second half further shows how brilliantly they’re able to work together (it also shows that although Vinny Burns was touted as Ten’s star player in the early years, the band didn’t necessarily need him, specifically; there were lots of great guitarists whom could’ve provided the meat of the Ten sound back then, and they still sound great now). The music has such a punch that Hughes’s chosen theatrical approach occasionally feels a little lost, but it’s always clear that his voice has held up over the years; even here, he sounds so much better than some of his peers.

A genuine highlight, the title cut makes great use of a very 70s influenced electric piano riff before blossoming into a big melodic rocker that, in some ways, plays like Ten by numbers, and in others shows how well this line up has gelled. The marriage between the aforementioned keyboard part – one of the very finest things on the whole elpee – and a chunky bass groove showcases a great musical muscle, and a world of multi-tracked vocals makes good on a fine harmony and surprisingly catchy hook. Factor in a very tuneful lead guitar break where semi-bluesy, floating notes take charge, and this is one of the best examples of “Ten, the melodic rock band” ever.

Shifting into even bigger sounds, ‘Parabellum’ opens with various radio news reports announcing the outbreak of war, before Darrell Treece-Birch hammers an oddly toned keyboard part against an unashamed metal guitar riff. This grubbier end of the Ten musical spectrum clearly aims to take big sounds and make them bigger, but at the point where it all starts to feel a little overbearing, Hughes steps in with a harmonious vocal line that captures the best of the band’s melodic streak. On first listen, this strange hybrid of massive pomp and proggy metal can seem a little unsettling – and in some ways, it’s challenging elements make it one of the album’s less immediate offerings. However, more time spent listening uncovers a track that feels important in the band’s journey forward. Specifically, the placement of a couple of bluesy solos feels brave, as if Ten are setting themselves up as being capable of anything, but at the same time, a huge melody that’s obviously borrowed from the Genesis classic ‘Squonk’ suggests a love and respect for a classic rock past that keeps them more focused.

Other highlights include the fairly straight melodic rocker ‘The Fire & The Rain’, a number big on harmonies; the bouncy ‘The Tidal Wave’ which somehow manages to get away with melding a huge melodic rock chorus to a spiky verse that (presumably, not deliberately) draws a rhythmic parallel with The Killers’ ‘Mr. Brightside’, and ‘When Darkness Comes’ which doesn’t veer too far from the template set by ‘Fire/Rain’ but, again, shows the easy knack Ten have for delivering huge, melodic sounds. It’s unlikely that any of these will ever rank among your all-time Ten top ten given the competition, but between some accessible tunes and well crafted riffs, they add a selection of solid rockers to an ever growing catalogue.

In closing, ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ almost becomes in danger of sounding like Ten playing a huge homage to themselves, with a full compliment of massive vocals and the kind of chorus that opts for full pomp. There’s some nice music here: Rossingana pierces the groove on the chorus with some great 80s squeals; the drumming is solid and helps to keep everything grounded, and a brief solo reminds everyone of Ten’s melodic metal heart. It’ll be more of an acquired taste, though, since Hughes often drifts into a vocal that far closer to that of a stage musical than a melodic rock classic. It’s more grandiose than grand; the kind of thing where a couple of listens is enough. Still, for its potential faults, it’s a thousand times more palatable than Jim Peterik’s dodgier Worlds Stage output.

There mightn’t be much here to win over the unsure, but for the Ten fan, ‘Something Wicked…’ presents another great selection of tunes that venture towards the huge, but always stay on the good side of melodic. In terms of its place within the band’s legacy, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the first couple of albums, but joins ‘Here Be Monsters’ as a “late career” gem. It isn’t perfect, but there aren’t many melodic rock bands who sound this enthused sixteen albums into their musical journey.

Buy the CD: TEN – Something Wicked This Way Comes

January 2023