Well, for whom, like me, who first listened (and enjoyed) this gentleman in groundbreaking thrashers Anthrax, and then got used to see (hear) him in such apart projects as Fates Warning, OSI or Chroma Key, a solo album would always be a mystery and something I would urge to listenand here I am, listening and commenting it!
As I expected, the album now out, named Circles is a joy to discover. It mixes genres and approaches in a dynamic and precise way, crossing lines between some very apart reminiscences but always in a profoundly enjoyable way.
From Tool to Porcupine Tree, passing through Pink Floyd, OSI, A Perfect Circle, RPWL, Rush, Chris Cornell, and then others, all these influences, reminiscences and musing ideas are combined in a strong, decisive way, resulting on an excellent sounding record, with loads of great musicianship and especially of great ideas successfully put into music.
The music is constantly emotional, with the vocals of Joey imposing that status in a natural (non forced and without taking the focus out of the music) way, perfectly entwined with the great instrumental sequences that are being developed behind. These instrumental sequences are of a perfect balance between changes in heaviness (pretty much in a later Porcupine Tree fashion), but always imposing a melodic sensibility of great richness. There is also space for some subtle experimentation, mainly with the use of programmed keyboard or strangely distorted guitars, but in a sparse and non-intrusive way.
This is contemporary art-rock, with more than one foot on the progressive side of things. A modern, sophisticated sound that keeps the listener sharp on the musicality, and holds his attention for the entirety of the album.
Overall, this is an amazing album indeed. It has been providing me with many hours of pure sonic delight, on account of its very focused diversity, and level of enjoyability
Highly recommended for those who like all the mentioned bands/projects in this review. This is satisfaction guaranteed !! --Proggnosis
If you were a metal head in the 80s, you might fondly remember a Los Angeles band named Armored Saint. They had a no-nonsense approach that featured a very heavy bottom end provided by bassist Joey Vera. Since the band split up, Vera s kept himself pretty busy. For the past decade or so he s been a member of Fates Warning, also lent a hand on a couple CDs by Kevin Moore s Chroma Key project, and he provided one of the most memorable bass lines of the year so far on the O.S.I. track Sure You Will . He also took part in an Armored Saint reunion that happened earlier this year. If all this wasn t enough to keep him busy, Vera has just completed his second solo album under the project name A Chinese Firedrill.
A rarely used phrase these days, Chinese Firedrill means an ineffective and chaotic exercise. I would beg to differ that this project would be considered that but it s what Joey has named it. He plays all the instruments on the disc with the exception of the drums, which were handled by Greg Studgio. There s also some scratching in one part of the record from DJ Ben There but that s very brief.
I thought this was going to be a much more metal sounding album before I listened to it, so I was surprised that it had more of a quirky prog edge. There s a passing similarity to Fates Warning but I found it sounds much more like Chroma Key. This is just fine with me because I ve really become a huge fan of this type of stuff. Although Vera is an excellent bass player, this is not an album that features a lot of flashy bass riff and solos. I think his guitar and keyboard work take more of the spotlight here than the bass.
The title track starts things off and right from the first few minutes of hearing this, I knew I was going to like it. Joey s vocals definitely remind me of Kevin Moore, very laid back and mellow, nothing tricky or operatic. This is probably the heaviest track on the album with lots of multi-tracked guitar parts that have a Jim Matheos feel. I really like how the acoustic is mixed in with the electrics, a very nice touch. The track ends with some weird vocal effects (another cool Chroma Key similarity) that segue into the second tune. Automatic Fantasy is similar to Circle but also has some nice Eastern moments where it sounds like he s playing a sitar. There s a very cool break in the song that features some eerie keyboard playing and a cool acoustic/electric solo.
Insane is a neat track about people who are mentally challenged and features some really cool chaotic background noises. This has a nice flow that reminds me somewhat of Porcupine Tree s more recent music. Siúcra features more great acoustic guitar riffing. One thing I ve noticed while reviewing this and listening to it at the same time is how detailed everything is. It s obvious Joey went to great lengths to perfect everything on here and the results are stunning. A few moments in the song Never Say Never have a nice 80s Rush influence mixed with something a little more sinister like Iggy Pop. This is one of my favorite tracks on the disc with some nice unusual moments.
The song Grass and Stone (Ethereal) starts out sounding like a post rock piece with some eerie droning sounds. Later on in the track it moves into a mellow Dream Theater meets Pink Floyd-like piece. There s also a bizarre spoken word section in the middle. Rock, Paper, Scissors ends the album with a bang. This nine-minute track is probably the proggiest of the bunch with some cool synth parts and some hooky lines that also bring to mind Porcupine Tree.
While this one could go by mostly unnoticed by the majority of the prog rock community, it is a really good album and I found it to be a really pleasant surprise. A Chinese Firedrill is a far cry from the heavy sounds of Armored Saint but it --Progressive Ears
A Chinese Firedrill is a project assembled and put together by bass player Joey Vera. He has written all the tunes, and play most instruments, with just drums and DJ scratching handled by others. Which makes this album more of a solo release than a band project as such. Previous to this release Vera was best known as a band member, with his involvement in Armored Saint, Fates Warning and OSI arguably being the most high profiled. The album Circles was issued by Bridge Records in 2006, and re-released in 2007 by ProgRock Records when Joey Vera signed for them.
Musically this release will be seen as an odd one by many listeners. Vera's background from metal bands shines through in the guitarwork on many tracks, while his involvement with bands like Chroma Key and OSI are easily detected by the use of synths, as well as ambient and industrial sounding elements in the musical tapestry. But the most striking feature of Circles is variation, as all songs explore more or less different musical styles.
Circles moves between hard rock and heavy metal in style, with some nice synth work throughout, "Automatic Fantasy" explores a more folk-rock influenced musical landscape, spiced with at times extensive synths and a hard rock influenced chorus. The more or less aptly named tune "Insane" mixes mellow psychedelic influenced moods with a grandiose prog metal chorus, fusing both styles at the end, whereas "Siúcra" is more of a symphonic rock and neo-prog musical journey. "Never Say Never" is a trip into prog metal territories with space rock elements included, and the following track "Grass and Stone (Ethereal)" is more of a haunting metal ballad with symphonic and psychedelic tendencies. "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is the final track, mixing electronic and ambient sounds with hard rock and metal in a song with numerous changes in style, pace and sound.
Vera is a talented performer and producer, and Circles proves that he's a very talented songwriter too. All tunes are coherent, even when exploring multitudes of styles. The songs move effortless between the different styles explored, and each individual song as well as the album as a whole has a distinct, individual sound. Overall this comes across as a very strong release - but perhaps with a slightly limited appeal.
Personally I'd recommend this album to people into OSI in general, and fans of their second release Free in particular, but fans of slightly experimental progressive rock and metal might also find this album intriguing. --USA Prog Music