Takara - 'Invitation To Forever' Released through SPV

THE BAND:

Neal Grusky – guitars
Gus Monsanto – vocals
Bjorn Englen – bass
Patrick Johansson – drums
Brook Hansen – keyboards
additional musicians:
Jeff Scott Soto – harmony vocals



TRACK FRAGMENTS:
1.) "Angel Of Lies” - The intro to this track opens with a huge drum fill.  The intro of this track consisted of a chorded keyboard arrangement over the top of Patrick playing several drum fills.  Over the top of the keyboard Neal plays very simple chorded rhythm riffs.  Though these electric guitar parts are very basic they were put there to give the keyboard some depth and that is exactly what they do.  There is a small hi-hat rhythm in between the drum fills.  There is a rhythm guitar change for the musical verse.  It is also at this point the rest of the band kicks-in.  gus’s vocal sound reminded me a lot of Johnny Gioeli’s (Hardline, Axel Rudi Pell) vocals especially the stuff he sang on Hardline’s first release.  There are several snare fills underneath the lyric lines of the musical verse.  The second lyric line of the pre-chorus was done as a backing harmony.  The rhythm guitar changes connecting the verses with the choruses then back again are so subtle that you do not even notice them.  The lead guitar solo Neal wrote for this song was heavily influenced by the stuff Yngwie Malmsteen was writing on his early Rising Force releases. 
2.) "Final Warning" –Neal’s rhythm guitar riffs that are over the top of this into were heavily influenced by older Ritchie Blackmoore.  There is a rhythm guitar change underneath the lyric lines of the musical verse.  The lyric lines of the verse almost over lap each other.  There is a slowing down of the musical arrangement of the pre-chorus.  In the way Neal arranged the chorus gives the song a progressive feel.  The keyboard was turned up for the second musical verse this causes it to become the main instrumentation.  This was a very unique way of writing the musical arrangement.  The lead guitar solo is actually two different lead guitar solos.  The first half was written in a Ritchie Blackmoore/classical music style while the second half of the solo Neal just plain shreds.  The lead guitar solo Neal wrote for this song will cause most young guitarists out there to salivate!!!
3.) "555" – The rhythm guitar riffs over the top of this intro gives the intro a very classic eighties hard rock feel.  At times the way the ride cymbal and snare drum were miced and recorded gave the drum sound a demo quality. As a musician myself the highlight of the intro had to be the bass line Neal wrote and Bjorn played. The musical arrangements underneath the lyrical lines of the opening chorus were turned up so loud in the studio that they almost drown out Gus’s vocals.  Gus’s vocals at least through the opening chorus have a very raw sound to them.  The sixth and eighth lyric line of the chorus was double tracked. Though the bridge had a huge vocal hook attached to the lyrics as a drummer the drum fills of the drum line made the musical bridge for me!!!!  There is a huge tom-tom fill leading into the lead guitar solo.  There were several notes that were not only influenced by the solo that Brian May wrote for "Bohemian Rhapsody" taken off of Queen’s ‘Night At The Opera’ released November 21, 1975.  However there are a couple of the notes that you could argue Neal ripped off!!  I think this is the first song I have ever heard were the lyrics consisted of just a bridge (pre-chorus) and chorus.  There are no verses on this song.  Next time I speak with Neal I think I will ask how he came up with the idea. 
4.) "Spotlight" –This track opens with a fairly standard yet short intro section.  Because of the drastic musical change of the verse were Neal brings the music down to an almost power ballad feel.  I felt he should have written a very simple minor solo to connect the intro with the musical verse.  The main instrumentation of the first verse was keyboards.  As the verse progresses Neal kicks-in the guitar along with Bjorn’s bass line.  Musically and lyrically as the verse progresses the song gets more melodic.  In the way Neal arranged the simple lyric lines of the chorus was very similar to the way legendary singer/songwriter Joe Lynn Turner has written some of the hooks for his choruses.  If I am not mistaken there are a couple small lead licks underneath Neal’s vocal lines of the choruses.  Neal basically used the keyboard as a fill-in instrument for this song.  The solo Neal wrote for this track was one of the shortest I have ever heard.  With that being said it completely blew me away!!!! 

5.) “Riders On The Road” – There is a minor lead guitar solo over the top of this intro section.  There was some type of effect added to the bass (the best way to explain this effect is it sounded like a cassette tape that had been stretched) I honestly do not know if that is what it is or not, it just sounded that way.  The bass line itself reminded me of something Billy Sheehan would have written.  There is a very cool one measure drum rhythm change connecting the intro with the musical verse.  Subtle things like this are very reminiscent of every Rush song Neal, Alex & Geddy has ever written.  The rhythm guitar of the musical verse gives the song a progressive metal feel.  For the fifth lyric line there was a small rhythm guitar change.  For the musical chorus Neal used parts of the minor guitar solo of the intro for the guitar arrangement.  This causes the short chorus to have a very melodic feel.  This solo was more laid back then I was actually expecting.  I did not notice until the outro section of the song however the bass line follows the rhythm guitar riffs perfectly.
6.) "This Story Has To Be Told" – This track opens with two lyric lines consisting of just lead and backing vocals.  There is a small musical rest connecting the lyric lines with the musical verse.  To me, and this is just my opinion however I felt the musical intro of this track was very reminiscent of early Autograph intros.  The musical intro of this track consisted of two different rhythm guitar arrangements.  There are a couple of lead guitar licks connecting the musical intro with the musical verse.  For the musical verse the band switches one of the rhythm guitars for a keyboard arrangement.  The way Neal and Gus structured the musical and lyrical arrangements of the intro and verse was very similar to late seventies & early eighties bands like Survivor, REO Speedwagon, etc…The vocal lines of the pre-chorus were double tracked.  Neal kept the music for this track very basic letting Gus’s vocals carry the song.  I was just a little surprised by the fact there wasn’t any solo for this track.
7.) "Place Under The Sun" –This song consisted of a very basic intro.  For me the highlight of the intro was Patrick’s drum pattern.  You are not expecting the musical change of the verse.  The musical verse Neal switched from a distorted rhythm guitar to a clean rhythm.  He also slows the song down to an almost ballad feel. The song picks back up for the chorus.  This switching back and forth did not work for me.  Out of all the songs on the CD this was probably my least favorite.   
8.) "Still A Mystery" – This intro opens with a double bass drum pattern.  The main intro had a very melodic feel.  There are several musical rests connecting the intro to the musical verse.  The musical verse consisted of drums and keyboards.  The band does not kick the song in until the chorus.  This is another song that is very simply structured with an early eighties arena rock sound.  As the solo for this track progressed it got more intense.  Which, I must say was very cool.
9.) "Looking For Salvation" - This track opens with a early eighties intro.  The way the song was recorded gives it a demo feel.  The guys used the same musical arrangement for the verse as the intro section.  Neal’s rhythm guitar riffs have more of a lead guitar feel than a rhythm feel.  For me the hook of the chorus along with Neal’s solo made the song.
10.) "This Photograph" –  This track opens with percussion and a acoustic guitar arrangement.  There is a small rhythm guitar change for the verse.  This actually is the first ballad on the album.  For the second verse the band added a keyboard arrangement.  The song actually does not kick-in until the second chorus.  Neal chose to use an electric guitar for the solo.  However for this type of song an acoustic solo may have worked better.
11.) "I Can't Hold On" –This track consisted of no intro section.  At times through the verse Gus almost speaks the lyrics instead of singing them.  There is a huge vocal hook through the chorus.  All-in-all this is a very simple song with not much going on.  The highlight is the lead guitar solo and double bass drum pattern that’s underneath it!
12.) "Nowhere To Run" –This track opens with a very early eighties intro arrangement.  If there is an arrangement change for the verse it is a very subtle one.  The vocal lines of the verse keeps the early eighties sound.  There is a small rhythm change for the musical chorus.  The vocal overdubs of the choruses were cool I just wish they had of had a bigger hook attached to them.  There is a minor lead guitar solo connecting the second chorus with the third verse.  I was surprised that the song did not have a lead guitar solo.

 

     Formed in 1987 and releasing their debut CD in December of ‘93, Takara is one of those bands that missed the bull’s-eye by just a few years.  With ‘Invitation To Forever’ Neal continues on the same songwriting road he always has.  With that being said this release is a must for not only all Takara fans however all hard rock fan in general.