KeyDragon: new “Mythical” CD keeps mystique alive

Written by on September 23, 2010 in Music Reviews, September 23, 2010 - Comments Off on KeyDragon: new “Mythical” CD keeps mystique alive

Recent goth-metal release flames on with vision, range and expertise

KeyDragonThe enigmatic entity known as the KeyDragon – a gothic-metal manifestation which has dwelt for years in the gold-country region of Grass Valley, California – emerges from its mountain lair once again to breathe forth a fiery musical offering entitled “Mythical.” Written and arranged by dragon-centric keyboardist Ron Langford, the disk celebrates, as do all KeyDragon releases, the heritage and role of the dragon in human lore and culture around the globe. Recorded at KeyDragon Studios in Nevada County by Ron and a powerful posse of players, the “Mythical” CD was released in mid-August, and is now available through various sources, including CD Baby. On this eighth KeyDragon compilation, the angelic voice of Tamara Venus Star once again provides a harmonious foil for Ron’s raging fulminations, while additional “dragon vocals” are furnished by Jake DeMarco. Holly Rains returns on drums and percussion, Andrew Grant plays bass, and guitar duties are credited this time to Roger Rains, with additional six-string support coming from Ben Blackmon on a couple of tracks.

“Mythical” delivers a full-value clutch of 14 tracks, and it could come as a surprise to those familiar with the band that this eighth KeyDragon CD opens with a song which is not specifically about the incendiary reptiles that are so near and dear to Ron Langford’s heart. Entitled “Happy Face,” the disk’s first ditty commences with Tamara gently encouraging the listener to “take a deep breath … relax … and put on a happy face,” after which Ron stirs things up with his accustomed aggro approach, on top of a Primus-like sonic salad. The band then takes off for more familiar territory, first to find the Dragon of Borneo in the chunkily-rocking “Kinbalu,” and then to meet the “Ethiopian Dragon”  in a song that features both cool synthesizers from Ron and sweet, Celtic-sounding melodies from Tamara. And next, surprise, comes “Do You Ever Feel Like?” – another song that doesn’t mention dragons by name, and which might remind one a little, at the outset, of  Megadeth’s “Sweating Bullets.” Yet as Ron explores the theme of frustration, yelling about “smashing all around, stomping on the ground,” one sees that while dragons are not actually identified in the lyrics, Ron’s expressions of aggravation could still be interpreted as reptilian roars of wrath. Next, it’s off to Japan for “The Legend of Yofune-Nushi,” which features clever instrumental interplay as a foundation for the story of an equal-opportunity heroine: a devoted daughter who slays a dragon and rescues a dad. The journey continues to ancient Greece – in its mythical days of yore! – for the thrash-toned tale of “Typhon,” the gigantic, coiled, god-battling beast who met his doom beneath Mount Aetna.

KeyDragonIn another break from dreams of dragon-fire, a song called “So Fragile” gives the listener a prime example of the contrast between Ron and Tamara, who perform in a complementary yin-and-yang duality. Like “Typhon” before it, and many other KeyDragon compositions, the piece operates in dramatic point-counterpoint fashion, with Ron roaring in rage while Tamara tenderly intones, sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously.

“A Stay in the Waters Kingdom” takes a look at a vintage remnant of French folklore, recounting the saga of a mighty, magical creature named Drac. Coming home to the New World, Ron and his musical minions unfurl three Native American dragon-tales this time around, ranging all the way from “Nanabozho,” taking place near Lake Superior, out to “Coyote and the Dragon” in the Pacific Northwest, and down to the Hopi Nation, in the Southwest domain of “Palulukon,” a great feathered serpent. The construction of “Palulukon” is based simply on an appealing piano foundation and a straightforward vocal delivery from Tamara, and the song is endearingly melodic and charming, as well as brief, clocking in at just over two minutes in length. “Coyote and the Dragon,” on the other hand, goes longer and louder, containing busy, progressive riffs that are partly due to guest-work by Ben Blackmon, while “Nanabozho” is highlighted by metallic influences that range from Maiden to Leppard to BÖC. Moving on, “The Wave Rider” is another thrasher that isn’t about dragons, nor is “Whose Life Is It?”, which charges out strong and heavy with a potent bass and drum impact, propelling a simple riff that soon combines with creative changes to keep things interesting.  And the disk closes with “Rustam,” the story of a great hero from Persian folklore, who gained fame by vanquishing a fearsome dragon foe. Fans should be glad to find that the CD sleeve contains the lyrics – but be forewarned, some tiny type was used to fit all the words into a two-page spread.

As in previous KeyDragon releases, Ron sounds, like many death-metal vocalists, as though he gargles with Dr?no, and this approach produces a tone that’s appropriate for one who seeks to emulate the dragon’s roar, evoking its fierce majesty. Ron’s guiding vision is singular and strong, and his musical choices remain his own, as he steadily avoids the sort of obvious, gratuitous cultural tie-ins that might appeal to others (no Chinese “Chopsticks,” Native tom-toms, or French can-cans, for instance). Ron provides his own punchy progressions and lyrical melodies, and brings them to life with great musicianship and production, ensuring that “Mythical” is as expertly realized as it was ambitiously imagined. Holly’s precise drumwork is outstanding throughout the entire compilation, while Roger’s tight guitar phrasing and choppy chords team well with Ron’s keys and Andrew’s bass, filling the dragon’s cavern with imposing sound. While “Mythical” might not be to the taste of all ears all the way through, the disk does contain much to please a wide range of aficionados. KeyDragon, the goth-metal dragon from Northern California, pours fire once more, inviting rockers far and wide to heed the clamor and partake of the “Mythical” CD – a distinctive musical expression that roars, up and down the scales, for attention and respect.