KMaxFiefKevin Max steps out of the box once again – four covers and an original have Max scoring with what sounds like a score...

Fiefdom of Angels: Side One
Artist: Kevin Max
Label: Blind Thief Music
Length:: 5 tracks / 24:18

Never content to safely ride the wave of successful formula, Kevin Max once again gives us the totally unexpected on his newest musical adventure, Fiefdom of Angels: Side One. The five-song project packs a lot of big, impressive orchestral sound into 24-plus minutes that play more like a movie score than a pop album. And with good reason....

Those who follow Kevin's work know that there's been a big project brewing that will undoubtedly have cross-over possibilities into a variety of media. Already begun in graphic-novel format (what those of us that grew up touting the merits of Marvel versus DC called comic books), Fiefdom of Angels has now spawned the first of what we assume to be at least two music projects. Now that there's a score, can an animated version (or at least a video game) be far behind?

Whatever ultimate plans Kevin might have, here we have the artist in fine form, using his voice in more of a textural context than ever before, creating layers of sound, multitracking, doubling vocal lines separated by an octave, crafting back-up harmonies and giving us that distinctive vocal riffing that I like to call The Max Factor. It's Max's vocal fingerprint – the unique phrasing and unmistakable timbre – that lets you know right off the bat that this is, indeed, a Kevin Max album.

Having already explored everything from Euro-pop, to electronica, to rock, to gospel and blues in his solo career, Max surprises us once again by producing a collection where four out of the five tracks are covers. Queen, Real Life, Joy Division and Muse are all represented, while Max's own "End of the Beginning" takes us back to his Stereotype Be period. To achieve a cinematic feel, Max collaborated with Matthew Gruppen to come up with arrangements based on his own ideas, which were then handed over to JJ Plasencio, who overdubbed some real strings and percussion. A little more tweaking and the result is a lushly-scored album of songs that are sophisticated rock opuses at heart. The sound is warm and somewhat ominous - never sterile or syrupy. The cherry on top? Mastered by John Mark Painter!

Losing the original's very 80's synth pop approach, "Send Me an Angel" starts the project off with an impressive, dramatic sound with the power of an orchestra but the intimacy of a string quartet and, of course, Max's distinctive vocals pulling it all together.

"End of the Beginning" is pure Kevin Max – Beatles influenced Eastern-pop featuring those distinctive vocal gymnastics that we love about Kevin's work. All of the songs were carefully chosen to augment the story lines of the Fiefdom of Angels project, but this original composition contains the most explicit exposition: "I am the chosen one / a first angelic son / I'll take my place among the temple of the Kingdoms-come...."

The original track by Joy Division sounds like Jim Morrison-influenced rock but "Shadowplay" here is a very organic sounding piece of fantasy-chamber music.

Busy strings introduce Max's cover of Queen's "Dragon Attack," giving the song a smart, sophisticated arrangement and an impressive 'not-trying-to-be-Freddie Mercury' vocal. In fact, the vocals here are amazingly flexible and really show Kevin using his voice as a fully-integrated part of the orchestration of the piece. The inserted narration, in ominous tones, tells us, "Among the seraphim was created ...a dragon."

With the basic synth track sticking fairly closely to Muse's "Take a Bow," but dropping any rhythm guitar or drums, the album closes by building up the repeating riff and reminding us (or whoever), "you will burn. Yeah, you'll burn in Hell for your sins...."

Does it leave you wanting Side II? Oh, without a doubt. Once again, Kevin Max steps out of the box and stakes his claim on entirely new territory.

A fiefdom, so to speak........

-Bert Saraco