Drummer John Macaluso (ARK, Yngwie Malmsteen, TNT) was contracted to do a drum clinic in Zagreb, Croatia. Asking the clinic organizer to find a band to accompany him, Macaluso then met guitarist Ivan Mihaljevic and bassist Marko Karacic of Croatian band SIDE EFFECTS ten minutes before the clinic began and decided on what they would play. The chemistry was there right from the start, and thus plans were made to form a band and record an album. Fellow Croatian Dino Jelusic (TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, ANIMAL DRIVE) was brought in to add a second lead vocal to the mix as well as his keyboard talents. Thus, STONE LEADERS was born and in 2019 they have unveiled their self-titled debut.
They list themselves as Dark Prog, and that’s fairly accurate. Not that the songs are doom and gloom or anything, but I don’t think you’re gonna hear these guys cover “Shiny Happy People” anytime soon. Opener “Box of Time” packs a nice punch, changing tempos a couple of times before ultimately settling into a tight, intricate groove. “DV84U4EA” (uhhhh…what?) has some nifty keyboard stuff going on and a pretty fiery guitar solo, while “Fire Up the Oceans” is full-on prog with a touch of jazz. But it’s the good jazz, not that “Skap-bap-boodly-bap” nonsense. Not surprisingly it’s definitely an album favorite.
“Shot By Lies” sounds like it was born from an impromptu jam session that developed into one bad mother of a song, making it another instant winner. The jazziness rears its head once again with “Toxic Guide”, and it’s rather dark, moody, and subdued. Meanwhile “Heartless Stereo” comes in with a tight, crunchy guitar riff and groove. I also really dug “Unearthly Designs” with its shades of Moving Pictures-era RUSH. Yep, that’s a compliment. One of the more ambitious tracks is closer “Seeker,” combining twists and turns with rock heaviness.
All told I was pretty impressed with STONE LEADERS debut record. It will definitely keep you guessing as to where the songs will end up after they’ve begun. So there’s really never a dull moment. Some songs are not as hooky as others, but that’s okay. Hey, don’t just take my word for it. The album’s available everywhere now on Vanity Music, so pick it up and have a listen for yourselves. See what you think.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Seeker”, “Fire Up the Oceans”, “Unearthly Designs”, “Shot By Lies”