Ten - Gothica

Ten Gothica cover
Frontiers Music Srl
Ten did, quite recently, manage a bit of resurgence, after a couple of albums in the mid-00s that led them to even a short hiatus, after being more than a dozen years as a “hard working and touring band. After their very inspired and well-received “Stormwarning”, they kept their momentum going with a series of well-received album and despite a short “divorce” from Frontiers Records, they seem to be back on the label that has released a good portion of their catalog.
“Gothica” doesn’t thankfully signal a turn to a lot of mascara and “tearful” balladry… although it has turned out to be a tad heavier and darker than the band’s most recent efforts… it thankfully mirrors the gothic aesthetic as it was perceived in literature and architecture. “Serious”, “grandiose”, “splendorous” are epithets one could easily attach to this new batch of songs. In fact the band takes a lot of cues for its lyrical themes from classic (gothic) horror stories, ie “Dracula”, “The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde” etc.
“The Grail” is a dark rhythmical and mystical piece with prog undertones that reminded me of classic ten with a bit of Gary’s “OAFK” albums thrown in there for good measure… obviously it’s based on the Arthurian legend.
“Jekyll and Hyde” is inspired by the classic horror story and while it’s a little one dimensional in its verse build, its chorus and smart instrumentation win you over ultimately. July like Jekyll over Hyde…
“Travellers” is a bit weird. Quite experimental, atmospheric, slow as a ballad, but more electric… with guitars “softly” complimenting a keyboard motif… in a way that feels both like vintage Ten, but might have not felt out of place in one of the albums that Gary did write for Bob Catley.
I must admit that I was almost hypnotized by the near minute and a half intro of “Man for All Seasons” to the point I thought it would be some sort of interlude, until I checked the “counter” that displayed another five and a half minutes to go. After this rather triumphant fanfare, a rather smooth but still dynamic song with nifty ideas about pacing, mainly in mid-tempo but on occasion sounding more tempestuous as well, develops right before our eyes, based, I would presume, on the eponymous play by Robert Bolt that was turned into a now classic movie in the 60s.
“In My Dreams” is a very playful poppy track that has a hint of Queen and Magnum about it, but obviously a mind of its own. It seems to be inspired a bit by “modern” cartoon heroines but who am I to question the source of inspiration, right?
“The Wild King of Winter” is very likely to be inspired from GOT lore, than the sagas of Erik the Red, a viking who did seem to carry that “name” as well. The mysterious intro is succeeded by a heavy combo of riffs and other instrumentation in a rather neat, flowing and atmospheric, mid-tempo that doesn’t tire. 
“Paragon” starts with some piano in a way that leads you on, thinking it will be ballad, but it soon gets some percussion and turns into a melodic mid-tempo, quite some way from its initiation as a ballad. Let’s say Gary has done better on both accounts in the past and other than a nice bridge-chorus and a solo, the song feels a little tiresome.
“Welcome to the Freak Show” teases some wild rocking, by its title alone and it does indeed start with some panache, but for all its flair and nice guitar interplay has another weak chorus. Good verses, but when it comes to the climax, it just flops.
“La Luna Dra-cu-la”, despite the ridiculous title, feels like a much better effort, but unfortunately not cohesive. It has an intro that reminded me vaguely of Red and while the verses flow nicely – given the “Dracula” theme, it’s way too playful and “happy”… which sort of feels like a deal-breaker for me… and that phrase in there that is lifted a little from “Gates of Babylon” by Rainbow – ugh… they don’t help much…
“Into Darkness” shies a bit initially, before it blooms into a rather happy chorus... oddly enough. It’s slow and has many “softer” moments, but again it’s not a ballad, which is odd, as Gary almost consistently seems to deliver beautiful ones and this release does in fact lack a “pure” one, with the closest thing to one being the “bonus mix” of “Paragon”, which can be found on the Japanese release and is basically the same song but stripped of all the electricity... almost a ballad, but lacking the dramatic climaxes of one… close enough but no cigar.
A pretty decent collection of songs, which starts impressively but definitely loses steam a little into its second half, unraveling really into a mediocre affair. It feels like a mix of a bit from both the previous efforts, “Albion/La Isla Muerta”, but lacking some really strong epic “hit” and a bona fide ballad that would definitely help elevate the whole album. Thirteen studio albums in, you’re not expecting for the second advent and in that respect, it’s a “good” album, but it’s not as great as it could have been, with what I feel would have been “a little more” effort.