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Formed in 2014 by onetime Journey/Malmsteen vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, his self-monikered SOTO apparently came to be as an outlet for a reignited desire to explore the heavier side of his musical canon. Seemingly a guy to keep the momentum flowing, SOTO's sophomore full-length studio album, 'Divak', is scheduled to be released just over a year after their debut effort, 'Inside the Vertigo'. Too rushed, it could be said? Undoubtedly, the answer to this question would be an indubitable "yes" if 'Divak' failed to match or better the quality of its predecessor. Fortunately, Soto and his latest musical brethren have built upon the solid foundations established on 'Inside the Vertigo' and delivered a second album that excels the first.

Opening with the album's title track, a two minute orchestral/instrumental piece that fuses keyboards, guitars, percussion, and a choir, it's a nicely penned intro with an epic sonic drama but, as is so often the case with metal albums that see fit to open in such a manner (it's almost become an inescapable paradigm for some bands), it feels entirely disjointed from the rest of the album. Sure, at live shows, it'll undoubtedly prove to be an atmosphere-building opening but, on an album, when there's no segue, whatsoever, as is the case here, into the first song, 'Weight of the World', the crescendo that's built up is rendered redundant. Still, this is a minor quibble, as the suite of songs that follow really are rather great.

While the album is distinctly metal in both impetus and feeling, with a general heavy sound throughout, there are parts of 'Divak' where SOTO occupy the middle-ground where hard-rock and metal meet head-on. And when the songs are performed with a metal gusto, the heaviness is always controlled and purposeful, and generally executed in the most euphonic of ways; adorned with catchy hooks and melodies, be those performed on guitar, keyboard or though Soto's vocal lines. The latter are always great; this man's voice is as strong as it's ever been and sings his balls off from start to finish. Guitarist Jorge Salan also delivers a standout performance with some wide ranging, infectious riffery, and some truly amazing soloing. And Bassist David Z shines on bass, providing a tight rhythmic backbone to the music with drummer Edu Cominato, but also impressing with some lead runs, such as on 'Cyber Masquerade'.

Produced by Soto himself, alongside the band's drummer, everything sounds great on 'Divak'. Distorted guitars have a nice amount of bite to emphasise the incisiveness of the riffage, and the tonal richness of the lead sounds have also been captured well... as have the range of keyboard dynamics throughout. Drums sound crisp and clean, which work well with the nicely resonant bass. And Soto's vocals have just the right amount of depth in the production, sounding at one with the music. A perfect mix by John Ellis, whose association and work with Jeff Scott Soto goes back years, does the fine production justice. The overall sound is a pleasingly heavy one, but without ever succumbing to directionless heavniness.

SOTO's second full-length outing has arrived somewhat swift on the toes of their debut, but it's quality through and through. Some great songwriting, fine performances, captivating melodies galore, and a finely crafted balance between rock and metal that's sure to have cross-over appeal to fans of both. What's not to like? Well, there's nothing here that's stylistically original, but it's a mightily strong album number two from this talented bunch of guys.
Review by Mark Holmes
1st April 2016
1) DIVAK; 2) Weight of the World
3) FreakShow; 4) Paranoia
5) Unblame
6) Cyber Masquerade
7) In My Darkest Hour
8) Forgotten
9) SuckerPunch
10) Time
11) Misfired
12) The Fall From Grace
13) Awakened
"...Soto and his latest musical brethren have built upon the solid foundations established on 'Inside the Vertigo' and delivered a second album that excels the first."