The Robbery Of Murder

Salem Hill

Lazarus Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I normally don't like concept albums, for the simple fact that something is always left not done well enough. If the music is good, the story line is impossible to follow. If the story line is solid, the music is often left to suffer. Sometimes, both sides are terribly weak, leaving the album to be so much musical mush.

Then, there are the albums that have everything clicking -- these are rare birds, but ones that should be duly noted when they do pop their heads out for the consumers. Such is the case with The Robbery Of Murder from Salem Hill -- in fact, this is an album that chilled me with its story and surprised me with its music. A re-done version of an earlier album, this is quite possibly the best concept album I have ever listened to - and it has several messages that you'd be a fool not to listen to.

Multi-instrumentalist Carl Groves leads this four-piece (which includes some guest violin work from David Ragsdale, formerly of Kansas) into new, unchartered waters of progressive rock music. With the help of percussionist/vocalist Kevin Thomas, bassist Patrick Henry and guitarist/vocalist Michael Dearing, Salem Hill take on a serious subject, and surprisingly turn it into something magical. The subject: The loss of a parent due to a drunk driver, the anger and plans for revenge felt by the son left behind - and the feelings of the person guilty of the deed.

After the instrumental "Overture" and the declaration of the plot on "Swerve," I defy anyone not to be moved and chilled by the child in the background calling out for his father on "When." Although I am fortunate enough to still have both of my parents, I can empathize with the confusion the son in the song feels when his father fails to come home after the accident (which the son was also involved in), and his constant question to his mother of when Daddy is coming home. Finally coming to the realization of what happened, the questions turn to unbridled anger and planned revenge against the driver in "Someday": "You beer-guzzling loser / You death-monging cruiser / You maker of ten o'clock news". Ka-pow.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But woven into the fabric of this tale is the tale of the drunk driver himself, whose first reaction we hear is one of shifting the blame from himself to a tormented childhood he experienced ("Blame"), but soon turns to remorse for the pain he's caused -- pain that leads up to the son's visit to the grave of his father ("To The Hill"). At first, I thought this was the killer visiting the grave -- and while I still harbor some feelings that this is the case, looking at other interpretations of the song have put some doubt in my mind.

All the while, the son holds on to the hope that one day he and his father will be reunited ("Dream") while closing in on the driver who killed his father ("Revenge"). The story comes to its climax in "Trigger" - but the resolution is not what one would have expected. Coming face-to-face with the man who brought down so much pain causes our hero to look at him in a different light: "You're not quite what I expected / You're small, sad, frail and afraid." The ending? Sorry, gang, but I need to leave you with a reason to buy the disc.

Musically, Salem Hill wisely tries to create their own sound while acknowledging the work of progressive rock bands before them. (If you pick this disc up expecting to hear a band that sounds like Kansas due to Ragsdale's contributions, you'll be disappointed; Salem Hill's sound is a little darker than what you would expect.) And while Groves's vocals are not as strong as I would have liked them to be, he does show many moments of brilliance in his singing. (Credit should also be given to Groves's production work on this disc, which is flawless.)

While I have listened to several discs in the prog-rock vein over the course of the past year that have impressed me, no single disc has caused me to be so moved as The Robbery Of Murder did. This is a powerful listen - and, if you have lost someone close to you through such tragedy, this will be a difficult listen. But the messages this disc carries are simple, yet powerful. Obviously, the message of "don't drink and drive" is clear, but what about prizing the time you have with your parents or with your children, for you never know how long you have with them? What about the destructive power of anger and thoughts of revenge, and the healing power of forgiveness? This is a disc that is going to make you think long and hard.

The Robbery Of Murder is a disc that could well be the best progressive rock album I've ever listened to -- and it now ranks as the best album I've listened to all year. Here's hoping some major label picks up on this power, and gives Salem Hill a fair shot on the market.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lazarus Records, and is used for informational purposes only.