Three years out from their debut album The Cage, Tony Martin and Dario Mollo re-teamed up for a sequel, creatively titled The Cage 2! On their second effort, Mollo and Martin broke out of a cage of sorts and made heavy metal music with a little more identity. Keyboardist Don Airey did not return for this album, but in his stead is the legendary Tony Franklin on bass.
Heavy modern nu-metal touches highlight “Terra Toria”, a detuned beast with a bit of grunting on the choruses. Thankfully the verses are piled high with Tony’s melodies, the same kind that he used to contribute to his Black Sabbath albums. Mollo meanwhile lays down the shred with a Neal Schon vibe and plenty of power chords. The heavy stuff takes a bit of a back seat on “Overload” which could have worked well as a Dio power ballad. Underrated as a vocalist, Tony Martin has no issues delivering the hooks and high notes. One thing I have loved about Tony Martin is that he also plays violin, and sometimes throws that into his songs, as he did on his solo album Scream. “Overload” has a fast flying violin solo, and it’s a killer.
Distorted lead vocals on “Life Love and Everything” lend it a modern touch on the verses, but the layered vocals of the chorus make it clear that this is not nu-metal. The guitar riff is a tricky shuffle, but with a groove. It’s soul metal with the emphasis on the metal rather than the soul! “Balance of Power” is just speed metal, along the lines of some of the things Sabbath had done on Tyr such as “The Lawmaker” and “Heaven in Black”. If you miss that era of Sabbath, or the kind of fast metal that Dio was apt to do, then check out “Balance of Power”. If you’re in tune with 80’s Sabbath, check out “Amore Silenzioso”. It is the closest thing to Black Sabbath’s “The Seventh Star” that I have heard, though not quite on that level. A short keyboard based instrumental (“II”) closes that, and goes into “Wind of Change”, not the Scorpions song, but a ballad nonetheless. If the songs on Cage 2 have a common weakness, it is that many are on the long side. “Wind of Change” is too much ballad, though it does house an absolutely stunning guitar solo.
“Theater of Dreams” carries over with the 80’s Sabbath sound, and more intricate and cool guitars. The slow groove combined with the might of Martin and the metal of Mollo make it a winner in these books. Then they take a drive down Van Halen alley, with “What a Strange Thing Love Is”, not a bad tune at all, but definitely in the summer song style of Sammy Hagar. It’s pop metal with soulful backing vocals, and it’s cool.
The only serious mis-step is an ill-advised cover of “Dazed and Confused”. It’s nearly impossible to do this song without sounding like a jackass. As great as Martin sings most of it, he ruins it by adding in his own adlibs that just remind you, oh yeah, it’s a cover of a better version by Led Zeppelin. Thankfully Mollo makes the guitar solo the centerpiece and it does the job without copying Jimmy Page. Without this cover clogging up the works, the CD is actually more enjoyable.
Moving into the last lap, “Guardian Angel” pounds the ground with double bass and heavy riffing. It has Iron Maiden elements but kicks ass all around. Still they saved the best track for last, which is “Poison Roses”. This melancholy closer is the most memorable in a batch of pretty strong heavy metal songs.
You have to give Tony Martin credit. He’s a great singer, a good songwriter, but no matter what kind of albums he makes, he remains in the shadows. Too bad. Fans would do well to seek his his collaborations with Dario Mollo. They compete in quality with the albums Tony made in his better known band.