How does a band carry on after losing its voice? How could AC/DC continue after the death of Bon Scott? How could Van Halen rock on without David Lee Roth? Journey without Steve Perry? Queen retain their crown without Freddie Mercury? Styx sans Dennis DeYoung? Like so many outfits before whose singer departed for reasons unplanned or planned, Canada prog-rockers Saga were faced with that question when founding member Michael Sadler departed in 2007 to pursue other interests. Although Sadler’s leaving was amicable, it left his bandmates in a quandary. A new singer was needed, and the net was cast across planet earth to find a suitable replacement. Serendipity raised its unpredictable head and fellow Canadian Rob Moratti was brought into the fold, less a replacement for Sadler than a new voice for Saga and what lies ahead. As guitarist Ian Crichton noted, “There’s so much music still to create, world touring and more records.”
If the records to come are half as strong as The Human Condition, the latest Saga record and first with Moratti at the mike, we have much to look forward to. Without taking away from Sadler’s legacy and the many excellent albums Saga recorded with him on vocals, I think The Human Condition is their finest release to date. First, the songs and melodies are so strong, that any vocalist would have been happy to tackle these tunes. But Moratti’s voice – somewhere between Queensryche’s Geoff Tate, Ozzy Osbourne and Fish – seems computer-modeled specifically for this record. That’s not to say he doesn’t have soul – to the contrary: His intonation and nuanced approach of each syllable is special. He’s got soul in spades. Listen to “Let It Go” (or any track here) and decide for yourself.
From the opening – almost instrumental – title track, I was hooked. Saga venture into proggy territory while keeping the melody up front, creating a lovely piece of futuristic musing on the human condition. A brooding swirl of keyboards from Jim Gilmour presages Ian’s heavy riffing on “Step Inside,” and our first chance to hear Moratti in full regalia. He doesn’t disappoint. Crichton’s always flawless guitar work rides across the song, with a fleet solo that enters and leaves like a falcon swooping through the forest after unsuspecting prey: beautiful but focused. “Hands Of Time” sounds a bit like Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity” meets Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” Listen particularly to Crichton’s pinch harmonics in the middle and his swells of sound at the song’s end. “A Number With A Name” is a playful back-and-forth tug of war between two very different rhythms and one of the best of a very good bunch here. Crichton’s solo on “Now Is Now” is a microcosm of all he does best: the long, flowing lines and sinewy hammer-ons and hammer-offs, slithering like a snake across the desert. Did I mention “Avalon”? More Crichton magic. Why isn’t he better known?
Ultimately, with The Human Condition, Saga pull off a modern-day classic album that portends nothing but very good things to come. Crichton wrote, “Our hope is that people like the new Saga albums as much as we do.” We do Ian. We do.