Wim R. : Stevie McLaughlin hails from Derry, Ireland. He is a member of the band Sandstone. Up till now the band has released four albums. Besides being in Sandstone he is also the touring guitarist for Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens (former Judas Priest vocalist). Now he thought the time was ready for his first solo album ‘Toy Empires’. The album shows a versatile approach to rock and metal. From straight forward rock to more progressive songs.
Opening track ‘Between Life And Death’ is a fierce opener, sounding a bit Prog through the use of keyboards. ‘Shadows Alone’ has a nice piano intro and is very melodic. ‘Apocryha’ is the most progressive song, with movie soundtrack like passages. A nice musical adventure that clocks in at eight minutes. Vocally McLaughlin has an acceptable range. But this is his least developed musical side I think. Especially, knowing that he handled all instruments on this album in a quite impressive way. He also gave the album a good sound production, done in his home studio. The guitarwork on this album is very well done, McLaughlin has the ability to keep the song in mind, something that is not always the case with progressive rock; compliments. ‘Straw Men’ is a more basic rock/metal track, also nicely done. The man knows how to write a song or two for sure.
What puzzles me though is that guys like McLaughlin choose to do the lead vocals themselves? If there would have been a more experienced singer, this album would have been even better. But I must emphasize that McLauglin is in no way a bad singer. Maybe because of the strong compositions and musical performance, his vocal performance seems to stay behind a bit quality wise. Nowadays, the rock and metal world has many vocalists on offer to do this on free lance basis, me thinks? But you will have to make that noticed. But to conclude, a second album would be more than welcome after hearing ‘Toy Empires’.