It was only a matter of time before a band from the “scene” would have the ambition to write and record a musical. Quite frankly, I would have expected it to be done by a band like Say Anything or Angels & Airwaves (although that would have been horrible). Instead, it is the brainchild of Thomas Dutton, the sole remaining member of Forgive Durden, a band often overlooked on the Fueled By Ramen roster.
Dutton co-wrote Razia’s Shadow with his brother, Paul. He also organized and played most of the instrumentation on the album, with former Gatsby’s American Dream drummer Rudy Gajadhar hitting the skins. To bring Razia to life though, Dutton summoned the help of many top vocalists in the scene, including Max Bemis (Say Anything), Greta Salpeter (The Hush Sound), Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou), and Chris Conley (Saves The Day). Each guest contributed a voice to a character in the musical.
Produced by Casey Bates, Razia’s Shadow is a thirteen track journey that tells “the story of a world divided in two by the selfish actions of a powerful and egotistical, yet insecure angel. After generations of darkness, the world is eventually brought back together by the love and sacrifice of a couple brave enough to fulfill their destinies.” Bates’ production is pristine, and along with Weiss’ narration, helps the story move crisply and cleanly. The story is winding and intimate, ripe with themes of hope, corruption, deceit, and love. I won’t be getting into the depth of Razia’s storyline because that is up to you, the listener, to interpret. Rather, I’ll discuss whether or not Dutton successfully brought his image to life.
“Genesis” begins with the awakening of triumphant strings, which lead into Weiss’ narration. It picks up with Casey Crescenzo (of Dear Hunter fame) vocals leading the charge over delicate bells and a steady drum beat. The pace is choppy and transitions into the waltzy “The Missing Piece,” which features beautiful vocals from Lizzie Huffman. “Life Is Looking Up” is the only track that has no guest vocals. A restless track, Dutton sings with urgency, as strings and drums bellow throughout.
“The Spider and The Lamps” is vibrant and groovy, with Max Bemis making the spider character his own. His voice is razor sharp and plays off of Dutton’s voice perfectly. The drumming is excellent and the piano mimics a spider furiously spinning a web. Chris Conley appears as Toba in “Toba The Tura,” a song that begins softly with soothing strings but slowly builds into a biting bridge that Conley completely owns. These two tracks are the highlight of the album for me, as Bemis and Conley portray their characters quite well.
The best contribution, however, comes from Greta Salpeter, the voice of Princess Anhura. Her vocals in “It’s True Love” (a ballad between her and Dutton) and “Meet The King” (her turn with former Gatsby’s American Dream vocalist Nic Newsham) are stunning. Her dark, luscious voice paces the tracks, even though “Meet The King” has a childish vibe to it. “Doctor Doctor” with The Matches’ Shawn Harris is mischievous and sounds like it should be featured in the next Burton film. Harris does a fine job of altering his voice to take on the Doctor character, but, overall, the song is ridiculous. The frenzied closer, “The End and The Beginning,” features a vocal battle between Dutton and Panic At The Disco’s Brendon Urie and ends with a beautiful harmony between Dutton and Salpeter. Weiss’ narration completes Razia’s Shadow, cumulating on a few words of wisdom.
Razia’s Shadow is highly ambitious, and with the help of many “scene” leaders, Thomas Dutton is successful at pulling off his vision. Sure, some of the songs are outlandish and the lyrics cheesy at times, but that doesn’t hinder Razia’s Shadow from capturing your imagination. Obviously without the help of Greta Salpeter, Brendon Urie, Max Bemis, and others, this wouldn’t have the same results, but Dutton gathered a diverse group to bring this vision to life. Musically, Razia’s Shadow is delicious and interesting; instead of guitars dominating an album, strings and horns take center stage, thus creating the scene and tone of the musical. The true test of Razia’s Shadow will be its lasting power. Will this be something fans listen to over and over again, or is it just another “flavor of the week” album? Razia’s Shadow has the quality to maintain a stranglehold on your iPod rotation for weeks, and Dutton has proven he can create and orchestrate an album with the best of them. So curl up with your best pair of headphones and climb Razia, you’ll surely find your way out of the darkness and into the light.