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Vital Designs
Tony Mills
Vital Designs
Bonnier Amigo/Artist Interaction Music
Hard Rock/Progressive Rock
Mark Balogh
4.0 stars

When I got the new record “Vital Designs” by TONY MILLS to review the only thing I had read about it was something like it contained songs with “a sinister thread throughout.” For that reason I instantly thought to myself could this record sound a bit like the great band from the mid-90’s that MILLS fronted by the name of SIAM? The two albums the band produced could be considered somewhat obscure to a lot of TONY MILLS fans as most would be more familiar with his longtime work with British AOR band SHY and of course most recently with Norwegian legends TNT. But those SIAM albums had something interesting about them. They were different than anything you might expect from MILLS because they were somewhat dark and progressive. In fact I remember likening them to the mighty QUEENSRYCHE when I initially heard them.

So it was with great anticipation I put “VITAL DESIGNS” into my CD player for its initial spin. Almost right from the start, my curiosity was confirmed. “VITAL DESIGNS” was indeed “sinister” and it was quite refreshing to hear this sound from MILLS again!

The album opens with “A Vital Design” and its ominous guitar riff (courtesy of Neil Hibbs) and the vocals of MILLS (reminiscent of vintage Geoff Tate) give the song an overall QUEENSRYCHE feel.

Give Me A Reason” opens with a piano intro before kicking in with a heavy guitar riff and this song strikes me as a heavier SHY meets QUEENSRYCHE mixture! The vocal arrangement along with the stellar delivery by MILLS really make this catchy, melodic track stand out.

A Conspiracy” has a progressive keyboard sound over the riffing guitars giving it a slight DREAM THEATER quality but it also has a heavy QUEENSRYCHE feel again, mainly due to the lyrical content. Lines like “I got a ticket for downtown / to meet a girl that I don’t know / I’m developing paranoia / Mr. X got his eye on you” make it sound like it could have come from the “Operation: Mindcrime” period!

The next track “Say It One More Time” has a similar feel as the previous song with a progressive arrangement and MILLS really does turn in an impressive soaring vocal performance on this one.

Exclusion Zone” comes at you with a grungy guitar riff. It should be mentioned that Hibbs is very competent on his instrument and it really makes this very much a guitar-based record even with all the progressive keyboard overtones and arrangements going on.

As the record approaches the half-way point you get a little change in the action as “Miles From Nowhere” opens with a mellow approach and a subdued vocal before kicking in with a grandiose verse and then going back and forth with this arrangement giving it an almost PINK FLOYD style and it’s anchored with some nice Hammond organ sounds to hold it all together.

Neurotic” brings the album roaring back with another heavy riff but MILLS turns in another soaring vocal performance too. It’s kind of strange as I listen to the record I can’t really say the songs, as a whole, have definitive choruses but more have nice vocal arrangements that are tied together with layered vocals to keep the songs melodic and catchy enough to digest. I actually believe this is one of those albums that the listener needs time to settle in with and it could then be highly rewarding upon multiple listens.

Action” has a similar feel to the previous track with MILLS turning in a Geoff Tate-like performance yet again and Hibbs providing some good guitar-work and a tasteful solo.

Tracks such as “Tears In Lisbon” and “In For The Kill” (great guitar work from Hibbs on this one) are both hard hitting and pretty much follow suit with the album to this point. As was stated earlier this album does have a “sinister theme” running through it and you hear that in the lyrics of tracks like these.

God Called My Name” opens with a quirky vocal style from MILLS and is more of a mid-paced track. After the opening almost “spoken word” style MILLS kicks it in with his soaring vocals. Like much of the album, it’s not an “immediate” track but one you need to listen to a few times to get fully into.

The last two tracks on the album make for an especially strong finish though. “Sunniva” is as close as the album has gotten to a ballad to this point. It’s a simple arrangement but done with a lot of class and the guitar solo is almost “dream-like” in nature. The keyboard accompaniment is just right for the vibe of the song. And the album closer “Glory Days is again a slower piece but with some nice guitar work and arrangements.

In summary, “Vital Designs” is a pretty enjoyable affair right from the first few listens, but like I said earlier, I believe this record is a “grower” and with each listen I find myself discovering some new things. As for that “sinister theme” I’ve mentioned a couple times; it’s interesting to note that each song has a “subtitle” as noted in the booklet and it makes it plain to see how the songs are tied together making it like a journey of sorts for the listener.

If you’re a TONY MILLS fan you will probably like this record but I think it can appeal to a wider audience because of the many other elements tied into the music. If you’re not shy (pun intended) about listening to something a little different from MILLS then you should give this a try.

Band Lineup:
  • Tony Mills – Lead Vocals
  • Neil Hibbs – Guitars
  • Joe Basketts – Keyboards
  • Eric Ragno – Keyboards
  • Morty Black – Bass Guitars
  • Oddvar Krogstad – Bass Guitars
  • Dag Stokke – Keyboards
  • Victor Borge – Bass Guitars
  • Bob Richards - Drums


Track Listing:
  1. A Vital Design
  2. Give Me A Reason
  3. A Conspiracy
  4. Say It One More Time
  5. Exclusion Zone
  6. Miles From Nowhere
  7. Neurotic
  8. Action
  9. Tears In Lisbon
  10. In For The Kill
  11. God Called My Name
  12. Sunniva
  13. Glory Days


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