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Great band, good debut, bad decisions. - 83%

Metal_Grail, June 23rd, 2011

Someone once said that Italian metal can sometimes get ugly. Since that someone was me, well – I’m going to say it again. The reason is Ancient Bards. I like them. But let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way first. So we’re talking pictures of the band with swords and capes and stuff, plus lyrics and a story that pretty much go nowhere except clicheville – and spoken parts that nail nothing except a bad accent.

But what was that I heard you say? That it’s all about the music? Alright then, let’s take a look. Or a listen. Despite appearances, this is no Rhapsody of Fire clone. Ancient Bards are, however, a pretty spot on blender band. You know what a blender band is right? That’s when a band sounds like a bunch of bands stuck in a blender. In this case throw in Blind Guardian, Stratovarius and Freedom Call for starters. Then steroid inject it and add a female singer. There you have it.

The female vocals are not what you expect. No out of work opera singer here. Sara Squadrani is cut from the same cloth as Kiara of recent Skylark fame. Think clean powerhouse vox on the dark side. The Skylark comparison carries over to the fact that the keyboardist writes everything here too. His name’s Daniele Mazza and he’s going to be very good one day. The problem here is that someone let him produce his own album. The result is great production values but not great songs.

One of the strangest things about this album is that the when you stop to compare the verse melodies to the choruses – the verse melodies come out ahead over 50% of the time. They’re actually more catchy. That’s a worry alright. Likewise the incredible solos and orchestral interludes. Here’s what I’m talking about.

After a genuinely boring spoken intro we get straight into “The Birth Of Evil”. It’s double kick and keyboard territory right away. This is the band saying here’s our “sound”. The problem with that sound is that it normally includes exactly what you get here, a safe sing-song chorus that’s a rehash of a rehash. But just when you’re about to zone out, the guitars blaze a neoclassical trail straight into a pipe-organ cacophony. Boy does it work.

“Four Magic Elements” sounds just like a pointless extra verse of the song that just finished. But again it’s the solo that saves the day. This time it’s a mighty speed metal mini-symphony. Just the thing to lay the foundations for “Only The Brave”. This one comes close to being a real song except that again, I’d swear the lyrics and half hooks are just an excuse to kill time until the awesome solo interlude. The same again on “Frozen Minds”; over seven minutes of almost a song with a killer solo break.

“Lode Al Padre” is near enough to the best thing on the album. It’s the ballad and you just have to bear with the ultra light and ultra bland verse tune ripped off from every high school musical slow song ever written. It’s worth the wait because the chorus that’s waiting is something special indeed. So too the – you guessed it – astonishingly powerful instrumental section.

The last three songs are really just more of the above but longer. Two run for over eight minutes and it’s not until the last half of the last song that you’ll start getting shivers up and down your spine again.

Damn this band is frustrating and damn I wish someone had given them some direction. Here’s my advice. And actually it applies to anyone interested in doing the symphonic or power metal fantasy thing. Go and listen to a song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys”. You’ll notice it tells a magnificent story that you can actually follow. You’ll also notice the way it manages to balance a traditional verse, bridge, chorus with a symphonic structure that brings in interludes, multiple solos and then a massive finale. Also, you’ll notice it seems a hell of a lot bigger than it is. Who needs an orchestra when you have a vision right?