without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Ark Storm plays a very Malmsteen-influenced brand of neo-classical power metal. Their third release, The Everlasting Wheel, shows capable songwriting and instrumentalism, but everything on here has been done before. Unless you really like neo-classical metal, you might as well stop reading this review right now since this album will not interest you.
This album starts off incredibly strongly with "The Sword of the Ancient Knight" (candidate for the cheesiest track name ever) and gets even better with the speedy "Symphony on Wings" (another track name ripped off of a Rhapsody album). This second song is the only really great song on the album, with a memorable chorus and lots of majestic, technically proficient soloing. It's straight-up power metal. Not to say that the rest of the album isn't, but this song is a shining example of everything that is great about power metal.
The rest of the album is okay. There are some more attempts to emulate the success of "Symphony on Wings", and they have the same essential elements (double-bass drumming, fast riffs, and faster solos) but they don't manage to be as memorable (perhaps because, by the time you reach the end of the album, you really aren't listening any more and any good parts donâ€™t get the proper attention). And when this band tries to write something slower and more sentimental, they really fall apart. They seem to realize this, and try to redeem themselves with some oddly placed neo-classical shredding, which helps a little but not enough. The mid-paced songs also don't really work either; the riffs aren't melodic or interesting enough to be played that slowly. This band really should stick to what they're good at, which is writing fast numbers with huge amounts of shredding.
Most people would probably say that this album has an excess of keyboards, but I think that for a neo-classical power metal album, Ark Storm is quite restrained in their use of keyboards. Symphonics are hardly used at all, and when they are it's way in the background, to the point where you can't hear it at all unless you're listening for it. More often, plain synth, harpsichord, or organ tones are used to complement (not overtake) the guitars. The solos are neo-classically based and very well-played, but nothing more. Not emotional or passionate in any way. The guitar solos are better in this regard, but there is still a kind of robotic accuracy in the way that the instruments are played. The drumming is fast and unvarying, and the bass is simply there with few deviations from what the guitar is doing and even fewer all-out solos.
The vocals are in tune, but that's the only positive I can say regarding the vocalist Yasuo Sasai. The accent is very Japanese and it's hard to understand him unless you're really focusing on it. He also has an annoying, semi-nasal voice. If he weren't as technically proficient as he is, I doubt any band would accept him as a vocalist. The lyrics he sings are standard, cheesy power metal lyrics. They aren't bad to the point of laughter, but they aren't good enough to try to decipher through the heavy accent. As far as I'm concerned, the lyrics are just a vessel for the vocal melodies, not a story-telling device.
Overall, this band tries to capitalize on the popularity of the neo-classical power metal genre without doing anything different or original. That would be okay if they wrote more memorable songs, but as it stands this album is just plain average. The neo-classical arrangements, when given the spotlight, really pull this album up, but the rest of the album tries too often to make up for blandness with speed and technicality. I can only truly recommend this for die-hard fans of the genre, and even then only if you desperately need another album for your collection.
When one takes a gander at the art work of Ark Storm's Everlasting Wheel, one will automatically grasp that they are a band that prizes their guitarist and can expect a certain degree of highlights and talent. Well, this is correct. While Ark Storm plays power metal with a great amount of neoclassical influence and even some proggy tendencies. It's almost like taking Michael Romeo out of Symphony X, Jens Johannson of Stratovarius, any competent power metal vocalist and the mighty double bass skills of Alex Holzwarth of Rhapsody and you have a somewhat accurate description of Ark Storm.
Hailing from Japan, not exactly the place buzzing with your average power metal community. You know what I'm talking about, besides the slight accent of the vocalist, this sounds exactly like it was born in Sweden or Finland which probably is better since Japan is known for having some freaky stuff like Sigh and fucked up porn - not that those two fit together in the same category or anything. Anyway, Ark Storm has crafted a very average sounding power metal stereotype of speedy but crunchy riffs filled with copious amounts of melody swimming in a sea of double bass and overhyped keyboard wankery. Now this all may sound like a bad thing, falling into the mix of other similar bands, but I think Ark Storm do what they do really well, all with highly talented musicians creating some catchy and glorious power metal.
I'll go ahead and remark at the talent that these guys possess. We all know Asians are great at math and Herman Li owns the shit out of shredding nowadays but the guitarist here has tremendous talent in his own right. Unlike Herman Li, this guy goes for a certain amount of technicality over blatant speed. While the riffs are speed induced in the faster songs, this guy knows how to adapt in the couple mid tempo and slower songs sampling us with crunchy power metal riffs that staple into the mix with the vocals. I think if the vocalist didn't have that accent that sometimes prohibits the full effect of the glory and majestic things he sings about where instead people focus on that. Not a huge deal just a small complaint. Nothing out of ordinary with the bassist and the drums do their duty by serving us with double bass and following the rules.
The songs themselves range from power metal mid tempo rockers with killer choruses that fill the atmosphere of a majestic long forgotten time to the fast neoclassically influenced numbers that make Malmsteem happy. The best song on here I'd have to say is Symphony on Wings, having some infectious keyboards and has sweet guitar solos throughout. Some of the songs may seem like filler but that will happen on longer releases like this (11 songs) but for the most part you'll forget this when you are headbanging to the many solo combinations. The keyboards can get overwhelming, but only when dueling solos with the guitar (The Giver) - for the most part they are a backup.
The other highlights besides Symphony on Wings would be Face the Evil Terror with its killer drum solo and sweet guitar riffage at the beginning, Born To Declare and Prophet and the Warning. When I look back, all these songs are the faster, upbeat songs with neoclassical soloing and keyboards out the ying yang which marks the statement that Ark Storm do faster songs better. Their midtempo songs can be very decent, very majestic and epic but it's really hit and miss with the misses being horrible.
With The Everlasting Wheel, Ark Storm has crafted an enjoyable and fun power metal album that has a majestic and glorious uplifting feeling. All the members are highly competent and skilled in their craft making it even better. Fans of bands like Stratovarius, Symphony X, At Vance, Virgin Steele and the like will certainly enjoy this as well as any fans of neoclassical metal this is quality material in that field. The few flaws in this album are outweighed by the abundant highlights making this a worthwhile album to look for.