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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.