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Astral Doors was a band that burst onto the power metal scene with a vengeance. 2003's “Of the Sun and Father” and 2005's “Evil is Forever” were powerful slabs of anthem-ridden power metal, utilizing the force of Dio styled vocals and the blazing, yet groove-laden riffing style of Ritchie Blackmore to create memorably catchy songs that carried the flag of traditional power metal. The following years were not kind to Astral Doors as the quality of the following albums progressively dropped to the musical equivalent of a newborn baby: no power; no strength; and only slightly cute at times. Having nearly written off Astral Doors for good, I decided to give them one last chance to recapture the magic and charm that they once possessed.
“Jerusalem” attempts to bridge the gap between the first two releases and the consistent mediocrity of the subsequent albums by starting off with a few fast and punchy songs. “Seventh Crusade” and “With a Stranger's Eye” are fast paced, with chunky and speedy riffing, rollicking drums and the powerful vocals of Nils Patrik Johansson. Could it be? Are Astral Doors really back in form? That very question is answered with the next few tracks. During “Child of Rock 'N' Roll”, one section of lyrics goes, “It's better to burn out than fade away.” To me, that should be the new motto for Astral Doors, because a lot of the songs here feel burnt out and hollow and the band certainly hasn't faded away yet. It's not really that the songs are utterly terrible, but an air of vapid mediocrity hangs over a lot of the tracks here. Even the standout tracks have forced sections that come across limp and flat.
It's difficult to describe the instrumentation here because there are two distinct styles present: the catchy and driving sections and the flaccid, strained sections. Take the guitars for instance. On “Pearl Harbor” a catchy, chugging riff that sounds straight out of “The Last in Line” carries the beginning and chorus of the song before bouncing into a very weak and boring melodic picking section. “Lost Crucifix” plods along with simple power chords ringing away carrying about as much enthusiasm as month old underwear in the summer. There are a few scorching power metal riff fests a la “Spotlight Kid” era Rainbow, but even these amazing riffs fall flat when you place it next to weak melodic noodling that serves no purpose aside from existing. Every other instrument suffers the same problem: spurts of pure brilliance coupled with utter blandness and mediocrity. The drums go from rollicking, double kick beats to uninspired simplicity. The keyboards range from sounding like a Hammond organ blasting away to a standard airy power metal backing. The bass, well, let's just say it plods along quite uneventfully.
If you've heard of Astral Doors then you've no doubt heard it mentioned that the singer sounds like Dio. This is a point of contention with me, because while his delivery and inflections are similar, Johansson has never been able to fully grasp the power and magic of Dio's style. Nils Patrik Johansson's voice is slightly raspier than Dio's and a lot sloppier. It almost sounds like a mumbly Dio, honestly. Now, when he is on his game, which is usually during the anthemic choruses when he shouts more than sings, it sounds full of energy. Most verse lines sound flat and forced and mediocre to the point of wondering where those awesome choruses went.
While “Jerusalem” is more listenable than “Requiem of Time”, it comes nowhere near the fiery power of “Of the Son and Father”. After two awesome tracks, the foot lets off of the gas pedal and the band slows back into bland and uninspired mediocrity. There are sparks of genius floating around and catchy choruses interlaced throughout, but the subpar performance just doesn't cut it. The filler tracks are far too boring and the lack of energy from the band is all too apparent. Astral Doors may not have faded away, but they sure do sound burnt out.