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Adopting an orthodoxy does not necessarily imply the sort of rugged limitations that are often assumed in power metal. Indeed, any band in any sub-genre, without exception, will end up having some sort of signature niche to refer back to even when stretching out the boundaries of their given sound. Black Majesty has placed themselves in somewhat of a unique position, carrying arguably one of the most melodically classicist approaches to the style, yet have managed to mix things up fairly well within the confines of their 4 previous albums. When taken as a whole, every offering from "Sands Of Time" to "In Your Honour" has generally followed a similar approach of arcane lyrical subjects and stylistic trappings handed down from Fates Warning, Iron Maiden and Helloween. But within each album there is a variety of little quirks that continually keeps the ears guessing, which is a rarity at this point in power metal's extensive history.
From it's exterior, "Stargazer" looks to be a slight change of pace given the color scheme of from a dark mixture of black and ethereal blue or gray has been exchanged for a firey one more comparable to an Amon Amarth album, not all that dissimilar from the differing art work from Pagan's Mind's latest studio venture, and likewise the change in direction is equally non-existent. The consistent marriage of melancholy melodic hooks out of the mid 80s Iron Maiden handbook with a largely unrelenting speed metal riffing and drumming approach is here in full force, conjuring up 9 unforgettable anthems of medieval heroism and mysticism that compare quite nicely to the powerful sound heard on "In Your Honour". Along for the ride is Gio's powerful pipes, bringing back that long copied Geoff Tate meets Harry Conklin sound that's been fairly common in this style, but uniquely humble and measured in its approach as opposed to the flamboyant melodrama of a Ralf Scheepers or Michael Gremio.
Per usual, there are no weak links to speak of on this album, as literally any song could have been the lead off or finishing song and would have functioned equally as well. Nevertheless, "Falling" proves to be the appropriate opener with an haunting ambient keyboard intro before firing off both engines. The keyboard usage heard on previous albums tended to be a bit more distant than on here, and while there isn't anything overtly flashy in the Stratovarius mold on here, rapid paced anthems like "Killing Hand" and "Edge Of The World" offer up just as much in term of atmospheric density through keyboard usage as through the jolting assault of the guitars. Arguably the most memorable song on here is "Holy Killers" with its soaring chorus line and steadily speedy flow, reminding a good deal of the glorious speed/power metal offerings out of the German scene in the early 2000s. But even when things hang around mid-tempo AOR land like on "Journey To The Soul" or full out acoustic balladry as on the bonus track "Shine", this combination of musicians has little trouble in keeping the listener trapped in a dream world.
To this day there have been no false steps, no wrong terms into mediocrity or the staleness of self-plagiarism. This is a band that can seemingly do no wrong, yet largely remains in the shadows of more established mainland European acts like Gamma Ray, Edguy and several others that play a somewhat happier and less complex version of Black Majesty's adopted sound. On one hand, this music is possessed of a slight retro feel that might appeal pretty heavily to the rigid classicism of Axel Rudi Pell, particularly the early 2000s albums where there was a greater emphasis on speed metal. Then again, there is a slightly progressive tinge to this outfit that should also given them a leg up with the same crowd going after Italian bands like Labyrinth and Secret Sphere. It's a mystery as to why more have not gotten into the habit here, but so long as Limb continues to support these guys, there will always be an archaic hero figure to be awakened in us all, much like the one accompanied by the lion on this album.
One of Australia’s biggest metal exports, Melbourne’s melodic power metal masters Black Majesty have returned to the studios in between performing excellent gigs both locally and abroad. Fully entrenched now as a metal band who has come and conquered the big metal gigs in Europe (Masters of Rock Czech Republic, Metal Universe Slovakia and Wacken Open Air Germany), Black Majesty played one of their biggest gigs ever when they played in front of a frenzied 5000 strong contingent in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Taking the success from the previous CD ‘In Your Honour’, guitar wiz Roland Grapow (Masterplan/ex-Helloween) has again played a hand in the recording, producing and mixing side of the new disc, (their 5th) entitled ‘Stargazer’. The drums (Pavel Konvalinka) were recorded at Grapow Studios in Slovakia, while Grapow also mixed and mastered the album. Grapow could be an alias for Midas, as his success rate with helping band’s CDs is quite high, you might say everything Roland touches turns to gold.
Black Majesty hasn’t strayed very much from their initial sound on their debut album ‘Sands of Time’, however they have shaped and tweaked their sound over the years, while maturing greatly as a band to what they are today. Black Majesty has stayed true to their core sounds and structures that have made them become one of the best melodic power metal bands not only in Australia but the world. The band’s signature sound makes them unmistakably unique, whether it is the fast and heavy, soaring and soulful guitar riffs from Stevie Janevski & Hanny Mohamed, or underrated vocalist (Black Majesty’s biggest asset, IMO) John Cavaliere’s hearty and passionate melodic tones rising to the stratosphere.
The new disc entitled ‘Stargazer’ continues the band’s current solid, tight and matured sound, starting up where the previous release ‘In Your Honour’ left off, which is great for Black Majesty fans and melodic power metal fans alike, as ‘In Your Honour’ is arguably their best album to date, right on par with their 2nd disc ‘Silent Company’. Black Majesty have always been a strong song writing band throughout their existence, developing memorable tracks that seem to stay fresh in your mind long after you’ve listened to the albums. The band is also quite creative with their songs, adding symphonic and progressive elements sprinkled around here and there, adding further layers and depth to their sound. ‘Stargazers’ is no exception with the band again expressing their song writing skills, with is quite pivotal today in terms of success is this cut-throat business.
With influences and similarities with bands such as Masterplan, Helloween, Queensryche and Judas Priest (and fans of those bands should jump on Black Majesty if you haven’t already), ‘Stargazer’ is a very solid and enjoyable CD, packed full of high octane double bass pummelling, scorching yet harmonic twin guitar blasts and sensational and powerful melodic vocals from Mr. Cavaliere. Highlights come thick and fast on ‘Stargazer’, starting with the swift and melodic “Falling”, with John Cavaliere right at the top of his game, his vocals soaring high and strong. The twin guitar battles between Janevski and Mohamed are the biggest highlights throughout the album, with dynamic and constructive riffs and solos.
The title track “Stargazer” has an Iron Maiden feel to the sound, giving off an epic sensation, while the “galloping” style guitar riffs during the verses works so well. The excellent song is capped off with a long solo that will make anyone strum along with their air guitar. The furiously fast “Edge of the World” is very melodic indeed with crushing double bass and John again outdoing himself with his vocal performance; while the emotional “Lost Horizon” is signature, in a nutshell Black Majesty, where the song could have appeared on any of their five releases. Lastly “Killing Hand” contains ripping melody and bombastic drumming, a track which nicely combines power metal with Euro heavy metal. Also worth mentioning is the tantalising Dio reminiscent “Holy Killers” and the wonderful and touching (European) bonus track, the acoustic ballad “Shine”. The Aussie version has a different bonus track (“Ariel”) as does the Japanese bonus track (“Lycan”).
Black Majesty are like a fine wine – they only get better with age and most would agree that the band has matured quite nicely as it shows in their musical performances on each release. The song writing has also improved over the years, while the band has established themselves enough in Europe, to be good enough to work with legends of the business such as R.D. Liapakis (Mystic Prophecy, Black Majesty’s ‘Tomorrowland’ CD) and now with the last two albums with Roland Grapow. So if European styled melodic power metal is your poison of choice, then Australia’s Black Majesty is indeed a very nice drop, but definitely not an acquired taste.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com and www.themetalforge.com
Black Majesty has to be one of the best bands in metal today, or at least in power metal. They have five albums, this one being the fifth, four of them straight-up killer. They write complex songs with their own trademarked riff style and the inimitable vocals of Gio Cavaliere is just icing on the cake. Whenever these guys come out with a new album, I am all over it. Their last one In Your Honour was one of the standout albums of the whole year, and while the follow up Stargazer isn’t quiiiiite as good, it’s still up there with the top of the crop in 2012.
Really what is so good about this band has always been their unique sense of melody, which is important in power metal. People endlessly bitch and moan about power metal bands sounding generic or just like one another, and they do have something of a point – too many bands fall into the stereotypical Gamma Ray mode. Black Majesty has a real style and sound of their own; while it’s rooted in Iron Maiden and a touch of old Fates Warning at their more pugilistic, they’re definitely refining their own style with each album, and this one is the prime example of that refining. Stargazer is rife with careening, majestic melodies surrounded on all sides by Crimson Glory-esque riffs that can go fast as a speeding bullet or slow down to give more breadth to the melodies and vocals. The melodies sit comfortably between booming and slick modern power metal to more arcane and esoteric ones that recall the slightly proggier side of old 80s metal to add some extra atmosphere and feeling. It’s a sound that is both immediate and cerebral, and Black Majesty rule it with big hooks and a cool, confident charisma.
Gio’s voice is in fine form. He has this really good voice which can do just about everything the band needs it to do – he can wail, he can go down to a Roy Khan-esque midrange and he can sing a sweet, soft ballad like “Shine” too. He’s just a great singer, with a ton of power and control over his voice, and he’s a big asset to Black Majesty’s sound. The riffs are heavy and durable, always moving with the rest of the music like a flowing and cohesive unit – the whole sound is very much a rock-solid example of good songwriting for this genre. The mark of a great band is when you’ll stay with them no matter what direction they take with one song to the next: a few fast songs in a row, followed by an epic or two, and then a straight up ballad at the end? No matter what type of song they’re doing Black Majesty sounds on point and confident. Opener “Falling” kills, and so do the blistering “Voice of Change” and the powerful “The Killing Hand.” And “Journey to the Soul” has to be one of their best songs ever with its wandering, epic feel that will take you across the sands of time to ancient castles and tombs. The title track is also very good – a stirring, ponderous epic that builds up like a rising rocket heading for the stars.
If there’s a fault to this, it’s just that it doesn’t push the boundaries like the last one did and the songwriting is a little less adventurous. Unlike In Your Honour or their boundary-pushing first two albums, this one is more streamlined and a little less complex overall. It’s Black Majesty stripping down their sound to its essentials, and while it’s definitely one of their more balanced and well put together albums, I miss the more exciting and daring side of the band shown on songs like “Fall of the Reich” or “End of Time” off previous albums. But it’s just nitpicking to talk about what this album isn’t, because overall it’s still really good, and will be one of the standouts at the end of this year. For fans of power metal, Black Majesty is one of the better bands to get into right now. Go get Stargazer and let your soul fly to the stars.
I don't know how these guys keep doing it. Aside from the rather mediocre Tomorrowland, Black Majesty have done nothing but continuously pumping out top-notch power metal albums for the past 10 years now. And guess what? Stargazer is yet another winner, with every song being, at the very least, solid. However, there is some variance, with tracks ranging from just "solid" to "IT'S IN MY HEEEAAAD!!" Mostly the latter.
Starting us off in the latter category, we have opener "Falling," which wastes no time at all throwing a great riff and a great vocal performance from John Cavaliere at our faces. Add its breakneck speed, an infectious chorus, and a memorable solo, and you've got yourself a winner. They definitely picked a good foot to place forward. "Lost Highway" picks up right where its predecessor left off, albeit with a slightly slower pace, but the highlights are still there: powerful vocals from Cavaliere, catchy and simple riffs, and a purposeful pace. My pick of the litter would have to be "Journey to the Soul," which, once again, is all about its deliberate pace and masterfully melodic lead guitars and vocals.
Trust me when I say that the album's tendency to be extremely samey *on paper* does not mean it's samey at all. To make a bold analogy, it's like talking about Black Sabbath's self-titled; every track will sound the same on paper, even though it's the furthest thing from the truth.
I've neglected to mention the bassist and drummer up until now, I realize. For the latter, it's because I'm not much of an expert on the art of drumming, but Pavel Konvalinka plays with exuberance and skill, making sure that there's never a dull moment with him around. As for the bassist...there isn't one. There are two guitarists, so I'm assuming one of them takes it upon himself to act like a bassist, but it strikes me as odd, considering the band's sound is so beefy and bass-y, that it almost seems ludicrous that there's no bassist. Maybe it's the lion and he can't be credited because he can't make people noises. Who knows?
But anyway, I've gotten off track here. Stargazer does have a slight problem that keeps it from getting a perfect score, and that problem is its front-loaded nature. The handful of songs I'd mentioned earlier that classify as merely "solid" are lumped into the album's second half. "Holy Killers" has a skillful solo that will disappoint no one, but the chorus is a little wonky and the verses don't do much to distinguish themselves. "Symphony of Death" begins softly and promises an epic build-up, but said build-up does not meet expectations. Some solid galloping riffs and vocal lines will have to suffice.
Luckily, the album ends on a high note. "Edge of the World" is easily the fastest tune Black Majesty have written in years, featuring some truly blistering guitar leads and a very, very battered drum kit. Poor Pavel must've been sore for weeks after that. And to top off the album, "Stargazer" marches in with a slower and more deliberate pace. While some might find it to be too slow at first, the group uses it to their full advantage, building up a thick and triumphant sound. A powerful finish to a powerful album.
And so, once again, Black Majesty have done both Australia and power metal as a whole proud. With their unique combination of Euro-power metal melodic mastery and US power metal speed and heaviness, these guys are to be heard by all fans of the genre, and if you've never given Black Majesty a listen yet, then there's no better place to start than with Stargazer. With any luck, you may find you've just discovered your new favorite group!