without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
It's been a long time coming for America to rediscover its own place amongst the pioneers of metal music, but the past few years have seen an interesting resurgence of old practices, spearheaded by an early to mid 80s revivalist movement by the likes of White Wizzard and Holy Grail. While these bands have lived off a sort of campy approach to restating the sounds of Iron Maiden and Jag Panzer, there are a few underground acts that are taking a somewhat different path, one that can be treated with a greater level of severity. Among the more interesting bands to crop up of late is Blood Dancer, a San Diego based outfit with a mildly unconventional approach to melding past and present heavy/power metal practices.
From the onset of this band's self-titled debut, one can't help but be taken in by the symphonic overture as it expresses a sound quite similar to the early 2000s European sound of Dark Moor and Rhapsody Of Fire. But after the keyboards subside and the opening riff of "Death To The Saints" chimes in, the flavor is based a lot more closely in a rudimentary metallic assault somewhere between Maiden's "Powerslave" and Helloween's "Keepers" albums. By the same token, the production is quite powerful and punchy, seeking after a sound not all that dissimilar to the early offerings of Hammerfall, and about as complex. The vocals prove to be the most unique aspect, sounding somewhat along the lines of Joacim Cans, but with a bit more edge and attitude and occasional screams that hint at a subtle metalcore influence, and thankfully a mild one that doesn't detract from the earlier metal influences.
As things progress, so to does the arsenal of devices employed to keep the listener guessing. "The Herald Of War" takes a mid-tempo rocking approach, but is loaded up with contrasting rhythmic ideas and busy riffs that go a bit beyond the typical Accept and Grave Digger worship common to a number of more traditionally oriented European bands of late. "Without Heroes" continues in a similar vein but with a catchier and predictable set of hooks, conjuring up images of Blaze Bailey's early solo following his departure from Maiden. The all acoustic interlude "Discourse Of The Soul" is something of a unique addition as it finds a sound pretty close to 80s Black Sabbath and a smal smattering of classically-tinged elements both from the guitar leads and the droning keyboards in the background. But like with a number of bands in this mold, most of the best tricks are saved for the longer epic number, in this case the closer "Last Stand Of The Pagan Kings", which delivers a poignant musical story with a drawn out set of guitar galloping and chugging grooves, including the most ambitious set of shred lines found on the album.
There is a great deal of potential here, particularly if the band manages to get a crisper production job done on their next album. What is heard on here is quite good by independent standards, but one can't help but notice the overpowering character of the drums and guitars and the particularly loud cymbal noise. But overall, this is a fine collection of songs that bring back that Manowar spirit of striking a fatal blow to the false ones, though with a bit less macho posturing. Any American who has been longing for a viable domestic answer to Hammerfall, Dream Evil or Sacred Steel will definitely want to check this album out.
Blood Dancer's first full length is a honest and good faith release from a band that is still very young to the scene. Their first eponymous album contains a nice variety of material ranging from more traditional Heavy Metal songs like "Death To The Saints," to epic tracks like "Last Stand Of The Pagan Kings," and some tracks that hint at slightly progressive influences like one of the album's best track "Palace Of Bones." Though their one sheet says that they have been likened to Iron Maiden, Dio and Queensryche, I hear very little reason for this comparison. Their sound and style is far closer to more modern bands like the last two Wolf albums, Twisted Tower Dire and in some spots even shows a slightly more doomy sound similar to Sahg's, especially at moments when singer Christopher Barclay sounds very similar to Olav Iversen. See the aforementioned Palace of Bones for a comparison.
This release contains good production, but not incredible production in any sense. While the band hearkens back to the 80's for a lot of their influence, the album sounds decisively modern in tone. The bite that accompanied a lot of the 80's material is gone with more focus on the mid tones, possibly even using some sort of low pass filter on the rhythm guitars to achieve such an end. In this case, frequencies above 18khz have been dropped while on normal mixing and mastering projects, if a low pass filter has been used they set the threshold frequency at 20khz. The result is an album that sounds less aggressive and less urgent. Though everything is clear and audible and there is no muddiness, Blood Dancer sounds a bit more digital than would be warranted for a release such as this for me. The bass is mixed loud enough to be heard which is appreciated even if his bass lines follow the guitars without much divergence. Though the rhythm guitars sound quite modern in tone as do the leads, solos and melodies are mixed perfectly.
There weren't many total standout tracks that either totally wowed me or made me cringe. The release is rather consistent in that regard though "Skulls Crushed (And People Burned)" doesn't quite match the style initiated during the first six tracks of the album and may have been better to leave off this release. The rhythmic and vocal performance trajectory here does not fall within the kill zone. The chorus instead of being based on chord progressions and melody is instead a palm-muted chugging reminiscent of more modern metal such as post-gothenburg melodic death metal from America and the perpetuation of metalcore elements into the greater genre. The song is good! In fact I would probably say it's one of the more courageous tracks on the release because of how different it is and because Blood Dancer experiment with some harsher vocals it sets itself apart. The problem is that it doesn't fit within the framework that the band self describes themselves as working in. Also not as effective on this release is third track "Herald Of War," even if it's introduction is one of the highlights of the album with a melody and harmony that would be right at home para-sailing. Some harsh vocals appear also but are layers over a more traditionally oriented power metal motif.
Opening track "Realm Of The Blood Dancer," reminds me of how Iron Maiden have opened their recent albums. A safe song to start off the release which best represents where the band is pointing their noses and where they think the album is exemplified. Unlike the recent Maiden albums though, this opening track, along with the final track are most likely the two best tracks on this album within the goals of the band. "Death To The Saints," is a fast heavy metal cut comparable to stuffing your Honda Accord with a strong motor. "Palace of Bones" is also a favorite of mine. Like many of the tracks on the album, the melody is a bit atypical and uncommon and "Palace of Bones" squeezes all sorts of possibilities out of the dark movements and weaves a strong track together. This continues into "Last Stand of the Pagan Kings," the longest track.
Blood Dancer have some potential and I look forward to seeing what they come out with next. They should focus on the production side of things and perhaps minor adjustments in the phrasing of riffs to sound more like the bands they are influenced by. The excellent melodies and harmonies and musicianship here offers them the possibility of doing some really cool stuff with the style they're aiming at.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones
It's almost unthinkable that an unsigned band could record an album like the eponymous Blood Dancer debut, at their own home studio with no outside interference, and result in a product which is not only competent and professional, but frankly superior to a great deal of the traditional heavy and power metal you'll hear coming from groups with 20+ years of experience behind them. Not that this experience is without a few faults of its own, but by and large these Californians have created a collection of tunes here that should easily see them signed and delivered to a broader audience than what might be capable on their own. Jump on this bandwagon now, power/battle metal fans, because if there's any justice left in the world, you'll be hearing a lot more from the quintet.
This is a band with a passion for history, in particular the enmity between pagan cultures and the emergent Christian tidal wave of centuries past, and thus the lyrics here focus on atavistic Norse berserker imagery which is more than a little idealized, but yet carries a poignant message nonetheless. These are stories of futility in the face of a rising power, pride in oneself and one's people, messages we pasty post-Europeans just aren't encouraged to explore in our modern era of globalism. There's no real 'side-taking', per se, but Blood Dancer are clearly providing a pure heavy metal alternative for something like Amon Amarth. The keys to this particular kingdom are clasped firmly in the hands of the Barclay brothers, one of whom is the lead guitarist (Cory) and the other (Christopher) the vocalist, but they're supported by a trio of rhythm musicians who can follow them (or at times, steer them) just about everywhere. On the whole, I found Blood Dancer's shorter tracks like "Death to the Saints" and "Heralds of War" a fraction more memorable than the more epic overtures "Palace of Bones" and "Last Stand of the Pagan Kings", but I've got to hand it to them: they don't artificially inflate their music. The longer the piece, the more epic and varied it becomes.
Christopher Barclay's voice is a central selling point, a higher pitched, knife edged tone borne of a crystal clarity that will draw some obvious comparisons to Joachim Cans of HammerFall. He's very proficient at maintaining pitch, but thankfully he's also not above the incorporation of a few snarls, growls that help to vary up the delivery of the lyrics; which he's actually pretty good at, and which mirrors the band as a whole's admitted influence by extreme metal acts just as much as the usual suspects like Iron Maiden, Dio, etc. The one caveat for me was that, as this album is laid out in a very prose-heavy, narrative fashion, like a cheap historical novel, Barclay's voice and a few of the lines often clashed to create a few moments of unintentional humor, and I think this is just a matter of choosing your battles, which will come with more experience. In truth, there were points here in which I wish he actually implemented more of his growls and screams, because I just find them a little more relevant to the religious/cultural warfare concept. It's hard to pull off anger when you sing like an angel, and since the guy's got the pipes for the opposite, I'd love to hear more. But as it stands, he's quite good, and the warmer vocal harmonies used through the album are also very well balanced to provide that extra level of escapism.
As for the guitars, they're immediately catchy throughout much of the 39 minute playing time, with oodles of blazing harmonic leads, and classic riffing sequences in the rhythm guitars that recall a host of traditional NWOBHM and modern power metal (from Saxon and Maiden to Powerwolf and HammerFall). Once in a while, they'll put together a pretty bland, predictable, done-to-death-already chord progression as in "Death to the Saints", but to their credit they really dress this up with some busier tremolo picked melodies reminiscent of a band like Gamma Ray. The versatility is obvious, from thundering march-like palm mute breakdowns to airier expanses of open chords, from rushes of Running Wild intensity, to cleaner and extremely catchy tones and progressions like the intro to "Herald of War". Leads are competent here, never exceedingly flashy, paced and placed craftily, but ultimately not too distinct or memorable against the wider field of related acts spanning decades.
The rhythm section is decently represented in the mix, with a thick and oozing depth of bass that contrasts the brighter guitars, and a nice level of crash to the cymbals and snare, though these could at times be a little louder against the bulk of the rhythm guitar. They also implement some synthesizer strikes here or there which contribute to the idealized grandeur and antiquity of their theme, and show here that they've got a capacity for composing sweeping orchestral intros ("Ream of the Blood Dancer") or lush acoustic interludes ("Discourse of the Soul") which are fully flush with the more raging metallic anthems. All in all, the San Diego act has given itself quite a kick start with this album, showcasing most of the strengths fans of this style demand, to the point they don't at all come across as amateurs; yet still have plenty of room to develop in the future. Fans of other US acts like Twisted Tower Dire and Visigoth, or classic European heavy/power legends from the 80s through today will swallow this like golden mead, and Blood Dancer would sit very well on the roster of a label like Stormspell or Metal on Metal. Will I find myself returning repeatedly to this album in six months or a year? Perhaps not, but it's beyond solid in the meantime.
Blood Dancer is a young and quite talented American power or heavy metal band from San Diego, California that keeps the spirit of bands such as Iron Maiden, Queensryche or W:A.S.P. alive these years. Despite playing a rather traditional style, the band manages to sound very fresh thanks to a surprisingly dynamic production for such an underground release. Two of the band members are also members of the melodic thrash metal band Autobomb and one can feel this heavier and faster attitude in many of the tight songs such as the energizing neckbreaker “The Herald Of War”.
This particular influence helps the band to sound not only different from their idols but also unique enough to stand out in comparison to many similar bands that rose to fame during the heavy metal revival of the last few years. These guys here are at least as good and mostly even clearly better than similar bands from all around the world such as Bullet, Dark Light, Rusted, Ryder, Screamer, Vacant Throne, Vanderbuyst, White Wizzard, XSpendX and so on that I’ve also tried out during the last year. If you like any of these bands, be sure not to miss Blood Dancer and to spread their name.
The band employs many speedy and short tracks with great guitar solos and gripping riffs without getting too progressive as in the strong “Death To The Saints”. In less than three minutes and a half, everything is said and done from stunning solos over a tight drumming, an energizingly pumping bass guitar up to the stunning vocals. I really do appreciate the vocals as they sound grounded and melodic and not too forced or artificially high pitched as it's the case for many similar bands. The vocals really give this band a unique face and shape.
In the slower and epic “Palace Of Bones”, the vocals even remind me a little bit of a more grounded version of Dio or a cleaner kind of Savatage which are very strong references. This tracks has a darker atmosphere but doesn’t lose its time and introduces many great ideas and changes of speed and style which makes this track a true highlight. The epic closer “Last Stand Of The Pagan Kings” hits exactly the same vein and shows once again what this band is already able to produce.
While the whole band is great, the vocals really stand out for me and I’m looking forward to hear more from these guys very soon. The only missing thing on this release is maybe a few catchy hooks or choruses for the masses and concert crowds that this abnd will hopefully attract in the future but the songs nevertheless grow and grow with each new try.
(Originally written for The Metal Observer)