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Crystal Eyes have always been a sort of oddball amongst power metal acts, having a sound that is all but wholly rooted in 80s German speed metal tradition, yet having a melodic content that is unusually upbeat and arena oriented. They create the sort of songs that gets one singing along even before the first listening has concluded, as the choruses in particular, tend to be so consonant and familiar that a feeling of déjà vu engulfs every single note. They are not the sort of songs that have been written before, and yet they seem that they could have been so much, that one might find himself checking his late 80s collection to be sure that there isn’t any direct plagiarism going on.
While the misunderstood excellence of the band’s early career was pretty strongly immersed in a collection of heavily Iron Maiden and Helloween inspired rapidity, with the occasional interlude into epic acoustic territory that touched the edges of Crimson Glory and Manowar at times, the Crystal Eyes that emerges on “Dead City Dreaming” is a very different beast. While melodically there is still a strong sense of consonance meshed with a soldiering character, the songs are generally slower and sometimes even border on 80s rock. The influences are still strongly German, but the band has all but completely traded in their “Keepers” meets “Death Or Glory” sound for something more akin to a “Metal Heart” or maybe even a somewhat heavier version of “Blackout”.
The general mid-paced nature of this album sticks out like a sore thumb, and renders Mikael Dahl’s already happy sounding melodies into something that sounds heavily AOR oriented, yet doesn’t fall into the Edguy trap of butchering the production. The drum sound on here is solid and powerful, more so than any of their earlier albums, and actually almost totally overpowers the bass on the occasional revisiting of past speed metal majesty in “Battlefield”, “Dawn Dancer” and “Temple Of Immortal Shame”, but even in spite of this these songs are among the best on here. However, the majority of the songs heard on here come off as a bit too safe and, perhaps even derivative of a general trend in the power metal scene at the time, though they are far superior to a number of other bands who have gone this direction.
In all its simplicity and predictability, this album comes off as great primarily because of one thing, and that is Soren Adamsen. I’m not how Dahl stumbled upon this guy, but he’s an all out perfect fit for this sound, being able to belt out glass breaking high notes, yet also having enough punch and power in his voice to handle the mostly upper-mid register material that makes Crystal Eyes’ music so easy to sing along to. Combine this with some absolutely irresistible melodies and simple yet effective riff work and songs such as “Dead City Dreaming”, “The Narrow Mind” and “The Quest Remains” invite instant familiarity and repeated listens. The material on here can be described as good more so than absolutely spellbinding, and yet its highly addictive and easy to get into. Perhaps the only thing on here that can qualify as a true masterwork on here is the closer “The Halls Of Valhalla”, which is among the more effective uses of catchy repetition and mixing acoustic and electric sounds I’ve heard in this genre, and features Adamsen rivaling Dan Heiman’s banshee wails during the climactic closing.
This is the sort of album that might be more suited for fans of Hammerfall and Metalium given its largely rock oriented simplicity and lack of speed, yet it still has enough of Dahl’s general songwriting character to be familiar to anyone who really went for “World Of Black And Silver” or “Vengeance Descending”, perhaps more so the latter than the former. He’s definitely restraining himself pretty strongly, and among the works that this band has put out to date, this is probably the weakest. But most bands would probably give anything to call an album like this their low point, given that it effectively outclasses a number of albums that put out around the same 2-3 year period.