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When someone quakes about a need for originality, the reference is usually to something that redefines a genre of music. But for most normal people who realize that this rarely happens and is usually a phenomenon shared by a number of albums, demand for quality usually tends to supersede revolutionary change, though some original ideas are always required even if within an established template. This where the Italian symphonic outfit Derdian falls into things, right square in the middle of a fairly saturated sub-genre of metal, putting out an album that would have been cutting edge 7 or 8 years ago.
The notion of this band being a throwback may not be completely fair given they’ve been around in one form or another since the birth of the genre in 1998, but their studio debut has the disposition of a 2005 release, right when power metal was starting to lose steam and looking for a new direction. Comparisons to early Rhapsody (Of Fire) and Dark Moor are not only warranted, but utterly unavoidable given the blatant similarity in album structure and sound. The heavy presence of keyboard and orchestrations is right out of the “Legendary Tales” playbook, though the somewhat lower fidelity guitar and drum sound hints at something slightly rougher, ergo Dark Moor’s “Shadowland”.
There are two primary strengths that set this band apart from most of what was going on circa 2005, aside from the obviously older stylistic tendencies. The first is the overt catchiness and simplicity of the presentation, particularly on such noteworthy speed monsters as “Eternal Light” and “Screams Of Agony” that play off a familiar set of Neo-classical themes. These songs, while being somewhat derivative, are so well realized and performed that a single listen will compel instant memory retention. The other strength, and one often overlooked by casual observers, is Joe Cagianelli’s powerful yet reserved vocal performance. In many ways he reminds me of a slightly less over-the-top Tobias Sammet, avoiding a ton of high notes the way the latter did during the early days of Edguy, and also steering clear of the over-gravely yell that cropped up later. It fits in perfectly with the strict melodic tenor of the vocal lines, and doesn’t drown out the fancy musicianship going on in the background.
With all the solid things going on here, it is difficult to understand why this band isn’t getting more love, apart maybe from the crowding out effect that goes with the territory. Sure, the Black Sabbath/Dio oriented groove that kicks off Nocturnal Fires has been done to death, but it is done extremely well here and is mixed in with some solid Dark Moor twists. Yes, “Where I Can Fly” sounds remarkably similar to a number of Rhapsody Of Fire ballads during the early 2000s, but that woeful chorus just sticks out regardless every time it is heard. This is a fine flock of technicians with a good sense for songwriting, and it shows from start to finish on this, the first of an ongoing series ironically dubbed “New Era” (ironic in the sense that the music isn’t really new by the standards most will apply to it). But anyone who likes fast paced power metal with sing-along choruses, the occasional harpsichord, and every classical cliché a diehard Malmsteen fan could love should definitely go for this.
When I come across a band like this, I can never really make up my mind about them. Of course, the music is pretty much as generic as can be, but it's really well executed. For all it's unoriginality, it's got some catchy parts, and it's mostly well played.
The beginning of Eternal Light, for example sounds, quite literally, like a song I've heard dozens of times before. But what the hell, it's written nicely. The vocalist has range, and his voice isn't squeaky and irritating - it's really perfect for this neo-classical infused metal.
Being a small-time band as they are, Derdian's recording is not of the highest quality. The sound seems to not be as full as it could be. The vocals are a tad too pronounced at times. All the instruments are clear in the mix, but it doesn't deliver an incredible blast like power metal production should.
The keyboards are taken full advantage of, along with some guitar effects which don't normally seem welcome in metal anymore, phasers and wah among others. This is a pleasant surprise from an otherwise generic band.
More time was spent on the song writing than most bands at this level. The vocal melodies are frequently catchy, the guitar leads are purposefully speedy, the drummer shows at least a moderate degree of skill and competence.
So, it’s unoriginal and the production isn’t the best. But you cannot deny that it’s memorable, it manages to not be cheesy, and the song writing is that of erudite musicians ... I’d say it’s worth a listen for power metal fans.