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Derdian tends to get a bum rap as a generic clone from a seemingly endless sea of imitators, further aggravated by the fact that they hail from the motherland of post-Malmsteen symphonic/neo-classical power metal Italy. But fairer minds that have a dog in the power metal fight would be urged to take a different view, not merely because of their technical prowess and catchy songwriting abilities, but also because they were there going back to the early days and simply got hampered by a lack of label attention until the mid 2000s, when the scene had already peaked and was starting to fall off a bit. This is a band that clearly purveys a metal orthodoxy and doesn’t really push the boundaries much, but does it with class and intrigue.
The 2nd part of this band’s ongoing “New Era” series, better known as “War Of The Gods”, ups the ante in some respects while shying away a bit in others. The latter area where things seem to be a bit less tantalizing than the first album is the songwriting department, as this album largely sticks to a singular formula of speed and fury, not all that dissimilar from a number of contemporary Rhapsody (Of Fire) albums. Many of these songs tend to sound like testosterone infused answers to Dark Moor, often going to the most cliché harmonic progressions and riff sets possible. But at the same time, this album introduces a rougher vocal element to complement Joe Cagianelli’s husky tenor in a gravely, stalwart vocal grunt that is somewhat reminiscent of Sabaton’s vocalist, which fits in quite well with the heavier and darker guitar and bass mix.
Part of the charm of this band’s debut was that they seemed to still have one foot back in earlier 2000s sound, something which is largely absent here. While there is definitely a familiarity between the speed happy material on here and a few songs found on the first album, particularly in the case of “New Era” and “Golstar’s Rage”, and the token ballad “Why” has a similar piano driven serenade feel to the previous album’s ballad “Where I Can Fly”, the feel is a bit less 90s influenced. It’s still pretty easy to follow, but there is clearly a push to the larger sounding pomp that began to come out of Rhapsody (Of Fire) during their 2nd series albums and also Dark Moor after Elise Martin jumped ship. It is still quite good and is a definite cut above the nonsense that Edguy has been pushing during the same time period, but it doesn’t quite have the subtle charms that somewhat archaic heavy metal influenced numbers like “Nocturnal Fires” brought into the equation.
For the most part, if one album by this band appeals to a person, all of them will, though there is a pretty clear distinction that should be made between their debut and their 2 subsequent albums. This is definitely geared towards a crowd that wants additional heaviness mixed in with their fast paced majesty, which tends to be more of a trend today. This one functions a bit more logically as a conceptual work, and does occasionally draw out some emotional responses for the plight of the characters from a lyrical standpoint, but musically it finds itself drifting more towards consistency and, by natural consequence, away from versatility. It’s not a dramatic shift, but it is noticeable nonetheless.
The true Italian sons of Rhapsody Of Fire made another album, a sequel in the “New Era” saga. It continues the story about Golstar, a proud and fierce hero whose task is to kill an evil guy, protected by a dark powerful god. The story seems someway similar to Luca Turilli’s “Emerald Sword Saga”, and in fact it’s so… though I must admit that almost all epic fairytales contain the same elements, about a hero, an evil wizard, a princess, and some magic spells. So it’s not Derdian’s fault, it’s just a must for the genre.
But… is “War Of The Gods” a book or an album? An album, of course! So let’s analyze the musical aspect. The songwriting is very good: all songs are well-developed, and their sound rocks. Derdian have nothing to envy to Rhapsody Of Fire, because the musicians are all very talented, the line-up hasn't got any “Achille’s heel”. The drummer is like a hammer who hits incessantly in every track, and keeps the magic on also on “Why”, the ballad of the concept. The two guitarists do a good twin work, along with the bassist, alternating nice power metal solos with epic arrangements. Joe’s voice is also great, because it has a wide vocal range but it doesn’t seem like an eagle’s cry, like almost all old-school power metal bands, so it’s nice to listen to, and you never get tired of it. Garry’s work at the keyboards is also really awesome! I’ve baptized him the “Italian Jens Johannson”, because some keyboard solos reminded me of Stratovarius' glory days… Really good.
According to me, the best songs of the album are “Betrayer”, “I Don’t Wanna Die”, “The Hunter” (which is the single), and “War Of The Gods”, a great conclusion for this album (the final part is so touching!). The ballad, “Why”, is nice but it could be a better if the chorus wouldn’t have been repeated for so many times…
In definitive, how much good is this album? Is it just a mere copy of Rhapsody Of Fire’s ones or does it offer a good brand new perspective to the listener? It’s great, don’t worry, it’s great. Derdian are the actual sons of Rhapsody Of Fire, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean they’ve copied their ancestors' sound: Derdian are much less baroque, and the songs are tougher and more aggressive. The loss of the orchestral instruments is well-balanced with Henry Pistolese’s harsh vocals, and that's a nice insert in the album. I hope for the harsh vocals to have a greater part in the next album, the last chapter of the “New Era” saga… So if you like the epic tunes but you hate when a band copies another one, you definitely have to buy this album, which is both very well played and original.
The problem with reviewing music in a hugely crowded subgenre is that it can be very difficult to listen to the music on its own terms. Italian symphonic power metal is one such subdivision. Ever since Rhapsody burst into the spotlight in 1997 with their at-the-time unheard of use of massive orchestral keyboard arrangements there has been a seemingly never-ending queue of imitators in their wake.
It means that there is an inevitable mix in quality, but worse than that, can leave the listener jaded to even the better bands of the style. When there are so many bands playing neo-classical guitar solos, blaring keyboard symphonies and singing about their own made-up fantasy lands it can end up drawing a groan or roll of the eyes as soon as the intro track starts up.
Derdian are one such band that are just plain difficult to figure out. The music on their 2nd CD 'New era pt. 2/War of the gods' is as derivative as it is well performed. Their vocalist Joe Cagianelli is adequate, but not exactly the best. His voice is a little pale and reedy, and often the best (or at least most interesting) vocal passages come from guitarist Enrico Pistolese when he pops up to offer slightly heavier vocals (on one occasion proper death growls) and unusual 'one man choirs'.
This last aspect is one of the things that separate Derdian slightly from many of their contemporaries – the overall sound is a little less full-on, with the keyboard and vocal layers not as thick and overblown as is often the case. It means some of the other musical aspects sound a little beefed up, though in truth it is probably just that they are actually not being drowned out. The lead guitar is sharp and intricate, but the keyboard is still the dominant instrument, breaking up the songs perhaps too regularly for piano and faux-symphonic interludes. As usual though, the drums are more often than not a constant double-bass barrage so high in the mix that the half-formed rhythm and bass guitar parts are choked out anyway.
All this should be sounding very familiar, and this is exactly the problem with the CD – with everything having been done a thousand times before, it is difficult to get too excited about it. "Back to the crystal" features unexpected chugging guitars and proggy keyboard and drum parts, with the aforementioned growled vocals. This is one of the few instances of variety and the unexpected on 'New era pt. 2', with the rest of the songs fairly uniform. Only a few songs stand out, such as the "The hunter", a track the band chose to record a video for. This should be a wise promotional move as it is the most straightforward, energetic song on the CD.
In the end, this review may come across as more of a criticism of the symphonic metal subgenre as a whole than the single CD in question, but this is exactly the problem with the music. It is expertly played and achieves exactly what it sets out to, but when the goal is something so standardized, it really will takes something special to impress experienced listeners. Newcomers not weary of the style or genre diehards should appreciate 'New era pt. 2' as it is probably as good an example of the style as you're likely to find outside of the big hitters. For those caught in the middle there is little of serious interest.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)