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Dream Evil have had a pretty tough time of it over the last couple of years. Founding guitar player Gus G. departed towards the end of 2004 to focus on his own band, Firewind, but was instantly replaced by the unheard of Markus Black, who swiftly won over anyone lucky enough to catch Dream Evil on tour with Saxon. It was over the following year or so that things looked as though they were in danger of falling apart – midway through 2005 Niklas Isfeldt and Peter Stålfors both left under somewhat mysterious circumstances before returning less than a month after their departures were officially announced. After several months of silence from the Dream Evil camp, it was drummer Snowy Shaw's turn to leave, followed by another long period of secrecy from the rest of the band.
In a sudden flurry of activity, they announced Shaw's replacement - the ludicrously-named Pat Power, and the CD under current scrutiny, 'United', was released shortly afterwards. After such a period of upheaval, including the loss of 2 virtuosic musicians and primary songwriters, I have to confess I was unsure of what to expect from Dream Evil. Thankfully, they haven't skipped a beat – listening to this record you would wonder what all the fuss had been about. The songs continue in the fashion of previous Dream Evil releases, and are almost exclusively of the very highest calibre. The choruses are powerful and catchy, the solos are flashy and Niklas' vocals have never sounded better. Indeed, listening to the uncharacteristic screams he pulls off on "Back from the dead", a casual listener would have no idea he had urgent surgery on his throat less than a year earlier. A massively underrated vocalist, Isfeldt is, in my little opinion, one of the absolute best in melodic metal and he takes many of Dream Evil's songs up a level with his fantastic delivery.
In something of a departure from the previous release, the widely-praised 'The book of heavy metal', the speed has been jacked back up to the levels found on the band's first 2 CDs for extended periods. The songs found here tend to shift between uptempo, soaring rockers and mid-paced anthems – in this respect the pacing is probably closest to 'Evilized', a CD I prefer to its somewhat unbalanced successor. Songs such as "Let me out", "Blind evil", and the utterly magnificent "Falling" all tear along at full speed. The latter 2 songs of these 3 both feature fantastic choruses that just demand to be sung – screamed – along with at full volume.
Fans of Dream Evil's more conservative numbers need not fear, however, as songs such the title track and "Kingdom at war" offer considerable mid-paced stomp with massive choruses along the lines of previous efforts such as "The book of heavy metal (March of the metallians)" and "Chosen twice". Indeed, "Higher on fire" is a track very much in the same vein as the previous CD's title track with the chanting choir vocals being almost directly transplanted – unfortunately, the chorus is a little weak and it does not match up to previous efforts by Dream Evil in this style.
In another departure – one I was inwardly hoping for – there are far less songs glorifying heavy metal music. 'The book of heavy metal' was a good offering and the over-the-top cheesiness was something of a breath of fresh air among the sea of deadly serious power metal bands, but had Dream Evil continued repeating this formula for another CD they would have been in danger of becoming a novelty act. Thankfully, we have lots of songs here about sword fighting, being evil and various other more comfortable metal clichés mixed in with songs like the excellent full-speed-ahead opener, "Fire! Battle! In metal!". The tongue-in-cheek tone is still to be found from time to time, however – check out the crazy rant in the middle of "Doomlord" or, God help us, the borderline-insane cover of Eurovision-winning "My number one" that closes the CD.
Snowy Shaw's departure, after monopolising the songwriting on the previous CD, has clearly allowed the remaining band members to get back to what they were doing on their first 2 efforts, with a far greater balance over the songs – while the previous CD started to drag for me after several listens, 'United' is one that feels like it's over before you have had time to catch a breath.
Unfortunately, apart from his excellent and inventive drumming, in Snowy Dream Evil have lost seemingly the only band member able to write a great ballad – "Love is blind" is a bit of a weak point here, more in line with the rather sappy Fredrik Nordström efforts of the first 2 CDs than the beautiful, powerful ballads Snowy contributed to the band's catalogue of songs. It also has to be noted that while the new musicians, Markus and Pat, deserve immense credit for filling the massive void left by their predecessors, they do not quite match up to them as players. Markus is an excellent lead guitarist, but just can't match up to the over-the-top shredding of Gus G. (few can) and Pat's drumming is slightly more 'generic' than the more unconventional work of Shaw.
These, however, are minor complaints against what really is an excellent CD. Dream Evil fans have nothing to worry about approaching what some may eventually come to consider their best release, and fans of catchy, melodic heavy metal will find themselves with an album of the year contender on their hands.
(Originally written for http:www.metalcdratings.com)