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Since the conception of metal, myriads of bands have dwindled in obscurity, taking it upon themselves to release only a few songs over one or two demos or singles before vanishing from the face of the earth, never to return again. We generally tend to polarize these bands based on the fact that they have so little material that it's not likely to be diverse enough to facilitate a mixed opinion; thus the band is either thrown out the window as complete garbage, or elevated to a legendary status of a band untarnished by mediocrity, and, if they somehow reformed today, could certainly do no wrong. Enchanter falls into the latter category, releasing only eight songs over the span of two demos and a single in the late 1980s, but in this case every song was absolutely killer, making for a spectacular compilation album and thrusting the band, at least in my mind, onto a pedestal of the grandest heights. I can only imagine what it would be like to receive any more material from them - an EP, a single, or hell, even a live album. There's a good chance such a release wouldn't meet my expectations, which would be unrealistically high due to the fact that all of their previous releases, brief as they were, have been top-notch. Anything less would tarnish Enchanter's image for me. Thus, it's probably good that there's almost zero chance of that happening, and I'm left only to muse over these few offerings the band graced us with, which have been compiled in the single full-length Defenders of the Realm.
The style Enchanter plays is a pretty unique style of USPM, although it could roughly be described as tough and masculine while simultaneously arcane and haunting, sounding something like Awaken the Guardian-era Fates Warning would if they suddenly decided to take some pointers from the more "blue collar" realm of USPM, like Omen or Virgin Steele. In other words, Enchanter takes the best aspects of both sides of the power metal spectrum and combines them into one coherent, fantastic beast that utterly slays just about all in its path. Certainly at the peak of its grandeur it could give even the mighty Fates Warning a run for its money.
The album's production is pretty damn good, especially keeping in mind that the material comes from demos in the 1980s. The guitar is loud and clear, with a delightfully meaty tone which works perfectly for the album. Everything is mixed in quite well, with the guitar and vocals on more or less equal footing with very audible, pounding drums. The vocals here are fantastic, by the way. Brian David Osborne sounds something like Eric Adams of Manowar would if he used his upper register a lot more, constantly belting out confident shrieks.
Being that this is a compilation, it's pretty easy to tell where one demo begins and another ends; if the two separate recordings of "Beckoned With a Call" weren't hint enough, the three sections of the album definitely have different respective atmospheres to them; the first four songs (excluding "Beckoned With a Call") are more triumphant and proud, tending to make more use of the major key, while the second four have more of a penchant for the mystical and strange, making more use of the minor key. "Ethereal Quarter" is sort of an amalgamation of both, with a nod to Shellberg's later band, Longings Past.
The first four songs are probably the best, although calling them better than the second four is like calling $1,000,001 better than $1,000,000; the difference is pretty slim, and they're all fantastic anyway. "Thor" sounds like something Manowar could have released if the entire band has suddenly decided to crank up the power a few notches; it embodies the glorious, triumphant style Manowar played, but executed much better than any Manowar song. The crushing riffs, the piercing vocals, and the catchy gang shouts all work perfectly to drive the song home with utmost power. It's impossible to resist singing along when Osborne shrieks "HAAAAIIIILLLL, GOD OF THUUUUNDEEEER!!!!! HAAAIILLLL, HAAAAIIIIIIIILLLLL, HAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!"
"Defenders of the Realm" is similarly Manowar-ish, and while it's not quite as ambitious as "Thor", it hits nearly as hard, Osborne shrieking along just as proudly to the consistently fantastic riffs. "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier", on the other hand, is even more ambitious than "Thor", and hits even harder, possibly the best song here, and one of my favorite songs in all of power metal. It's a three-part epic nearly seven minutes in length, the three parts being named in the original demo as "Requiem", "The Seventh Gate", and "The Resurrection". "Requiem" starts off with a fantastic riff and blasts off into epic Manowar-ish territory, grandly stomping into "The Seventh Gate", which is a soft, warm acoustic passage with some cheesy narration and then some harmonized coos by Osborne, which sounds like nothing more than a beautiful lullaby, and might be my favorite part of the album. It quickly explodes into "The Resurrection" with some fantastic shrieks by Osborne and some of the best shredding I've ever heard by Shellberg on lead guitar. This piece has a slightly darker, more Fates Warning vibe to it, fading out with an ominous acoustic solo that closes out the epic perfectly.
"Beckoned With a Call", is, as I've said, a bit different in atmosphere than the three other songs originally from the Defenders of the Realm demo. It's strange, arcane, and dissonant, but no less fantastic in execution, changing riffs often, and breaking in the middle of the song for a haunting acoustic passage that never fails to send to chills down my spine. (Which is ironic, considering Osborne's opening line in it is "Rush of cold around my spine"). It gives the feeling of some ancient, epic Lovecraftian horror that the singer is warning of. This is definitely another high point of the album. The song breaks into a lead guitar solo thereafter, before ending with a very unsettling riff that is perfectly complemented by Osborne shrieking, "Your fate is seeeaaalllleeeddd!!!!!!!".
The next four songs, taken from the Time Gone Past Nevermore demo, are much more in the vein of "Beckoned With a Call". We start off with "Time Gone Past Nevermore", which again is dissonant and progressive, much like Fates Warning or perhaps Cauldron Born. The highlight of the song is probably where Osborne begins shrieking at odds with the minor key riff, but then the riff changes to one proud and triumphant, and suddenly Osborne's voice just slays everything in its path. Next is the re-recording of "Beckoned With a Call", which sounds largely the same as the original except with a slightly smoother production and some accompanying synths in the acoustic passage that really add to the atmosphere; this is definitely the better of the two recordings.
"Keepers of the Dawn" is a bit simpler and less dissonant, but still strange and mystical, rich with its cryptic, ominous atmosphere. The main acoustic riff is fantastic and Osborne's vocals are positively haunting; this definitely keeps up to par with the rest of the album. "Imaginary Throne" starts off with a fantastic acoustic passage that is sorrowful and indignant; but it quickly rips into the Fates Warning-esque Enchanter we know and love by this point, complete with a progressive structure, dissonant riffs, a shredding solo and a mystic atmosphere. The highlight is definitely the epic-sounding narration partway through the song. The song drags on a little towards the end, but other than that it's excellent.
Finally we have the intro which leads into "Ethereal Quarter"; it consists of Osborne doing some very haunting, surreal vocals and then some cool narration. "Ethereal Quarter" itself is probably the strangest song here; it's highly progressive, and has some Fates Warning tendencies, but the acoustic interludes are a little brighter, and then partway through the song it switches to major key, playing in a style of epic metal that sounds little like Fates Warning or Manowar or anyone else really, except Shellberg's next band, Longings Past. It is very personal, ponderous, and calm, or in other words, very Longings Past-ish. Nonetheless, it's very good, my only complaint being that Osborne's vocals sound a bit more restrained than usual.
If you find yourself digging "Ethereal Quarter" I'd recommend checking out both of Longings Past's albums, I have reviews for both and both are good, although the debut is significantly better than the sophomore. As for the rest of the songs, turn on some Fates Warning and wish we had more like this stuff; it's pretty unique as far as I know. If you're a fan of power metal or epic metal at all, though, this is a must-have album; it truly is one of the shining gems of the genre.