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Exlibris’ 2nd CD 'Humagination' is a perfect illustration of the sort of music that doesn’t do anything original or earth-shattering, but is just so damn well put together that you can’t help but enjoy it for what it is. Is that damning with faint praise? Maybe; I’m not 100% sure. But what I'm pretty sure of is that ‘Humagination’ is a pretty nifty European power metal effort with top of the line production values that help it get past some occasionally cookie cutter songwriting.
How the style of recording affects the final product when it comes to making a metal CD is often an interesting thing to consider. When it comes to Exlibris, if you were to strip away the vocal layering and the cinematic orchestral and keyboard arrangements, the groovy riffs and rough-edged vocals would leave some of the songs sounding more like a Dio-inspired 80s rock/metal effort.
All dressed up in its sparkly glad rags though, the CD is one that definitely belongs in the power metal section of the merchandise tent, for consumption by those more used to a diet of Stratovarius and the like - the tireless double-bass drumming and noodly guitar and keyboard solos ensuring that this is definitely one for the power metal fans.
The orchestral arrangements occasionally come across as a little overdone, but by and large they make the songs feel rich and invigorated rather than bloated. The centerpiece track, “Dreamcraft”, makes particularly good use of the additional soundscapes to add a classy bit of atmosphere to proceedings, driving home the notion that the effects have been crafted with care and attention and not just slapped together by a producer as an afterthought.
The more unusual hard rock-derived riffing and the velveteen, Jorn Lande-like vocals of Chris Sokolowski are what give Exlibris that little bit extra compared to the stale and predictable sound that could expected with some justification of a largely unknown Eurometal band, and even if none of the songs’ individual components are particularly fresh, the way that they add them all together create something a little more memorable.
An interesting diversion comes towards the end of the CD on the purely atmospheric piece, “The arrival”. Largely composed of orchestral effects, the guitars only add the odd growl here and there to compliment a flawless, emotional performance from Sokolowski at the center of the song.
There’s no denying that otherwise it is all fairly standard stuff, but Exlibris are doing just enough to push them above the generic lower tiers of the power metal arena. The enthusiasm for what they are doing, notable through the intrepid vocals and energetic performances from the musicians coupled with the rich overall sound, make for a CD that may not be easy to love, but is certainly hard to dislike.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
Polish power metallers Exlibris can count themselves amongst countrymen Pathfinder, Gutter Sirens, Night Mistress, and of course, Crystal Viper, as acts worthy of your time and investment. Whilst stylistically Exlibris might not bear all that much in common with the aforementioned acts, in terms of quality they most certainly do. Yes, the Poles certainly have their share of flair tucked away, and Exlibris is home to two particularly exciting talents.
The first is their fantastic vocalist: Night Mistress’s Chris Sokolowski. A large portion of why Humagination is such an enjoyable affair can be written down to Chris’ Lance King-meets-Edu Falaschi approach with a twist of husky hard rocking swagger a là Rick Altzi. At times it gives the music an ever-so-slight Balance Of Power vibe, although Exlibris are without a doubt more upfront as opposed to the former’s understated, introspective approach. The fact of the matter is the man boasts impressive pipes with a lot of variation in range and style; seriously the variation is his voice is nuts.
The second of our impressive talents would be keyboardist extraordinaire Piotr Sikora, or as he’s credited here: Voltan. His skill with the instrument is impressive to say the least, and in terms of virtuoso quality, you could think along the lines of Janne Warman or Jens Johansson – it’s a wee shame he doesn’t have an Alexi Laiho or Timo Tolkki to play off of in the guitar department, though.
Whilst the aforementioned members steal the show in terms of magnificent performances, I’d say the other guys pull their weight, and rival in terms of energy. As I hinted above, it is a shame there aren’t any distinct guitar pyrotechnics to match Voltan’s screaming keyboard solos. When a guitar lead does arise, its certainly well-done (see “Dreamcraft”) – though not to the magnitude of the keys. Fortunately the rhythm guitars are ace, and the riffs across the board are happening, energetic, and best of all, worthy of a fist pump or head bang. Misiek and Piotr Torbicz keep the backbone upright and tight, with spot on rhythms throughout that sound great thanks to a killer mix.
As for the general sound Exlibris peddle, I’d say this is very much in the modern melodic power metal vein. Crystalline production paves the way for a dense orchestral and keyboard presence, which adorns the band’s modern power metal stylings in deft fashion, keeping this relevant with current releases from luminaries Stratovarius and Helloween, as well as housing the underground charm of acts like Destination’s Calling or even upstarts Nautiluz.
The Poles have really put out a first-rate release here with their sophomore effort. All the hallmarks of a great power metal release are displayed throughout, and even their approach to the oft-maligned ballad is endearing and rightfully poignant. Of course, Exlibris are at their finest when crafting melodious up-tempo numbers, which whilst encompassing a fair amount in the way of genre conventions, wraps them up in a delightfully fresh package. Be ready for rolling guitars, catchy choruses, and more energy than a kid on Christmas morning.
If your foot isn’t tapping away to the likes of “Astral Geometry”, or if the wonderful “Left Behind” leaves you in the cold, then you probably can’t appreciate modern European power metal. It’s really as simple as that. If you care about the style even in the slightest, then Exlibris is a band you really need to familiarize yourself with. There’s no time to lose: put in an order on this one now! You can thank me later.
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com