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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/)