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I love how recent Earache CDs all have the bands posing in front of the "Dante's Inferno" backdrop at the Sears Portrait Studio. Gandalf, Decapitated...I guess it's better than squeezing into the mall photo booth, though. Described as AC/DC united with At the Gates in the label propaganda, Gandalf is indeed a death/rock hybrid, with "death" represented by the half-growled vocals and the "rock" by everything else. This CD really depressed me initially, as the first few songs are either weak and gimpy ("L8X Queen") or sound like Tomas Lindberg doing karaoke versions of the first Badlands album ("Morning Sun"...this one also has a hilarious Cookie Monster part, with the vocalist growling, "Hello, morning sun!"). Thankfully, things improve with "Human Value Zero", which recalls Swansong in the verse parts (only better), and "The Dragon", which just fucking rocks. "The Dragon" (fifth song) is really where the tension between the death vocals and the more upbeat rock sound of everything else is somewhat resolved. It's much faster than the previous tracks and thus the vocals work much better here. While I usually applaud bands retaining the deathgrowl even when incorporating non-death influences, I think Gandalf would do well to drop it and try conventional clean singing for songs like these. The weakness of their current approach pops up again in the remainder of the album, especially when the focus shifts to melody (what I like to call the "D.A.D. parts"). Thankfully, the last two songs ("Dead Man's Hand" and the weird NWOSDM/ballad hybrid "Castle of the Stars") utilize nice clean-vocal/choral parts to support the one-dimensional growling of the singer. More of this would be welcome. Musically, this reminds me a lot of Carcass's Swansong in parts, with occasional blues-derived riffs and some fair Swedish-style Gothenmetal. It's very uncomplicated and unornamented, which is why I think the one-note vocals are so damaging. Basically, Gandalf sounds like a pretty good bar band, not something that you'd want to sit down and seriously ponder, and this clashes mightily with the aggressiveness of the vox. Ultimately, it's no disaster, nor any great achievement, just another could've-been disc that exists in the murky grey middle of the quality scale.