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What Happened? - 10%

Splimis, January 14th, 2013

Well, as other reviews have probably stated, this new CD is a complete departure from the original 2 albums from the power metal band Human Fortress. Its not hard to figure out why this album is so unpopular, especially if you've heard the first two. To put it into words while omitting my personal bias, the huge issue with this latest release is that it completely and unmercifully alienates 100% of the bands original fan base. The first 2 albums were good, competent power metal records, albeit somewhat late arriving. There was a clear motivation evident within the music, a clarity of creativity, a nice evenly presented collection of songs that all fit together under the name Human Fortress. So naturally everyone who liked the bad was looking forward to a 3rd opus from the band, something that would surely solidify their position as a staple of late blooming power metal. ...But it wasn't.

This new album came out about 4 years ago now, so I won't attempt to explain in detail every difference this release has with the previous. I recommend listening to "The Dragon's Lair" from the first album, and then listening to the (aptly named) "Contrast" from the new album. With no further explanation you will understand everyone's disgruntlement. I want to cover the question posed in the title of this review, what actually happened? Its always frustrating when you see perfectly good bands flush themselves down a toilet, especially for those of us who play in bands and know how much 2 successful albums can do for your credibility. Then to see it all pissed away, its insulting. Its okay though, I am here to help.

This failure illustrates the importance of having a solid lineup between recordings. Mass personnel changes can bring a band to its knees. Just look at what happened to Black Sabbath in the 80s. Thats not to say the stuff with Dio, or any of the other members that got mixed around during that era made the music worse, since thats a matter of opinion, but it is true that the music changed quite a bit, and sometimes not to peoples liking. The same thing seems to have happened here.

Part of Human Fortress's appeal from the earlier period was the presence of good strong riffing. This is pretty important for power metal bands, driving rhythms and snappy pacing keep the listener intrigued. Lead guitarists must also have this ability, and moreover, the capacity for creating and performing solos that are ideal and appropriate for the various tempos a power metal song can alternate between. Power metal also requires a specific skill set in terms of drummers. Switching back and forth between having the snare hit on beats 1 and 3 to 2 and 4 is a highly utilized ability in power metal. You also need a strong sense of how to use double bass to optimize the heaviness of certain riffs within a song. Thomen Stauch is a perfect example of this style of playing. Finally, what every, and I mean every power metal band needs is a damn good singer. Its one of the defining factors of the genre, to have a front man with a good powerful voice that can emote with listener. The lyrics must be felt, not just heard. Having a good bassist is just icing on the cake.

That all being explained, Human Fortress had the better part of this list of prerequisites. As it turned out though, this was not to last. In 2003, guitarist Volker Trost left the band. Its not all that difficult to get another guitarist to to fill in while you're touring, which is exactly what they did. Being that there wasn't to be a new album out for a while, one personnel switch probably would have done minimal damage. Sometimes new members can actually keep your band alive (See Helloween). Unfortunately that isn't what happened. In 2007, Vocalist Jioti Parcharidis and Drummer Apostolos Zaios left the group. Thats 3 very important pieces of any band, and 3 key pieces of Human Fortress's lineup until that point.

It was anyone's guess what the next record would be like. It could have been just like the first 2 for all we knew. You would think a band with such a resolute sound would attempt to fare a lineup change at least with some remnant of the previous sound. With the members swapped in to replace those who had left nothing was to guess either. None of them have any apparent background with previous projects. So all that was left was to wait for a forthcoming release from the band.

And then it happened. Out from the Human Fortress camp comes an album called Eternal Empire, and boy was I confused. Throughout the album, you can hear hints of the old Human Fortress, but the tone of the previous records is completely shattered with random metal-core sounding breaks, spastic staccato rhythm, miserably paced drums, vocals with roughly 2 emotional states, and filler songs featuring long sustained keyboard chords. I think there was even a power balled in there somewhere, which is an extremely hard thing to pull off these days and be taken seriously, and this record definitely takes itself seriously.

After thinking about it, this seems like just another case of ruination by means of changing lineups. Usually its takes longer for bands to destroy themselves from this ailment, sometimes it even works out to a bands advantage. What we have here, however, is an all in one complete collapse. This record could have been released under a different name, and it would have made a lot more sense. You see, its not that I, or any other fan of Human Fortress thinks that this album is bad that lead to its failure. Its the lack of understanding of their fan base, or possibly their ignorance of us altogether that lead to the unpopularity. This is somewhat analogous to if Gamma Ray suddenly got rid of Kai Hansen (which isn't possible) and decided that doing lounge covers of Frank Zappa songs was their true calling. It just doesn't make any sense.

Well, thats all I had to say on the matter, I give the album 10 percent because even if I don't like it, someone out there must, and that might mean that it's a little bit tasteful. Points awarded only by logic, not by ambivalence or pity.