without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
I had this odd sense of nostalgia for the early 90s when I heard this album. Not so much the part where everything started to get eaten up by the grunge scene, but more the gradual transition away from speed and thrash metal in the 80s towards a simplistic, groove metal alternative. Spearheading this changeover was Pantera, who in various interviews about their groundbreaking album “Cowboys From Hell” claimed a new style of metal referred to as power/groove. What the style itself amounted to was a more syncopated, rhythmically complex version of the slowed down thrash metal character of the early 90s in bands like Anthrax, Testament and Megadeth, but still holding some minor melodic trappings from their power/glam days.
I bring this up because the made up style of power/groove was nothing more than a transitional style before everything became completely about the alien style that had been fused with the more familiar one. Likewise, what would seem to be a newer style of powercore in Human Fortress’ latest effort “Eternal Empire” is a watered down version of their old style, replaced with the more popular trend of today, metalcore. But unlike Pantera, who initially did stumble upon something genuinely new and created a collection of masterworks before going down the mainstream sewer manhole, the former German power metal fold has found themselves in a state of musical cognitive dissonance, unable to write consistent songs most of the time, and attempting to emulate something that they aren’t really cut out for.
The lineup changes have had an impact on the band’s sound, but that alone can not account for what has happened here when considering who has been brought in. Carsten Frank is a very competent singer by power metal standards if you look at his work with Galloglass, and he is conducive for Human Fortress’ brand of medieval sound themes as they have been basically shared by said band. Having said that, the occasional usage of guttural and harsh vocals in Galloglass was always done to accent a dominant character, and it was never used in the sloppy metalcore gimp scream fashion that is heard here. Sometimes vocally it sounds like Killswitch Engage, at some points like on the chorus of “The Raven” we hit Linkin Park territory, but it never assimilates into something that is likeable unless you like metalcore. And likewise, anyone who really likes metalcore will probably not go for the neo-classical and folksy sounding interludes and the heavy keyboard usage. It is also interesting to note that the drumming sees the band shying away from any kind of speed drenched majesty and the mix sees the drum tracking sounding too loud and extremely dry. If anything, it can be stated that this band misses the amazing technical drumming of Apostolos Zaios as it does the soaring vocal brilliance of Jioti Parcharidis.
Redeeming elements on here are few and far between, often spliced in between fits of groovy, down tuned dumb ass chugging and 3 chord filler. There’s also a few really bad gimmicks utilized at ill opportune moments that make Nocturnal Rites’ “The 8th Sin” sound great by comparison. A quirky synthesizer intro at the beginning of “Borders Of Insanity”, a vapid U2 guitar line at the beginning of “Under A Spell”, and plenty of other non-metal moments that come up abruptly make one wonder if this album was put together by tape splicing. It’s extremely frustrating because this thing does seem to be trying to be a power metal album at times, with some fairly solid sounding lead guitar passages and a few good riffs here or there. Some of the choruses have potential, but are often dragged down by excessive pseudo-aggressive vocal meandering and annoying groovy straight beats.
If you are fortunate enough to pick up the special edition of this album, the utterly massive superiority of the bonus tracks and the hidden instrumental track to the main contents of this album makes one question the collective intelligence of this remnant of what was once a great band. “Guide From Heaven” sounds like a softer ballad version of “The Valiant” off of the last album. Carsten spends the entire song actually singing, the metalcore trappings are completely gone, and the instrumentation sounds like the band never left their original style. “Wrath” is a little bit closer to a Galloglass mid tempo song, but still well entrenched within a pure power metal character and loaded with some pretty good guitar work. The hidden song goes into something of a Nightwish meets Elvenking character, sort of like a folk dance song with soaring guitar lines and gang chants, but with a bit of a drinking song without vocals character as well. The fact that these songs are so good leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind that this album sucking has nothing to do with any lack of ability on anyone’s part here, but in that they are playing the wrong style of music.
I am hopeful that this band, along with Elvenking and Nocturnal Rites have learned their lessons and don’t do anything like this again, but it’s uncertain as to whether this will happen. All of these bands have lost members that are all but irreplaceable, and have veered really far from where they were when at the top of their game. This is not something that I would recommend buying, although I could rationalize downloading the last 3 songs on the special edition from Itunes. If the world of metal can’t be free of metalcore, then at least let us be free of and soon forget that powercore ever existed.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 17, 2009.