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Z.P. Theart’s first venture post-Dragonforce is a fun album full of catchy choruses. It’s most akin in style to Heed or Trail of Murder, i.e. a project mostly made to focus on the vocals, which kick ass. Theart, while not as good as Urban breed or Daniel Heiman, is nonetheless a real talent. He’s got a ton of charisma and personality, a lot of range and can wail out some amazingly infectious lines. Pretty much every song on this thing has a vocal line you won’t be able to pry out of your head with a crowbar. Despite not having the epic leanings of Dragonforce at their best and not being quite so iconoclastic (or outlandish, mind you), Theart does these songs up with real class and style, wailing out his sort of raspy-yet-soaring trademark vocals for a solid 45 minutes and that’s just what we came for.
Not that the music is bad; it’s just ancillary to the vocals. The music is perfectly acceptable 80s hard rock mixed with contemporary power metal - think later Bloodbound or Nocturnal Rites, perhaps, for a comparison. The songwriting is compact and hook-based, and pretty much succeeds at what it was trying to do. Tracks like “This Is My Life,” the ear-worm “Stay a While” and the mini-epic “Cross the Line” deliver with pomp and style, and on the epic “Judas Kiss” with its darker themes and vocal lines that remind me of some of the better Dragonforce tunes, the band shows flashes of potential I hope they expound on in future albums - potential for a more fully-realized, developed sound.
The downside is that a lot of the other songs just don’t catch fire. While acceptable, they don’t really have the presence of the better tracks...the ballad “King in Ruins” never quite gets going and the final two songs, “Wasted Wonder” and “Pave the Way” are rimshots at best. There’s also a lot of poppiness and immediacy in the songwriting, which unfortunately lends even the best songs a very transparent feel - although they are enjoyable, it gets old after a while and you have to wait until your next craving for ultra-catchy cheese to really get the most out of this. Call it a style over substance thing. I'll give it a score in the mid-70s because it's enjoyable while not being substantial, and add on a few extra points just because, at times, these songs won't leave my head.
That tired cliché of the apple never falling far from the tree is usually an appropriate way of describing where major players in a seminal band end up once they've parted with their former project. Rarely does an ex-vocalist or ex-songwriter abandon their signature style, though they will often claim to have done so while all but continuing the same sound under a different moniker. There is the occasional exception such as former Metalium front man Henning Basse who traded in his soaring Bruce Dickinson styled sense of triumph for a grittier, nastier approach in a number of subsequent projects since Lars Ratz and company called it quits, but largely what ends up happening is 2 bands coming out of one, each one sounding all but identical to each other.
The newly former project I Am I, seemingly a declaration of independence by former Dragonforce vocalist ZP Theart from his former band mates, manages something a bit different but closer to the less traveled road alluded to earlier with their independent debut Event Horizon. While ZP has not changed a single thing about his slightly rough around the edges yet soaring and airy high notes, just about everything going on around him has taken on a very different character than the fantastical foray of 3 minute lead breaks and light speed drumming of days past. A closer comparison would be to the progressive tinged, heavier ended character of recent works out of Chitty Somapala via Red Circuit and Civilization One, and occasionally veering into the slightly flashier and more animated character of early Masterplan.
For any Dragonforce fans that don't really pay attention to the style outside of the hyper-technical, sugary goodness of said band's output, this translates into a sound that's equally as catchy, but a good bit slower and not nearly as busy. Theart's vocals are center stage from start to finish, barring the occasional lead break out of guitarist Jacob Ziemba, who has more of a hard rock background and resembles more of an iconic bluesy tinged 80s shredder with a few hints of Malmsteen influences, rather than a shred happy, maniacal answer to Steve Vai. The riff work is largely an affair in rhythmic grooving and punch, and is painted over with an atmospheric keyboard element that avoids battling with the guitars for prominence.
As a formula, this style works equally as well with ZP's obviously 80s rock tinged vocal style, and the only flaw that emerges is that the song structures are a bit too predictable. It's not quite as chorus-oriented as Dragonforce, but sub-4 minute radio-friendly numbers like “Stay A While”, “In The Air Tonight” and “Wasted Wonders” spend very little time away from overt hooks and are only slightly more involved and aggressive than a typical pop/rock anthem. The real winners on here are where things get mixed up a bit like the longer “This Is My Life” with its hints of Iron Maiden melodic guitar influences and heavier demeanor, or when things are sped up as on the lone fast-paced cruiser “Dust To Dust”, which doesn't quite hit “Valley Of The Damned” territory, but gets close. Another winner is the progressively tinged, thudding riff monster “Kiss Of Judas”, which almost sounds like it could have found its way onto a later Pagan's Mind album.
The final verdict on Event Horizon is a somewhat mixed, but mostly positive one. There's a fair amount of reaching into the same creative well over and over, resulting in a number of interchangeable songs, and the production is a little bit heavy on the drums and the guitars are a little bit mechanical sounding. Much of this probably owes to Roland Grapow's input into the final mixing and mastering of the album, resulting in something that almost wants to mimic recent output by Masterplan. It's a style that's not quite as uplifting as the pomp and flash of say, Sonic Firestorm, but what it lacks in impact it tends to make up for in depth and sincerity.
Like most avid power metal fans, I was a mildly affected by the departure of ZP Theart from British speedsters Dragonforce. 'Mildly affected' equating to reading an article on the subject and lightly shrugging whilst muttering "Huh, well, that's the end of that." But as it turns out, Dragonforce did not intend this moderate setback to be the "end of that" - and so put themselves through a rigorous audition period. This eventually resulted in uncovering a hidden gem in the form of Marc Hudson and, under the moniker "The Power Within", unleashed upon the Earth their best record since "Valley of the Damned". So what had poor old ZP been doing in the meantime, whilst his ex-bandmates were sipping on the fruitful wine of success?
He formed another band. Duh.
I was just as emotionally shaken by the announcement of ZP's brand new project in 2012 as I was about his departure from the 'force. A look of mild interest swept across my face as I gazed upon the rather splendid album artwork of I Am I's debut "Event Horizon"...then quickly vanished as I read something more intriguing (like milkshakes in my local shop being 2 for 1). However, I decided to actually give this album a full 45 minutes of my attention when I considered buying the CD for my friend's birthday. My first impression? Bland, uninteresting and forgettable melodic metal with poor production values. But I couldn't shake the feeling that this wasn't an entirely BAD album...just not entirely good either.
The main factor of this album that's a problem for me is the previously mentioned production quality. Dragonforce are notorious for their ridiculously over-polished brand of power metal - and because I've never heard ZP's voice in any other project, I foolishly expected the overall sound quality to be the same. Annoyingly, it's the vocals that are the biggest offender with regards to the production. ZP performs the songs with much bravado, and the melody lines are well written - but his voice is so high in the mix, it sounds like it's actually peaking. It actually makes me wince a little with its sheer piercing characteristic. In general, the production is certainly meatier and more 'metal' than anything Dragonforce have released, but it's just too muddy for that to be a saving grace.
At this point, I'd like to apologize for all the Dragonforce comparisons (but surely you expected to see a few if you're reading this review anyway). I shall try and conduct the rest of this review without mentioning...them.
So onto the actual tunes: You'd be foolish to think "Event Horizon" is anything close to the relentlessly quick and overly-happy power metal usually played by Drag...erm...Power Quest. What's on offer here is a selection of more straightforward, mid-paced, melodic metal with plenty of AOR influences. Instead of the lengthy progression of most Drag...erm...Pathfinder tracks, I Am I tend to stick firmly to a simplistic 'verse-chorus-verse-chorus' structure, which compliments the melodies far better than any over-long display of technical prowess would.
After repeated listens, this album certainly grew on me. But the result was not as rewarding as other bands of this genre that I've had to dedicate time to, such as Drag...erm...Vision Divine. Given time, certain highlights make themselves apparent. The chorus to opener "This Is My Life" soars above the stratosphere, and the token ballad "King In Ruins" is very well-placed with some truly beautiful vocal harmonies. The 6-and-a-half-minute "Kiss of Judas" clearly shines above all the rest with its use of irregular time signatures and chunky riffs which actually manage to compliment the messy production. No other track will have this 'stand-out' aspect, as they all seem to blend together into a mush of catchy choruses and average hooks, much like listening to a Drag...erm...Wisdom album.
In conclusion - there are a surprising amount of positives to this debut, such as the incredibly catchy choruses, some interesting guitar solos, and an excellent vocal performance from ZP Theart. The main issue (apart from the aforementioned production) is that as soon as the CD stops spinning, you'll forget everything you just heard. It's just as well-written and well-played as any Drag...erm....yeah...Dragonforce album, but let down by forgettable song structures, poor production values and a bland atmosphere.
Highlights - "This Is My Life", "In The Air Tonight", "King In Ruins", "Kiss of Judas"
For fans of - Sinergy, Vision Divine, Firewind
Recognize the name ZP Theart? You should if you are a fan of power metal. He is the former singer of Dragonforce. You know, the band that is famous for having a s**t hard song on Guitar Hero and making music that is over the top (especially the guitar solos). Even though his previous band was very uneven in its delivering, I really enjoyed his singing voice. It is powerful and fits perfectly in the power metal genre. But now has ZP moved on and formed the band I Am I. So is it a Dragonforce Jr? No. It is still power metal but gone are the crazyness and in comes a more well constructed and a more solid form of power metal. Something which should count as an advantage for not only ZP but also the band as a whole.
Together with ZP we also got Neil Salmon on bass, Paul Clark Jr on the drums and Jacob Ziemba guitar. A pretty unknown group of soldiers that supports the former Dragonforce singer. Fortunately, the lads are doing a solid job on their positions. It is not overwhelmingly awesome but the guys are doing what they are suposed to do which is good enough. How about ZP then? Well, he does not put in as much effort as in DF but it is not because he has lost power. No, it is because he does not need to go 100% to get the most out of the songs on "Event Horizon". You wont hear ZP soar over the tracks like some huge airplane. Instead, you will notice that ZP is more earthbound than he has ever been. Which is not surprising since there are few parts on this album that acquires a soaring voice.
The music overall on "Event Horizon" is on the edge between mediocre and good. It is nothing really shocking on this album. Nothing that will make you say "Hey, I have never heard this before". But there are some great songs on this album. "Wasted Wonders" has a chorus that is catchy and actually makes me shiver (also, love the guitar and drums on this one). Other good songs that stands out are "Cross The Line", "Dust 2 Dust" and "Kiss of Judas". Most of the songs on "Event Horizon" are very modern and quite enjoyable. There are not so many songs that I can complain about. But if I had to chose one it would have to be the boring and unimpressing ballad "King In Ruins". I just can not get any feeling from this song.
I got to say that I Am I has surprised me. I was not expecting this clean and modern power metal from ZP & Co. "Event Horizon" is not an album that makes a straight impact on you. Instead, it grows on you. Most of these songs are good and are great examples on how good modern power metal should sound like. I would not say that I Am I is complete yet but I think the band has a bright future ahead of them.
Songs worthy of recognition: Wasted Wonders, Silent Genocide, Dust 2 Dust
Rating: 7/10 Kings in ruins
I will admit that I had some hovering reservations about I Am I before listening to them, without really having any fair reason to. Getting past the awkward name, I think I had forgotten how much I actually enjoyed DragonForce once upon a time and probably allowed my expectations for ousted singer ZP Theart’s musical re-launch to be coloured thus.
His old band felt the bite of the law of diminishing returns faster than those damnable Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but I still have a lot of affection for the CDs DragonForce released around the time I got into them, particularly the ‘Valley of the damned’ debut. A significant chunk of the charm on that CD, past the ludicrous speed and enthusiasm, was Theart’s warm vocals – he isn’t possessed of the broadest of ranges, but with his solid upper-register soar and emotional tone, he always had more to offer after leaving his past venture.
With his new cohorts – Polish guitarist Jacob Ziemba seemingly the other main man - I Am I beat a totally different path from the singer’s previous outfit. Not full speed ahead or featuring solo sections that double the length of the songs, they actually fall under that unusual little progressive/power/AOR bracket that became a bit of a mini-trend a couple of years ago and would be right at home on AFM or Frontiers.
Bands in that style took and still take a critical beating, but while ‘Event horizon’ proves more fruitful than the short-lived Ride the Sky or the swerve Power Quest took on ‘Master of illusion’ for example, it nonetheless treads the same boards and goes for a similar juxtaposing mix of juddering, proggy verses and big sugary choruses wrapped up in neat 4-5 minute packages.
Sometimes the stop-start riffing leaves the songs feeling somewhat bitty – trying to take elements of a progressive metal song but applying them to a more traditionally arranged framework can leave something that feels a little abortive – but this is a niggle that comes and goes and more often the songs flow freely and remain of a strong quality.
Admittedly they are mostly very chorus-centric and indeed fairly commercial, Theart seemingly quite content firmly in centre stage rather than waging a battle with 2 showy guitarists for room to express himself, but this proves not to be to the detriment of the CD.
Songs like “Cross the line” and “In the air tonight” are catchy melodic gems, while “Kiss of Judas” is the one to more fully embrace the progressive metal affectations displayed elsewhere, shifting fluidly through a few different passages with departed drummer Paul Clark Jr. getting to strut his stuff a little on the more jagged rhythmic parts.
Ziemba is a relatively versatile player, and his solos and lead parts shift and weave in not entirely predictable ways, adding extra little bits of juice to the songs where something more standard would have sufficed, which should hopefully keep the songs fresh on repeated listens.
If there is a complaint to be made it is that the production is a little too modern, for my tastes at least. Something similar to Helloween’s more recent approach to recording (before the ‘7 sinners’ chunkathon, anyway), it on occasion feels like the slightly muddy rhythm tone is strangling the songs somewhat. A smoother and more traditional recording style may have bumped the final product up a notch, but even allowing for this, ‘Event horizon’ is a rather fine debut from a band both living up to the international pedigree of one member and making a name for the lesser-knowns in the ranks at the same time.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)