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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/)