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It may not be their best album or even my personal favorite of theirs, but I've always had a bit of a soft spot for this 2005 effort. It was the first album that I bought of theirs after hearing a song or two off their MySpace and one that still holds up as the band's sound continues to evolve. Like the "Roses On White Lace" EP before it, it is also noteworthy for the energy that is on display and the numerous nods to the older ways of metal.
Musically, this album features many of the elements that had appeared on "Roses On White Lace." The guitar riffs are executed in the vein of Iron Maiden and early Ozzy Osbourne (The latter being evident on the cover of "SATO"), the vocals are performed in the signature nasally wail, the bass stands out on many occasions, and the lyrics continue with the band's love for high fantasy. However, there are several stylistic changes brought in as well. The production seems to have moved forward from the raw sound of the EP, a few slower tempos are introduced, and an almost epic feel becomes a little more apparent.
The songs are all pretty solid and all manage to sound distinct. You've got a few more upbeat tracks ("Storming the Castle," "Capture the Magic," "Forevermore"), mid-tempo rockers ("Soothsayer," "Nemeton Forest," "Awaking the Mountain Giants"), and a few back-to-back complex numbers ("The Ghost of Xavior Holmes," "Darklands"). "Xavior Holmes" and "Darklands" are definitely my favorite tracks of the lot though I also like "Storming the Castle" in particular for its energy. In contrast, "Nemeton Forest" and "Awaking the Mountain Giants" did take a few listens to really get my head around them...
The album is also worth noting for the guests that manage to show up on here. Frank Aresti of Fates Warning provides a particularly ripping solo on "Xavior Holmes" and Dokken/Lynch Mob guitarist George Lynch plays the lead guitar parts on "SATO." The latter is another great cover and manages to do the original song a good degree of justice.
The lyrics are also pretty intriguing and may be some of the band's most fantasy oriented to date. A great deal of subjects are references with many themes relating to history ("Storming the Castle," "Forevermore," "Xavior Holmes"), mysticism ("Soothsayer," "Darklands," "Nemeton Forest," "Awaking the Mountain Giants"), and general escapism with the title track. "Darklands" may feature the most memorable lyrics on the album; for some reason, it just reminds me of a more serious take on Iron Maiden's "Quest For Fire." Now that'd make an interesting cover...
All in all, this is a pretty good album though not of the band's strongest. I'd recommend looking into "Songs For the Lost" as a first purchase if you're curious about the band.
1) Improved production
2) Good expansion of the debut
3) Great guitar playing
1) Vocals may still turn people off
2) May be too slow or not aggressive enough for some
3) Slightly cheesy
My Current Favorites:
"Storming the Castle," "Capture the Magic," "The Ghost of Xavior Holmes," "Darklands," and "SATO"