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As anyone who has been following the site for a while can tell you, Kerion has yet to impress me. This band has had numerous self-inflicted problems since the outset, and has been only for the easy-to-impress side of symphonic power metal (which, unfortunately, usually means the femme-metal and fans of stuff like Skylark). Why you ask? Well it’s not really because of how “light” Kerion is, nor because the lead singer is female. There must just be something about the formula that I can’t get my head around.
Upon first listening to CloudRiders Pt. I, I thought for a brief minute that I was going to come around to this band at last. The intro track and “The Map” combine the best part of Kerion’s previous formula, but turn the density and symphonic dials up to 11. There’s narrative, big strings, brass, flutes, and choirs all around, complemented by some good sleek production. Even singer Flora Spinelli is reasonably stomachable here as well, mostly made possible because of some rather ripping guitar work combined with a catchy and well-composed wall of symphonics. However, after the intro riff to “Everlasting Flight”, I knew there was going to be some serious trouble. Any song that starts off with a lyric like “Let me tell you a good story about sci-fi and fantasy” indicates to me that the band either doesn’t actually know what its talking about, or isn’t bothering to make an effort to write reasonable lyrics. There are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to preface the ages old “let me tell you a story…” introduction effectively, but this surely is not one of them.
Also troubling is the shift of focus from the rather good guitar, key, and choral work…and back to Flora. An abominably long and crabby story made nice and short: this girl still cannot sing. Not only does she struggle pathetically to pronounce things coherently in English, but her tone is flat, dead, and emotionless, particularly when she sings in her lower register (this happens a lot). A band putting on a vast and breathtakingly bombastic metal album needs an equally competent singer (Hansi of Blind Guardian, Phillipe D’Orange of Sound Storm, and Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards, to name a few). This has always been my chief complaint with Kerion (except for Holy Creatures Quest: no one in the band knew what they were doing there), and will likely continue to be so.
Otherwise, on the upside, the album does have a number of listenable qualities. Despite the completely inane lyrics (“I’M A BOUNTY HUNTER!”), “Bounty Hunter” is worth a listening for the excellent guest vocals of Raphael Dantas (Caravellus). In a few short minutes, Dantas introduces himself with a whispered snarl, rages malevolently over Kerion’s solid background (and boy can he ever scream), and throws the whole song over his shoulder on his way out. Additionally, the choral arrangements (courtesy once again, I believe, of the talented Philippe Giordana of Fairyland/Magic Kingdom) are often the vocal highlight, despite perhaps being a bit overused. Lastly, “Tribal Vibes” is quite an odd song out, losing some of the density of other tracks to be replaced with some interesting flute, percussion, and tribal chant-like vocals. Points for experimentation here, but other than the introduction, it isn’t very gripping.
There are a few other places where the album falls short as well. With a title like “Fireblast”, one would expect a powerful and explosive track. However, not only is the guitar a bit subdued (and not nearly heavy enough), and the vocals carried somewhat feebly by Flora, but it is here that the album begins to sound redundant to me. We’ve established that the band is using its keys, strings, and choirs effectively- but that doesn’t mean you should never deviate. “Fireblast” and several later songs see the band sticking a bit too closely to the neo-classical “symphonic” approach without varying much of anything else. This ends up sounding like say, a poorer version of Fairyland’s debut album. Even songs like “Never More” that start with superb riffing wind up inevitably with the band’s trademark: A verse featuring Flora’s dead low/midrange vocals and supported by nothing more than bass and drums. I can’t stress how much this destroys the great energy of even the most screaming opening lead, and Kerion has a singular knack for shooting themselves in the collective foot.
Now that I’ve started, there’s so much more for me to complain about. The ballad isn’t interesting, the band’s attempt at a large, multi-part concept song isn’t as clever or successful as they’d like to think, and despite some very good dramatic metal near the end of the album (including some rarely good high-register work by Flora and a second round of Raphael Dantas), I’m rarely going to make it this deep into the recording. Similar to my comments on the band’s second album, The Origins, Kerion has improved in most ways except one: they keep writing their music for and around a nearly one-dimensional lead singer with poor diction and no emotional dynamic (only volume and pitch knobs). Recommended absolutely for fans of previous Kerion, Skylark, and other mediocre power metal, and with reservation to those interested in hearing an orchestral concept album: there is some good material here, but it requires a lot of sifting and skipping.
Original review written for Black Wind Metal
They say that 3 times is the charm, and boy did it come as a shocker in spite of it being such a long held cliche, insofar as Kerion is concerned. This is basically a band that has prided itself on borrowing most of its ideas from established female fronted power metal acts in Dark Moor, Hamka and Fairyland (the debut album in the case of the latter), and has consistently fallen short of their forefathers. But somewhere after the release of "Origins" and the growing trend of thrash, folk and power metal bands embracing the pirate craze originally pioneered by Running Wild, Kerion seems to have come to an epiphany of sorts. After all, if we can have pirates thrashing up the seas with a slight NYHC edge to it (Swashbuckle) and pirates traveling back in time and pummeling Vikings with their superior weapons technology (Alestorm), why not have pirates manning flying ships?
Regardless of how campy the concept sounds, "CloudRiders Part 1: Road To Skycity" proves to be a formidable blend of classic Rhapsody Of Fire branded symphonic power with a side order of folksy, Celtic themed elements right out of the Elvenking formula. In stark contrast to everything that this band has put out before, the lion's share of the songs that emerge from the cloud shrouded horizon is not only mercilessly catchy, but also fresh and hard-hitting. Literally within a few seconds of the epic overture "Rider's Theme (Intro)" one can't help but be transferred back to the majestic landscapes depicted in "Legendary Tales" and "The Hall Of Olden Dreams", though when accounting for the clarity of the production and the powerful combination of guitar crunch and thundering drums, the most logical comparison would be that of "Of Wars In Osyrhia". The comparison definitely makes sense considering that the same man who put together the male choruses on said album (Philippe Giordana) has offered his background vocal services on every single Kerion release, though this one sees them being exploited to their maximum potential.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this album is the near complete turnaround in the vocal persona of Flora Spinelli, who has literally gone from a 3rd rate female lead vocalist with one of the most anti-climactic voices in the scene to a much stronger version of the milder version of Elise Martin that she's been going for since 2007. Her range and vocal character isn't quite flamboyant and operatic enough to truly rival a lot of the established names in this business such as Floor Jansen and Simone Simmons, but she definitely holds her own on both catchy speeders like "Everlasting Flight" and the more exposed balladry of "The Ocean Is My Sky" and "Celticia's Song", both of which also showcase better songwriting as the jazzy interludes have been traded out for a smattering of folksy and neo-classical elements which suit the rest of the musical content on here far better.
Though the ideas that pour forth from this French outfit's arsenal are not terribly original and would have sounded appropriate as far back as 12 years ago, this album does not listen like just another generic outfit trying to stand on the shoulders of French and Italian giants, but a band that is looking to play on equal terms with the big names. When hearing the menacing grooves of "Bounty Hunter" (complete with a nastier sounding male vocal slot to spice things up a bit), the effective yet mildly quirky mishmash of world music ideas on "Tribal Vibes" (definitely taking some ideas from Hamka on this one), and the straight up majestic speed and brilliance of "Fireblast" and "Never More" (both of these could have been b-sides off the first Fairyland album), one is instantly swept away to another world where 18th century styled wooden ships ride the clouds with 3 sheets to the wind.
No, there is scarcely an original element to be found on this album, and frankly it doesn't need any for the sheer quality of every derivative element employed. "Road To Skycity" marks the beginning of a hopefully long-lasting series that will find Kerion exploiting the same stylistic niche, because this sound really works well for them. Likewise, the superior production job and the resulting bombastic symphonic sound really helps to push this thing over the top, which is a bit surprising given that there isn't a terribly long history of production work behind the name of Will Lievin apart from an album by a blackened death/thrash outfit called Sideblast. If kick ass power metal from 2012 is on the menu, this album has proven to be one of the regular soup de jour entrees, and hopefully there will be more to come down the road.