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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.