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Power metal, nay heavy metal at large, has never been one to shy away from quirky imagery when putting forth their brand of sonic art. One might recall the beloved baby seal gone rogue in Johnny from numerous Riot albums dating back to the late 1970s, or the odd bird mascot that often appeared on Budgie's seminal offerings. Then again, the idea of a superhero ostrich shooting lasers from his eyes would be upping the ante just a tad relative to said random animal symbols, though also one that reveals the method behind the madness of newcomer Swedish act Lancer. In similar fashion to the two aforementioned bands, the arguably ridiculous exterior masks a fairly serious musical affair that any fan of Iron Maiden's substantial early 80s offerings can sink their teeth into without a bad after-taste. Truth be told, this band's self-titled debut could be best understood in a similar context to the early 80s work of Riot, though with a few more recent power metal trappings popping up in an almost anachronistic fashion.
In as far as one might speculate that Lancer's superhuman meets avian album art could be a missing evolutionary link out of a Marvel comic book, so too is this album something of a missing link between the gallop-happy, old school crunch of Iron Maiden's Piece Of Mind and the faster and more humor driven melodic delights of late 80s Helloween. The production quality and instrumentation definitely points to a 1983 take on things, as songs such as "Purple Sky" and "Don't Go Changing" have that sort of iconic Swedish sound with a more cleaned up mix and prominent vocal presence. Although the guitar work is definitely well constructed and busy, these songs tend to be a bit more driven by Isak Stenvall's slightly less abrasive version of Tobias Sammet's vocal style (with a hint of Dickinson). Interestingly enough, when things get a bit more technically ambitious and reminiscent of metal's affinity with 70s progressive rock on "Seventh Angel", the result is something not all that far removed from the Hammond organ steeped majesty of "Tears Of A Mandrake".
It can't really be stressed enough that the slapstick visuals that this band incorporates are wholly ironic when dealing with the actual music, as the lyrical subjects tend to be fairly serious and the songwriting is quite ambitious. The Iron Maiden influences are about as blatant as can be on the haunting, crawling closer turned epic rocker "Between The Devil And The Deep", definitely displaying a mix of Piece Of Mind and Brave New World trappings to boot. The cookers that round out most of the remainder of this album such as "Deja Vu" and "Dreamchasers" present somewhat faster versions of what made Maiden the staple of the NWOBHM in the early 80s, or perhaps a non-keyboard oriented version of what came about in the later 80s when said icons started going a bit faster. In all truth, the only moments where things take on that Hansen/Weikath brand of speedy comedy is "Mr. Starlight", which is still a complement to the album with its flashy riff work and occasional interstellar sound effects, not to mention having a middle solo section right out of "Eagle Fly Free".
Perhaps the best way to look at the super-ostrich mascot is as something of a riddle, and the answer is an album that purposefully uses image-based misdirection to surprise the listener. Then again, it could just be that Stenvall and company have that whole "I'm a rock star, I don't give a crap, so I'm gonna show off my pet ostrich to all of our fans" mentality. Either way, there is a substantial amount of superb musical content to be found on here, one that effectively straddles the influences that first ignited the turn of the millennium power metal revival in Germany and much of the rest of Europe along with the more recent craze with revisiting an earlier and less flamboyant predecessor to said style as exemplified in the likes of Striker and Enforcer. Emphasis should always be on the musical content rather than the flightless birds that initially peak one's curiosity anyway, though for all the complaints about bands not taking themselves seriously enough these days, it is an effective way to grab everyone's attention.
I like ridiculous things, this isn't a secret. I adore the Jackass movies for the sheer absurdist spectacle of them, I've read the entire Achewood archive more often than I'd care to admit, and I'm a giant fan of Dragonforce's Sonic Firestorm and Inhuman Rampage. I like completely surreal and ridiculous shit (with some exceptions, Tim and Eric can fuck right off), and so with that in mind I'd like to introduce you to Swedish power metallers, Lancer. Actually, no, I just want to introduce you to the cover art of their self titled full length. If you gave a third grader mushrooms and asked him "What is the coolest thing?", he'd probably yell some nonsense like "THE OSTRICH FROM JOUST! BUT HE CAN CONTROL THE OCEANS! AND HE HAS MAGIC FEET! AND LASERBEAMS SHOOTING OUT OF HIS EYES!"
Lancer is that third grader and I'm so happy for that. The look of joy on my face upon first seeing that had to be something special. It's so big and stupid, I love it more than my hypothetical first born midget kid (eerily enough, the last time I used that phrase was in a review (for Deathchain) I posted two years ago today, SPOOKY!). If I could just review album art, I'd give this 100% and call it a day. But no, I shan't, I'm'nna hold out and give these Swedish goofballs a fair shake with their music.
Spoiler alert: eh, it's okay. Lancer may have set the expectations a little too high with having such a brilliantly ludicrous album cover, because what's actually inside is far less insane than one would hope. That's not to say it's bad, it most certainly is not, but if you're expecting something lighthearted and over-the-top, this isn't the place to look. Lancer specializes in a fairly typical brand of power metal, sounding a lot like Kiske-era Helloween and Edguy. Really, you know exactly how the album is going to sound after a few minutes into the first track, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're into this kind of thing. The real problem is that they don't make up for their lack of originality by excelling in any other category.
What I mean is that they aren't really faster, more melodic, more soulful, heavier, or catchier than any other average power metal band. They don't have a great vocalist or guitarist or a stunningly good production job or great lyrics or anything like that. There's pretty much nothing to help the band stand out amongst their peers or the entire bloated European power metal scene in general. Luckily, all those qualities I mentioned are at least here, and they're at least good. Isak Stenvall's vocals are pretty good, not soaring or particularly unique, but pretty good. Fredrik Keleman and Peter Ellstrom's two headed guitar attack is pretty good, the melodies aren't terribly individualistic or impressive, but pretty good. Pretty much everything you could say about the album could be summed up as such; nothing even approaching superlative, but pretty good. If there's anything I could say is below "pretty good", it'd be that the production is kind of thin, but that's really about it.
Usually when a band is mediocre across the board, it acts as a big negative in itself (see: Human Filleted), but with Lancer here, it surprisingly isn't. The band and album are very utilitarian, everything does what it needs to do and it does it well, but doesn't do anything to go the extra mile. "Purple Sky" is really catchy and is pretty easily the best track on display, "Mr. Starlight" is probably the fastest song and has a layered chorus that is quite nice, and "Seventh Angel" and "Between the Devil and the Deep" are a little more downtempo, but that's really about all I can pick out after a half dozen or so listens. The choruses are all nice and pleasant, the melodies are all hummable, the drums never get distracting, but other than these things I'm really struggling to come up with anything to say. It's nice and easy and safe that's about all there is to it, it's the musical equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Really all I can say is that Lancer showcases some good, fun, light power metal that's worth a listen or two, and certain tracks will probably stick with you (like "Purple Sky", I really like that one), but that's about all there is to it. It's not boring, so I can give it that much at least, but otherwise there's just not much worth caring all too deeply about. Fans of Keeper of the Seven Keys and such will lap this up, but otherwise eh. The best way I can describe this is to take the bombast of Rhapsody, the grit of Persuader, the energy of Iron Savior, the attitude of Edguy, the grandeur of Blind Guardian, and the charisma of Gamma Ray... and then take all of those things away. There, you have Lancer. Congratulations.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
Enter Swedish power metal band Lancer, quite possibly one of the strongest bands to hit the power metal scene in the past twenty years. They are preparing to launch their self-titled debut album in January 2013. Blending vocal styles reminiscent of Michael Kiske, speed metal guitar work with definite Malmsteen influence, Steve Harris-like bass presence, and strong bolting drums; this is one solid lineup to be taken seriously. Lancer has two releases under its belt, a demo and an EP. Nearly four years in the making, this debut full length album is nothing short of remarkable power metal, and upon first listen I felt like it was some lost 1980’s power metal album that could have only been overshadowed by “Keeper of the Seven Keys”. Complete with an armed battle ostrich, this band is definitely a band to keep an eye out for in the upcoming months.
For a debut full-length album the production quality is nothing short of incredible. Upon further research, it became clear as to why that is. The album was produced by Tommy Reinxeed and Ronny Milianowicz, known for their work with Hammerfall, Timo Tolkki, Wolf, and Michael Kiske himself. Production aside, this album is drenched with revitalizing and true power metal music, including catchy melodies and perfectly layered choruses that lead to countless memorable moments scattered in each and every song.
It’s quite eerie to hear all of the similarities in the album to 80s and 90s era Helloween, Iron Maiden, and Gamma Ray. It would be quite easy to pull moments of each song and compare them to the definite influencing albums and tracks for any well-versed power metaller. The album is full of such epic and classic tone, but still manages to bring nothing but original and fresh music to a weakened power metal scene. This band could definitely be responsible for a world-wide power metal revitalization come 2013. Opening the album is the band’s first single “Purple Sky” that holds a strong chorus with amazing vocal presence by Isak Stevall, and killer guitar work by Frederik Kellemen and Peter Ellström that any speed metal fan would go weak in the knees for. In the second track, “The Exiled” a serious Iron Maiden flashback is present in the bridge, as Isak uses his lower range chanting “Don’t you ever run…” producing an unnerving anticipation for what the rest of the song may bring, and of course it does not disappoint.
“Seventh Angel” brings a keyboard intro into the spotlight, while Isak uses more of a classic heavy metal tone to his voice rather than the higher pitched power metal style. It truly shows off great vocal talent and range as if Bruce Dickenson and Kai Hanson had some miraculous lovechild. The riffs are classic, the bass and drums work well together in a true charging style, complete with down-tempo bluesy guitar solos; this is a fantastic and well written track. Unfortunately, as the album goes on the magic isn’t as strong in the later tracks, so LANCER definitely put their best upfront. “Between the Devil and the Deep” is a great ending to the album, while not as strong as the first half of the album; it has a more melancholy tone to it, bringing the album to a great close making any listener want more.
Lancer is a must have album for any power metal/heavy metal fan, it’s so classic yet fresh, full of hook after hook. This is a strong release, worthy of some serious attention. If I had the ability to see twenty years into the future I can only hope that Lancer will have their own Ed Force One with their battle ostrich painted on it flying around the world to sold out amphitheaters everywhere. The only complaint to be said about the album is there needs to be more music, because I seriously can’t get enough. Buy the record! You won’t regret it!
[Originally written for Metalholic.com]