without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Italian power metal bands are a dime a dozen and getting cheaper it seems. I'm no geographical expert on metal bands, but new power metal groups from Italy seem to sprout up every time a member of Rhapsody of Fire takes a dump. They all seem to hold a reputation of being lackluster and inadequate, barring a few examples such as Rhapsody of Fire and a limited selection of others. Lunar Explosion is another one of these groups attempting to slay the proverbial dragon and shine some light on a scene that is otherwise pretty dire and cluttered. Their self-titled debut is a little better than some of the turds I've come into contact with over the years, but often mired by many of the same inconsistencies and woes plaguing several of their cohorts. Typically more of the same despite the infrequent flare of brilliance.
Lunar Explosion's style is a bit more combustible and punchy than the fluffy, keyboard-orientated approach used by many of their kind. However, the band's efforts often reek of amateurism and underdeveloped ideas that retrace the same patterns over and over again. The riffs remind me of Gamma Ray and other riff-based, heavier power metal factions, which may sound impressive, but they really aren't that noteworthy overall. The guitar work is simply rudimentary and basic, like cookie-cutter Gamma Ray instrumentation stirred into light cuts of fourth-rate Maiden traits. On the bright side, there are many excellent guitar solos constantly soaring throughout the record like an unchained eagle, and it's really a sight to behold—the dazzling leads color up an otherwise tiring experience.
They do seem to rely heavily on constantly drowning the listener in solos, however, which is a bit of a ruse considering how predictable and vapid most of the album is beyond the flash and flare. But come on, you know the drill: this is just lame power metal. They run through the motions of a Gamma Ray-esque tribe and deliver songs that sound more like musical recipes for making fruit cake than actual anthems. The vocals? Dreadful, honestly. Lunar Explosion's singer sounds fine during the album's easier moments, but this guy's tone goes off like a Geiger counter in Hiroshima whenever he attempts hitting higher notes or moving beyond his vocal sanctuary. Listen to "When the Sun No Longer Shines" and prepare to cringe. No, that's not a nail slowly scratching a chalkboard, believe it or not.
Well, he’s not that bad, but yeah, no me gusta. The one thing that the dudes of Lunar Explosion have going for them is their passion. Unlike so many groups from this region, they are overflowing with an energy that is simply overbearing. Far from cheesy or falsely passionate; they sound ravenous and eager to prove themselves. Then again, Rudy was far from being Notre Dame's star player even though he was a dedicated, hungry dude striving for greatness. I suppose it's much better to be on this side of the coin than to be utterly unenthusiastic or pointlessly challenging. Lunar Explosion's efforts are mundane, but based on the zeal, I hope they work out the kinks and give it another go, I really do.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Expectations play an occasionally unfair role in allowing a band to either sink or swim, and the expectations of an Italian power metal band is to be as pretty and operatically influenced a nod to Helloween as humanly possible. Lunar Explosion don't fit the stereotype, hence there is automatically a sense of disappointment despite the band still only having a self-titled debut to their name, but this alone doesn't account for the sense of lacking that permeates this power metal excursion. As best as can be explained, this band resides somewhere between an older power/progressive mode normally reserved to the likes of Secret Sphere during the 2000s and an old school USPM band after the mold of Crimson Glory. Neither side of their respective spectrum really has an opportunity to shine, largely for reasons apart from the musicians in congress, whom individually do a commendable job.
For the most part, the songwriting on here manages to avoid coming off as overly contrived or pointlessly meandering, but for some reason it doesn't quite hit that essential cadence needed to make it as triumphant as the imagery featured on the cover. "Butterfly Effect" comes the closest to really hitting pay dirt, featuring a riff set reminiscent of Steel Prophet with maybe a hint of early Hammerfall in the melodic contour of the fanfare chorus section. Vocalist Raffaele Smaldone does a solid job at emulating that early 90s Ray Adler sound with a strong Rick Mythiasin tinge that has been similarly accomplished with more of a princely character by Rob Tyrant and Roberto Messina, and contrary to prevailing opinions, never comes off as flat or weak. "Karnak" plays up a bit more of a progressive angle with a riff set reminiscent of Pagan's Mind and loaded up with flashy solos. Come to think of it, apart from the disastrous interlude into modern pop/rock balladry that is "When The Sun No Longer Shines", this entire album fares quite song for song.
However, what this album manages to pull off nicely in all relevant respects is heavily hindered by an extremely mechanical sounding and poorly layered production job. The drum work sounds, at best, like a mid-grade drum machine with very little depth or sustain, whereas the guitars come off as a bit light and hard rocking in character rather a than pounding the goblet of metal into the stone table like a Viking sort of sound required for a USPM endeavor. The only thing on here that really manages to do just to the obvious talent of the musicians tracking out all the parts is the vocals, which while occasionally getting a little heavy on the reverb, manage to have a sense of shape and definition. This proves to be a consistent problem throughout the album, though it is at its absolute worst during the token ballad "When The Sun No Longer Shines" and what immediately follows the organ intro on "King Of Judea", where the flaws in the miking of the instruments are put up against a superior keyboard patch, resulting in a really jolting switch in sound quality that sticks out like a massive blemish on an otherwise perfect patch of skin.
If this album were ever to be re-recorded and given a mix somewhere along the lines of what "Book Of The Dead" sounded like (this album heavily resembles said album), it would be of the same overall caliber and would stand tall in a fairly limited field of Italian power metal bands that don't take their cues directly from either Rhapsody Of Fire or the overtly old school power/thrash character of Arthemis. This is a band that has a lot of potential that will hopefully be realized on any subsequent album releases, though given that their name implies a heavy amount of Sci-Fi orientation and very little of that translates through in their present format, they might want to play up the keyboard factor a bit more as well, if only for a few occasional gimmicks to accent their already distinctive approach.
Lunar Explosion is a five piece power metal act hailing from Italy that was formed in 2010. 2011 saw the band release their debut demo, the strangely titled “Beyond the Demo… 2011”. You would think that the band has some type of obsession with the cosmos and deep space sci-fi movies, as their spacey logo and artwork depict, but, surprisingly, the lyrical subject matter is more geared towards philosophical, real world issues. In November of 2013, Lunar Explosion returned to release their debut full length album, the eponymously titled “Lunar Explosion” through the Italian progressive power label Scarlet Records.
The band’s sound can be likened to a more progressive form of German power metal with neoclassical touches. I know that sounds like a mouthful, but the band manages to make it work. Imagine the straight forward frolicking power metal tendencies of early Gamma Ray and Helloween (I’m talking the “Keeper” duology kind of stuff here) mixed with near nonstop neoclassical lead guitar lines inspired by furious fretwork of Malmsteen and the progressive yet firmly-rooted-in-the-ground tendencies of early Labyrinth. It’s basically standard power metal, of the Euro variety, with nonstop lead guitar runs and a slightly progressive edge. The production is rather weak, which is surprising given the caliber of albums Scarlet Records has released in their history. The rhythm guitars are flaccid: yes, even with all the throwback sounds of early German power metal, the rhythm guitar sounds like a limp noodle, as there is absolutely no force behind the riffs. The drums are rather flat and sound mechanical, almost to the point of sounding like a drum machine at times. Not all is lost though, as the drums do hold some enjoyable double kick patterns and the lead guitar lines try to make up for the weak rhythm guitars.
While the music is enjoyable, there’s a rather amateur feel about the entire album. The crippled rhythm guitars and mechanical drum sound don’t help matters, but perhaps the worst offender in this department is the vocals. You have to at least give the vocalist, Raffaele Smaldone, points for enthusiasm, as he wails away for the album’s forty-nine minute run time. Unfortunately, enthusiasm can only get you so far. There are some solid vocal hooks during tracks like “Karnak” which call to mind the utter brilliance of Black Majesty, but, sadly, they aren't the majority. For the most part, Smaldone attempts a higher register of vocals, sounding like a less polished Michael Kiske crossed with dashes of Bruce Dickinson's highs and the inflection of early Geoff Tate (back when he wasn't a flaming douche bag, at least). It sounds great in theory, but he never really hits his stride, as the higher register vocals fall flat because, frankly, the lack any power and tend to waver. The album's token ballad, “When the Sun No Longer Shines”, clearly shows the weakness in his voice: when he's only backed by acoustic guitars his approach is pitchy and all over the place.
Attempting to resurrect the band from the pits of the garbage heap, the lead guitars showcase what is clearly the highlight of the album. I know that near-constant neoclassical fretboard soloing is an acquired taste, but I like it. There are times when the guitar licks start to cave in, and it's usually when the rest of the band bogs down or hits a rocky rhythm. Mostly the lead guitar lines are well thought out and add a nice progressive yet 80's Malmsteen flair to the tracks. While the lead guitar has a more solid sound than the rhythm guitars, drums or vocals, it's still rather lacking. There could be so much more force on the guitar solos.
I'm not sure if this is how the band wanted their album to sound or if this is some type of production error. The rhythm guitars and drums lack power and drive. Perhaps some vocal lessons could be in order for the vocalist. The lead guitars could also use some more force. There are some great ideas and really like what Lunar Explosion is trying to do here but their debut album is not the vehicle they are going to drive to power metal stardom. With better production and more power (and to mention again better vocals) Lunar Explosion could be a solid act, but it stands this is an average debut from a band that managed to ink a deal with a relatively big label. Neoclassical progressive power metal from Italy. You could do much worse than Lunar Explosion, but they could definitely do better...
Written for The Metal Observer:
If Lunar Explosion have anything going for itself, it’s heart. Which is just about the only thing I can really say about this release. Repeated spins have consistently left me cold, despite the band’s obvious fervor and spark for their genre. What’s most surprising is their place in the Scarlet Records roster, as the production is decidedly rough around the edges, with a distinct synthetic feel.
Hailing from Italy, I was expecting fare typical of the regional style, you know; sugary keyboards, speedy guitars and drums, maybe even a Fabio Lione guest spot. What Lunar Explosion present on their eponymous debut is a sound more akin to that of German power metal in its most accessible, standard form. Of course there are still some faster, double kicked elements typical of the Italian school, but the focus certainly leans further towards an atypical, meat and potatoes approach, as opposed to shooting for the stratosphere.
As I said in opening, Lunar Explosion certainly plays with fervor, and if the material was stronger the performances would likely come off as more endearing. The weakest link is, sadly, Raffaele Smaldone’s vocals. His tone is a little flat, and a lot of the vocal lines are a little off pitch which, when coupled with the fact the vocal lines aren’t all that exciting to begin with, makes for a relatively dull listening experience. There aren’t really any bells, whistles, or thrilling moments to help draw the listener in for repeated spins either. Although I guess “From Beyond” stands out amongst the other songs thanks to some nice riffs.
With a lot in the way of excellent power metal available in 2013, I feel Lunar Explosion will get lost amongst the shuffle. There’s only so far energy and flair can take a band if they don’t have the chops or songwriting skills to back it up then they’re going to fall flat. This isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination, but if Lunar Explosion is going to want to stand out amongst the crowd, then I’d suggest they hone their skills into writing stronger songs – the aforementioned “From Beyond” would be a good jumping off point. It’s crazy that a sound which, on the surface, is so accessible leaves little in the way of a lasting impression. Average at best.
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com