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There are very few bands that can transition out of one great formula and reinvent themselves. Usually the changes that are brought to the table are too extreme for the audience to accept, be it completely switching genres, or adding something to the character of that already established style that is extremely noticeable. Narnia’s “Enter the Gate”, the latest album and first release by the band in a 3 year period, mostly resembles a variation in style than an all out switch in the genre paradigm, but the changes are very much noticeable if you’ve heard any or all of their previous works.
Much like with all of their works, comparisons to Yngwie Malmsteen are inevitable, although for a different reason this time. While previous works mostly resembled the high period of Rising Force’s tenure of the mid to late 1980s, this album resembles the reinvention that took place on “Facing the Animal”. In Narnia’s case, this involves augmenting their extremely catchy brand of melodic power metal with a much heavier execution. Unlike in Yngwie’s case, the band hasn’t really sacrificed the speed factor to achieve this, but have definitely introduced a lower end riff approach that occasionally invokes similar ideas to what is encountered on Black Sabbath’s “Dehumanizer” and Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell”.
The greater level of aggression isn’t limited to the guitars either, but is also heavily present in Christian Rivel’s vocal delivery. Previous releases recall a singer that was so squeaky clean and restrained that you’d have thought that he was recruited straight from a Lutheran church choir. Here something with the attitude level and the rough edges of an Oliver Hartmann or a Mats Leven is what you get. At times on “Another World” he gets so into it that towards the end of the song he even starts to sound like Jonny Lindqvist did on “Afterlife”. Another vocal highlight occurs throughout “In my life”, where you can’t help but wonder if it’s Russell Allen doing a non-credited guest appearance.
The overall song collection is pretty well varied, as the band has successfully maintained enough of the character of their original sound to culture the newer changes from completely stylizing the album. “People of the Blood Red Cross” is the closest thing to the older brand of speed metal that occupied “Awakening” and “Long Live the King”. It dazzles the ears with its utter simplicity, and contains the bulk of its power within an extremely memorable chorus. Others like “Another World” and “This is my life” mix elements of this older speed metal style with heavier riff work and a much denser sound. “Into the Game” listens more like traditional doom in the Sabbath vain, with a start up riff that rivals “Zero the Hero” in sheer punch and staying power. Throughout all of these songs, there is a sort of line between the heavier groove sound and the keyboard heavy atmosphere that is walked perfectly.
One thing that can be said for this band is that if you like any of their albums, you’ll basically like them all. They all share a common melodic and guitar driven consistency that any fan of 80s shred, late 90s power metal, and progressive rock can grab onto. This is a heavier version of that same sound that will likely have broader appeal than the first two albums, which would mostly be appealing to 80s Yngwie enthusiasts and Freedom Call fans. Still, the first two albums had such an impressive combination of lead guitar intrigue and great songwriting that I’m still partial to them.