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After leaving first vocalist Bryan Edwards (currently in Vermiform) Seven Kingdoms took on vocalist Sabrina Valentine and a new direction in the music. Discarding the more thrash inspired riffs and inventive musical elements in exchange for a more straightforward power metal sound, we are given their self-titled effort 'Seven Kingdoms'. Self-titled albums often tell us that the album in question is what the band is all about, so this album is quite a statement. As previously stated 'Seven Kingdoms' takes on a more direct, straightforward power metal sound, with occasional German power metal influences. This album packs some heavy hitters as well as some disappointments, but proves to be an overall positive contribution to the Seven Kingdoms discography.
"Prelude" is a throwaway track of keyboard orchestras which sounds like older World of Warcraft game soundtracks. Luckily the mediocrity is quickly broken by "Somewhere Far Away" which is easily one of the biggest winners on the album. Sabrina quickly helps establish Seven Kingdom's new sound and lets us know she's not only competent but quite good. Her voice does sound operatic and choral sometimes but usually is a more fitting pop and rock style of singing.
The album gallops along fine until "Wolf in Sheep's Clothes" and "A Murder Never Dead", the former having a little too much of an accessible pop sound for my taste (but who am I kidding, the line between power metal and pop can sometimes be a little fuzzy). The only reason I call out "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" is that it sticks out like a sore thumb. And the latter being "A Murder Never Dead" is a repetitious piano ballad with rather uninspired lyrics, an overall boring experience which lends itself to skipping upon every listen.
The album thenceforth is solid, perhaps excluding the chorus of "Thunder of the Hammer" which is a direct rip-off of the Power Rangers theme song (Go go power rangers!). "Eyes to the North" best showcases the wonderful back-and-forth passages between Sabrina and the other death metal vocals. Many have criticized this element of 'Seven Kingdoms' but I stand firm that it's not all that bad and in fact helps emphasize the extremes between the majestic and angry emotions conveyed in the music. The closer on the album features Wade Black who sounds incredibly similar to Tim "Ripper" Owens. A fitting close to an overalll slightly above average album.
'Seven Kingdoms' doesn't tread new ground but it's a solid effort and it's obvious every musician is very capable. Hooks and choruses aplenty, as well as soaring mid-range female vocals. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this album to power metal fans, as their followup 'The Fire is Mine' is slightly better than this album and there's nothing really unique or attention-grabbing here.
Album highlights: "Somewhere Far Beyond", "Into the Darkness", "Seven Kingdoms"
The best way to describe this album is Iced Earth circa 1992 going full-on power metal with female vocals. Take a second to picture Jon Schaffer's GOOD riff ideas set to Imaginations From The Other Side (Blind Guardian) or Power Plant (Gamma Ray). It sounds crazy, but here, it just WORKS. Riffs gallop at a frenetic pace, tastefully done drums (this is more American power metal than Finnish...there's not a lot of gratuitous double bass for the sake of double bass here), and vocalist Sabrina Valentine has an amazing power metal voice. Not the Tarja Turunen or Simone Simons mezzo-soprano style, but more like a female version of Mathias Blad of Falconer...more focus on the lower to mid range, but she can still soar (chorus of Somewhere Far Away, for example). There are keyboards in the mix, but much like Iron Maiden's Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, they serve to be ambiance and fill space in the background, never the focal point.
There isn't a weak moment on this album. Wolf In Sheep's Clothes is a bit more "radio friendly," but is still a killer track. A Murder Never Dead is the obligatory piano ballad, and it works quite well, although its place in the track listing slows down the album (it should be before the epic Seven Kingdoms). And yes, Go Go Power Rangers...err...Thunder Of The Hammer is cheesy as hell, but it's still a fun track in the vein of Breaking The Law or Toxic Waltz.
The rest of the album is one big highlight; mid to up tempo power metal. Somewhere Far Away and Seven Kingdoms bookend the album, and are the best of the best. This is epic metal at its finest.
Power metal, has, to say the least, a limited range of topics they usually talk about. You pretty much know that you're getting a fantasy role about a man, a king, sometimes a dragon, and saving the princess or the kingdom. This is really not that much different, so what makes it so good? Three separate things.
First off, the energy level is amazing. Singer Sabrina Valentine is a perfect complement to the guitars, the bass and the drums, all four of which promote an overwhelming feeling that emanates through the entire album. This doesn't happen much at all with American metal. It's more common with bands like Firewind, Edguy and Stormwarrior, but Seven Kingdoms has taken that feeling and thrown it into an album that sounds amazing. Listen to songs like "Seven Kingdoms", "Eyes To The North" or "Into The Darkness". You know something great's coming and you want to know what it is, so you keep listening throughout the entire album.
Second, the storytelling aspect of this album differs from most other albums. With most power metal albums, you hear the story told from one perspective. However, Seven Kingdoms isn't content to leave that alone. A female lead, a clean male vocal and a harsh male vocal actually provide three different aspects to the story of a kid who was the rightful king and owner of the Seven Kingdoms but was exiled at the age of two and fought his way back to fight the oppressive tyrant who deposed him and claim his position as owner. It is a unique spin on an old favorite.
Third, everything works so well together. Often times a band like this is more concerned with how many beats per minute they can achieve, not so much whether the final product sounds good at all. Seven Kingdoms has managed to capture the speed, the energy and the intensity of European metal and put it in a 56-minute complilation of incredible harmony done in perfect synchronicity. Every member of the band has a distinct talent, none are hidden too deep in the background and you know they play well together.
All in all, although nothing new has been attained by Seven Kingdoms and fans of power metal in general may turn their nose up at this album, anyone with an open mind and heart to hear some extraordinary music done well or who is looking for a band from the U.S. that hasn't completely gone soft in an effort to sell a few albums should check out Seven Kingdoms. I can honestly say this is a breath of fresh air for me and for most people who enjoy metal done right.
I first came across Seven Kingdoms, like more than a few people, when I saw them on the tour posters with Blind Guardian for the latter's US tour. I looked up their albums and did a bit of listening. After a few songs, I concluded that I was pretty interested in seeing them live as well. This didn't properly prepare me for the concert however, which turned me into an avid fan of the band almost overnight.
So I grabbed a copy of the album and sat down for a listen after the concert was over, and I wasn't disappointed in the least. Seven Kingdoms plays a unique blend of female-fronted and fantasy-themed melodic power/death metal that appeals to me pretty strongly. The young band has now released a pair of albums, and this is their first with Sabrina Valentine on vocals. As readers might remember, I expressed my slight misgivings about female-fronted power metal in a previous review. Once again, I am supremely pleased to report that another band and another fine lady have dashed my fears, this time probably once and for all.
Sabrina's voice is clear, strong, and she glides between notes gracefully and with confidence. Not a stratospheric soprano, she keeps her voice in a range that is comfortable and turns out one proficient vocal offering after another. The other vocals on this album are quite harsh, and sound like something straight off of a scathing Scandanavian folk metal album. Mixing this formula with that of highly listenable and catchy power metal, the songs here swing from wonderfully strong accessible tracks like “Somewhere Far Away” and “Into the Darkness” to ferocious battle hymns like “Eyes to the North” and “Thunder of the Hammer”.
From first to last, the dual guitar leads are relentless and obviously extremely talented. This band is not to be undersold in terms of technical skill by anyone. The drummer packs a considerable punch, particularly on the final titular track of the album. The musical lines here have clearly been carefully crafted and composed with passion. More than anything, it is the melody lines (particularly the guitar leads) that carry the sheer energy of this album up the chart and make it a true standout. The fact that they've also got great rhythm and vocal support just puts the icing on the cake. In fact, the only real problem I have personally with this album is the imperfect production.
An album like this makes you wonder why we Americans have to look so far abroad to get our melodic metal fix so much of the time. Here we have an extremely talented and passionate metal band in our own Floridian backyard. If you're a fan of power, folk, or just straight up faithful heavy metal, go look up Seven Kingdoms immediately; they're very competent and enjoyable. This release puts the band on the map, and their next album will be in my hands as soon as possible!
Originally written for www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com