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One Foot Forward - 78%

Altair 4, November 8th, 2013

Seven Kingdoms have recently made great strides in the underground metal scene by touring with Blind Guardian as well as Stratovarius. Any who are reading this review surely need no introduction to the band. They're known for their female vocalist Sabrina Valentine, guitarist Camden Cruz, and epic power metal choruses. Their latest release 'The Fire is Mine' improves where their second self-titled album faltered and solidifies much of what the band has been cultivating up to this point. This is, however, far from a perfect release. The best way I can describe it is one foot forward, one foot planted behind. I'll elaborate.

Between the self-titled album and this one there seems to be a formula which is followed rigidly: One useless intro, one extremely boring and ineffective ballad, and one larger than life epic which drags on a bit too long. The songs obviously to which I refer are "Prelude"/"Beyond the Wall", "A Murder Never Dead"/"Kardia", and "Seven Kingdoms"/"The King in the North". Surely there's nothing wrong with formula, but with this particular instance it provides for a somewhat predictable listening experience (especially for someone familiar with their self-titled release).

This isn't to say the album is bad, far from it in fact. At least half the songs on this record are winning material. "After the Fall", "Flame of Olympus", and "Symphony of Stars" are easily among the cream of the crop in this album. Your standard power metal fare with dueling guitar solos and harmonies, relentless drums, and thundering bass, and just enough keyboards to provide atmosphere, but not overwhelm. The guitar tones in particular are quite enjoyable, very crunchy yet crisp and clear. It's thoroughly well produced, but what would you expect with an album recorded at the venerable Morrisound Studios (Florida)?

The weak spots on the album aren't numerous, but they do stand out. The aforementioned disposable intro "Beyond the Wall" is a soundscape which contributes nothing except time to the album. This might not be the case for diehard George RR Martin fans, as (correct me if I'm wrong) this is an intro to a song about Bran Stark. Secondly, Seven Kingdoms didn't learn from "A Murder Never Dead", a song off their self-titled album which is repetitive and boring. That being said, "Kardia" is another downer for this album's pacing and overall quality. This song is more graceful than "A Murder Never Dead", with it's beautiful acoustic guitars, but it still falls victim to repetitive structure with almost no variation and uninspired, uncreative lyrics. I KNOW Seven Kingdoms can write better than this, and it's frustrating to see them write two snooze-fest ballads in a row.

"Forever Brave" sports a chorus which starts out like Gamma Ray's "Heaven or Hell". No power metal band can avoid sounding like Gamma Ray forever, but when the two aforementioned choruses have the same line "where do we go from here?" eyebrows raise a little. Luckily, this doesn't sound like plagiarism at all, most likely coincidence meeting praise. Not a criticism, just something I felt should be pointed out--nowhere near as bad as the "go go Power Rangers!" chorus from 'Seven Kingdoms' haha.

Thankfully, the album picks it's pace back up after the disastrous "Kardia" with "Fragile Minds Collapse". This is a fantastic song which showcases the more aggressive side of Seven Kingdoms.

As the album draws to a close we are immersed into "A Debt Paid in Steel" & "The King in the North". One could compare "A Debt Paid in Steel" to Blind Guardian's "War of Wrath", but the difference in quality between the two is stark (Rob Stark, heh, pun?). The voice acting is rigid and unconvincing, a great effort, but nowhere near as immersive and convincing as "War of Wrath". We're then tossed into the methodical, thumping closer "The King in the North". This song is seemingly a logical closer, it's softer passages midway through the song are majestic and touching. Despite how good of a song this is, it doesn't provide a satisfying end to the album.

Overall this is a solid release and I would recommend it to anyone familiar with the band or power metal in general. The guitar work in general would make this worth it, but as a band I feel they can still do much better. Let's keep our fingers crossed for album #4.