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As a big fan of power metal, I can say with all honesty that it is not very common for a power metal album to pump me up and/or blow my mind. Being a fan of an overly saturated style like power metal, one has to be critical of what one listens and wait for those big albums that make you believe in the sub-genre again. The good thing of over-saturation is that it makes it the more special when something really great comes out.
Seven Kingdoms is a band I have followed for a couple of years now. When I first heard their debut, I was a little confused. I didn't know how to categorize what I was hearing. However, the more I listened to it, the more I felt that trying to categorize things is very limiting in any art form. I grew to love that album and eagerly wait for a second release. Their self titled second album saw a change in the band, most notably on the vocal department (hiring the enchanting sounds of Sabrina Valentine). For the most part, the play between power and thrash was receding, and a more straight power metal sound was building. While a good album, it lacked what made the first one special and different, but at the same time had the potential to take the band in a more concrete direction.
And that is what we finally have here. While I certainly miss that many elements of the first album were not further explored, this does not mean the band has taken a “safe route” with The Fire Is Mine; it just means that the band has found a sound they are comfortable in and that best transmits their talents, from composition to song writing. This third offering by Seven Kingdoms is their most consistent release, and one of the most fun to listen to (probably after the debut).
So what makes this album great? First of all, it needs to be said: every band member is in top shape in this release. The riffing is top notch, the vocalist sounds better than ever, the drumming is unbelievable, and the bass puts it all together in a way that delivers a very professional sounding album. Every instrument has moments to shine in different parts of the album. In this regard, while Sabrina's voice is excellent, she doesn't “go all out” as the other instruments do sometimes. Her approach is well done and tight, but doesn't take much chances. While a valid technical criticism, this does nothing to hinder the experience.
Secondly, the songs themselves are fun to listen to and sing along. While they don't play too much with structure (which anyway doesn't happen often in most power metal), songs don't get boring at all. No song overstays its welcome. While structures are not really complex, they do try to do fun things with them, sometimes breaking a verse so the guitar can go crazy. Once or twice the second verse sounds slightly different than the first, maybe a different tempo, a new riff added in, etc. This reminds me a lot of a band that definitely inspires Seven Kingdoms and that is a pioneer of power metal (and one of my all time favorites): Blind Guardian.
Like Blind Guardian and many others, their lyrical inspiration comes from mythology, movies and speculative fiction (whether sci-fi or fantasy/sword and sorcery). If one is a geek, like me, this is pretty obvious from the band's own name: Seven Kingdoms is the protagonist realm of George R.R. Martin's beloved series, Song of Ice and Fire (turned into a recent HBO series called Game Of Thrones.) The band's first album mostly dealt with characters and events from those books, while that was mostly absent in the second album. Here, we get three songs based on Song of Ice and Fire: the opener After the Fall, the titular The Fire Is Mine and the epic closing song, The King In The North.
Something that impressed me about this release is how the lyrics are done in such a way as to transport you to whatever world they want. Sure, this can be a totally subjective appreciation, but much like Blind Guardian, Iced Earth and Iron Maiden, the songwriting has the ability to make you live the story again. Examples of this from those bands are Nightfall in Middle Earth, Horror Show and pretty much every Maiden song, respectively. I think it is worth praise when you can have that effect by re-telling a story through music. The pacing, the rhymes, the music itself...it was really well done.
Other song themes are Prometheus (Flame of Olympus), the video game Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (which I admit gave me a nerdgasm when I heard the song based on it, In the Twisted Twilight), and the movie Kardia. The first two songs I mentioned are great power metal songs, great to sing to, with great instrumental parts and vibrant, energetic solos. It can't be overstated that the solos on this album are awesome. They don't get old and are technically tight.
Kardia is the “ballad” of the album. Like most metal releases, all Seven Kingdoms albums have a “ballad”, which just means a slow and very emotional song (since they are really not ballads at all). Unlike the first album's ballad, the ballad on the second album and in The Fire Is Mine are very slow affairs, most of them consisting of a single instrument and the vocals. Kardia is a nice song that doesn't really break the pace, and I think it manages to fit in. It's possible it doesn't for its own merits, but because one is just used to expecting a ballad. I do have to say that the last chorus of the song, when it breaks into heavy guitars and drums, adds so little musically, that it could have been removed. The whole song is acoustic except for the last chorus: even the solo is acoustic. The change at the end doesn't sound bad; but maybe it would have made it more special and unique all acoustic.
As for songs I didn't like, the only one would be Forever Brave. While I don't hate it and grew to like it after giving it a chance, it is not at the same level as the rest of the album. The modern and “nu-metal” influences on it drew me away, although I have learned to tolerate it and I don't skip it anymore. As for the subject, it is probably the political song on the album, dealing with themes like civil unrest and the desire for things to change. Not a bad subject at all, but the song itself just didn't do it for me. However, since I have listened to the rest of the album so much out of pure enjoyment, this song does not affect the score.
As for a song I absolutely love and have to mention, it is the closing song The King In The North. Every Seven Kingdoms album closes with a great, epic song and this one didn't disappoint. While not as layered and/or technically interesting as Winter Comes from the debut, or Seven Kingdoms from the self titled second album, the opening riff just pumps you up and definitely hearkens back to the classic power/thrash Seven Kingdoms sound. The pre-chorus is haunting and the chorus is a sing along with Valentine screaming the words (while not straining her voice) with the usual power metal deep, male backing vocals. The bridge is sad and emotional (like the subject of the song, which can be a spoiler for some Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones fans, but definitely not a reason to not listen to it), and while the instrumental part is fast riffage and double pedals at their best, it could have lasted longer. It definitely would not have hurt.
So, the conclusion is that we have here an album with songs you will want to listen to over and over, a power metal album that definitely stands out from the rest. It is power metal done by the book, but damn good one at that. It doesn't redefine the genre...but do we really want to redefine it? Just give me good, strong and memorable power metal and I'm as happy as a happy metalhead can be.
Favorite songs: After the Fall, Symphony Of Stars, The Fire Is Mine, In The Twisted Twilight and The King In The North.
Honorable mentions: Fragile Minds Collapse.
This album was reviewed in the Spanish speaking heavy metal culture show, Metalurgia, via Radio Huelga (radiohuelga.com), an alternative, voluntary and free programming and news network by students from the University of Puerto Rico. For more reviews, social and political debates (from and by metalheads) and metal news, go to Metalurgia – Radio Huelga on Facebook (both as a group and a fan page.)