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First of all, I'm not sure why this band has such a complicated genre designation on here. Is you actually want power/prog/melodeath, you may want to stop reading about this band and go check out Dark Empire. Skyfire is pretty much standard melodic death metal, except with keyboards. That doesn't make them power/prog (anymore than it does Soilwork), but it is what sets this apart from most generic run-of-the-mill melodeath. I also feel like this album is their best, because they make much better use of the keyboards than they have on any of the previous albums. All the previous albums from this band have higher reviews on here, but honestly I couldn't get into them. I feel like those are much more generic and boring. This album has its flaws, but I feel like it's much more creative, memorable, and just stands out from the crowd more.
Perhaps the greatest strength of this album, like I said, is the keyboards. The intro to the album is a nice orchestral piece that sets the tone rather well, and the next two songs album start out with very interesting keyboard-based melodies. The fast parts on this album are also really solid and get you banging your head. It's not that the riffs are anything amazing, but the guitarists too a good job with fast, thrashy riffs in the verse, and melodic ones in other parts. The drummer can lay down some rather fast blast beats and double bass, and the keyboard often add another interesting element. (I don't think I ever noticed the bassist.)
However, the first few songs also show the greatest weakness of this album. The choruses can be rather weak and annoying. It's like the band was trying too hard to write catchy choruses or something. Soilwork used to be able to write some pretty damn good catchy choruses IMO, playing music like this. But on this album, a lot of Skyfire's choruses just sound poppy and annoying. They don't even use clean vocals, it's all a mid-range growl, there's just something wimpy and annoying about these parts. They're pretty much the main reason for the point deductions. Fortunately, these parts are mostly just in the first few songs, and don't really pop up later in the album.
Overall, this album is rather solid. I've listened to it numerous times now, and it hasn't gotten old yet. Aside from the occasional wince at the aforementioned choruses, I enjoy this album start to finish. It's hard to pick standout tracks, because there are really no bad ones. I will mention the song "Seclusion" though, because it's a bit different from the rest. It's faster overall, has more orchestral stuff going on, and really breaks up the pace from the rest of the album.
If you want some melodeath that's a bit different from what you've gotten used to hearing for the last decade or more, check out this album. Also, if you're going to check out Skyfire at all, this specific album should be the one you get.
I've held off nearly two years on reviewing this album, mainly because I was markedly underwhelmed by it at first. As a rule, I prefer Skyfire's first album "Timeless Departure" over the rest of their discography, but nonetheless respect these guys as a cohesive, ever-evolving unit. Not two of their releases sound alike, they are always pushing the boundaries. Stagnation has no home here.
Which is why I decided to leave "Esoteric" in my car's CD player, and basically used it as the soundtrack of my life for the last two months; the consummate assessment. Over time I have grown to appreciate the maturity the songwriting exudes, and the new-found complexity to some of these epic tracks. Obviously "Esoteric" shares the most in common with "Spectral", but the latter followed fairly based formulae regarding song structure. Here we have anthems like "Misery's Supremacy" and the experimental "Darkness Descending", both of which twist and evolve their way to become two of the best tracks the band has ever released.
The flaw that initially made me uneasy was the way the album begins. We have an epic, if not run-of-the-mill orchestral intro, which builds up to the slow beginning of "Esoteric". I just don't agree with the track placement here. The self-titled track is the most straightforward cut on the album, probably the best example to show a newcomer what "Esoteric" is all about; concise and to the point.
Brainchilds Edlund and Hanner continue their dual guitar-keyboard assault; however while as usual with Skyfire, the keyboards are obviously programmed. The keys take a more reserved role here, adding welcomed atmosphere in just the right places. "Seclusion", however, is a real throwback to their first album, brimming with classical melodies and chest-pounding string sections. Johan Reinholdz (Andromeda) brings a swagger and repletion with his guitar input never before seen by Skyfire fans. Some great solos and intoxicating riffs lurk within "Esoteric".
The departure of vocalist Henrik Wenngren was of much concern, but Joakim Karlsson proves to be an apt suitor. He boasts a superior range and fits the music here quite well. I don't think a better replacement was possible. Kudos to the band for taking their time whilst procuring a new frontman. Joakim Jonsson continues to improve his capability on the kit. He boasts quite a diverse skill set, punctuated by a good (if not great) production job, which leaves us with a huge, epic soundscape only at the cost of some of the bite of the rhythm section.
What we are left with is an ambitious effort, but as a result some of the tracks tend to blur together. All of the aforementioned tracks are choice cuts, while the rest of the album fluctuates in the vicinity of average, if only because there is so much to take in with each song. I think what is most polarizing here is the lack of initial accessibility, let it sink in and you're in for a treat. They really gave it their all this time, these Swedes. They've got me on their side.
Following the release of Spectral, Skyfire encountered many problems leading up to the release of Esoteric. While the band was not rushed, and had ample time to perfect the songs, the problems are reflected in the music. Regrettably Henrick Wenngren left Skyfire along with bassist Jonas Sjögren, they suffered from several computer crashes, and the band's previous record label went bankrupt. Despite all these issues Skyfire still managed to put out a pretty good album.
Esoteric in of itself is a well put together album, the music is of great quality and the new singer (Joakim Karlsson) shows us that he is ready to fill the void left by Henrick. His voice is notably different than Henrick's and while he is a very good vocalist, Henrick was at top gear in Spectral. Previous fans may find Jocke's voice a little too different from previous Skyfire works. Choir like elements are added into the album, and to be blunt, they aren't needed.
The guitars in Esoteric are notably different as well, the guitar sound is far deeper and in some ways more complex. They show how the band has musically matured over their long break. Johan Reinholdz brings in solo's, something Martin and Edlund had never put into previous Skyfire works. While they bring a new element to the music, the solo's are something Skyfire used to intentionally avoid in order to focus on the music itself more.
The bass is in the music, but in a way it feels like Mind Revolution again in that it's not very audible. The drums are as always with Joakim Johnsson, awesome. The drums between Spectral and Esoteric seemed to have changed somewhat. If anything they got a little slower, which in a way is good because it matched the deeper guitar feel very well.
The album opens with Deathlike Overture, leading into more piano which is the start of the song Esoteric. That in of itself was a downer. Deathlike Overture prepares one for a heavy riff or screaming intro, but instead it leads into more piano. Esoteric is a good song, well put together and somewhat catchy, it will most certainly keep one interested. Rise and Decay is perhaps the best track on the album, it feels very refreshing to those looking for the old Skyfire sound, while intertwining the new elements very well. Let the Old World Burn is kind of an average song on this album, the one good thing is that it's not too long. The length of some songs such as Darkness Descending kind of took away from the feel of the album as the song kind of meshes together,and then you end up focusing on something else. Then the song is over.
I found the song seclusion to be incredible, almost as good if not better than Rise and Decay. It has very similar structure to the songs from Timeless Departure, but it still has the Esoteric feel to it. Misery's Supremacy is a very well written song, while it's long, one can thoroughly enjoy it. Jocke's voice sounds amazing in this song, and the bass is actually audible at some points. Under a Pitch Black Sky doesn't bring anything you haven't already heard to the table. Linger in Doubt is another strong song, and Legacy of the Defeated's length takes away from the value of the music, in a way it's an amazing outro song, but it's a little too long.
I feel as though I should mention Within Reach. While it's not an official part of the album, it is a bonus song on every version of the CD. Within Reach is the earliest released recording of Skyfire, and hearing it was awesome. It showed us what Skyfire was originally going to be. Luckily they decided to go with a more energetic approach. Hopefully skyfire will release faces and Open Flower from the Within Reach demo.
So in conclusion, while not as good as Spectral or Mind Revolution, Esoteric is a good release by a great band. The newer orchestral and piano elements bring a new feel. Unfortunately it feels as though they tried to fix something that wasn't broken. Spectral was a stronger release and if you're looking for Skyfire's best don't turn to Esoteric. However it certainly shows how the band has evolved and I certainly look forward to hearing more from them in the future.
There are several Swedish melodic death bands that make excellent use of pianos & keyboards in their material, for example Dark Tranquillity and the early 21st century Soilwork. I've never found Skyfire's music to reach this caliber of quality, but the band have nonetheless produced some decent albums (Timeless Departure and Spectral). Esoteric is their 4th stab at a full-length, and it ranges from soaring to stagnant.
The symphonic "Deathlike Overture" intro is quite good, really building its momentum as you await the inevitable explosion. Instead, you get another piano intro that opens "Esoteric", a track that features Skyfire's range of grooving low-end, progressive riffs, harsh melodeath vocals and synth atmosphere. The chorus riff and choral vocals are quite good in the song, but the rest left no lasting impression. "Rise and Decay" opens with swirling pianos and semi-glorious melodies, reminding me of Dark Tranquillity if less catchy. "Let the Old World Burn" is fast but mediocre, but I did enjoy the slow, driving "Darkness Descending" and the catchy pianos that lead into "Misery's Supremacy". "Linger in Doubt" is a good song, and "The Legacy of the Defeated" is pretty pulse pounding, in fact they should have placed this at the beginning after "Deathlike Overture" for better album pacing.
Esoteric does sound glorious, and the ambient feel to its many pianos does grind together well with the thrashing low end guitars and vocals of Joakim Karlsson. There is a lot of musical proficiency in this band. The use of the female choral parts always feels fresh here, and with a little work they would make a formidable symphonic death metal band. Esoteric has just enough moments to pop with me, it's a fine production but still lacks the depth of songwriting to create a great album. In particular I would like to hear some catchier guitar riffs; these are all passable, but few would succeed without the swells of symphonic atmosphere surrounding them. Still, this is one of their strongest works to date.
At the very core, Esoteric is Spectral Part II, which I can believe many fans won’t have any issues with. Personally, I find the songs to be more somber than the fervent ones from Spectral, but the similarities are too noticeable: same crisp production, same charging power leads, traditional heavy metal ethics, and the keyboard melodies are essentially the same. The songs run together a little more than the previous album like there’s some sort of remorse and collective guilt. Above all else, most of the songs are incredibly boring; the fact that they borrowed so heavily from Spectral just makes it seem like these tracks were either left out or needed to be reworked a bit to get them up to standard. The songs are all generally mid-paced and the average length is longer than before, but while these characteristics worked for Spectral, this one’s just too tedious.
Regardless of the band’s neutrality toward coming up with something new, their songwriting in terms of arrangements has improved, with some of the longer songs sounding very epic and above their usual quality. “Darkness Descending” was the first song I noticed with theatrical traits and an edge that pushes the genre even further into power metal territory than the tedium of melodic death. Vocals are much more akin to death growls than the deathly screams of Henrik Wenngren. The growls, however, I’m not such a fan of – there are death growls, and then there are Gothenburg-ish death growls like these that sound so fake, weak, and monotonous. There’s no power behind them at all, and they’re the biggest reason as to why I find this album very tiring to get through; if it weren’t for the eclectic leads, I would have given up already. There are some clean vocals at the very end, too, but they’re even less impressive than the growls.
Speaking of which, there seems to be a conflict going on between the power metal leads and the melodic death / borderline metalcore riffs. Don’t kill me just yet, but pay attention to what they don’t want you to pay attention to – the riffs. The chugginess, the semi-breakdowns, the watered-down brutality that’s supposed to be catchy; it’s hoping to focus your attention on the driving harmony, which is fine until you feel the power of the guitar beginning to wear thin, too. The lead makes this album a keeper to most, which soar high and mighty while the guitars lurk in the nether regions of the rhythm with the drums trying to gain momentum. Spectral lasts longer in my book because it was able to mend together the lead harmony and riff / drum charge together without putting pressure on one instrument – everything was melodic there.
The bass I’m always a fan of, but here it gets swept over with a dirty mop. You can hear it pretty clearly like it’s right under the lead, but it’s so unimposing and helpless. You hear everything so loudly and clearly, and then under it all is this little bass grumbling like a Skittle in a jar of Peanut M&M’s. Drumming pulverizes it, though, with Jonsson going completely berserk by throwing blast beats and catchy patterns alike in a boiler. The kit is crisp and lively; craters are being made right now by the shockwaves that are created every time I blast this. This is the only department that beats its counterpart in Spectral, since some of the drum pieces there sounded too clicky and mechanical.
Overall, I’m not too awed, but then again I wasn’t really anticipating this one that much by the time news of its releases began to roll around. I didn’t have butterflies in my stomach and I didn’t necessarily spend much time reading up on what was going on. I did look into it at one point regarding one of the band members, but that’s about the most I’d dedicate, and it was for the better because I’ve moved on now. Those who still consider themselves fans of the band will love this album, as it offers much of the same that Spectral was loved for. I still prefer that album by a mile to this one, but then again it’s all the same to me at the end of the day.