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While Spectral further refines and augments the blueprint introduced in earnest on Mind Revolution, there is some magic at work here that had remained veiled up until this point. Magic that puts Spectral right up there with the debut as some of the genre's most impressive output. Most strikingly, Edlund and Hanner truly come into their own here regarding the riffs. They are still delivered via a chunky power/thrash template, but there is balance here that strikes a chord that not even the most raging of Mind Revolution can touch. Timeless Departure was and always will be an all-time classic to me, but Spectral finds itself on equal footing - albeit for entirely different reasons.
Skyfire themselves are an anomaly of a band in the bottle-necked scene they occupy. They eschew the use of the familial shred-happy and erratic mold normally associated with more renowned acts, instead guiding the music by virtue of the homogenization triggered by the distant, twinkling synths and grumbling distortion. The withdrawal of traditional soloing continues here, and while this can in retrospect be seen as a compositional flaw, it adds some charm and verisimilitude to the music. It matters little either way, as the leads on Spectral will make it an instant winner to most ears. I credit the cross-section of the progressive and melodic death genres present here, as there is always an underlying sense for the pioneering along with an avant-garde edge. A killer example is "A Dead Man's Race," which segues from crunchy palm-mutes to the uplifting melodic appeal of the chorus and back again. The formula is decidedly simple compared to the bombastic inclination of Timeless Departure, but through this the band finally finds room to juggle the keyboards and guitars in a coherent way. Mind Revolution came close regarding this concept, but Spectral perfects it.
The keyboards are as always: enthralling. As usual, most of them are programmed, resulting in a portentous, reflexive atmosphere that has come to define Skyfire proper. Cataloging their place in the crowded field of their peers has always been an imposing task, but the tone ranges from endearingly upbeat "Cursed by Belief" to bleak and morose "Void of Hope." While Spectral generally leans to the latter, the melodies are crafted with such care that they never lose that well-worn proclivity for the hook that is so paramount in the melodic death field. The opening lead of "Shivering Shade" is one of the greatest examples, sounding dangerous and bleak but at the same time auspicious and positive. Other bands have achieved similar amalgams, sure, but Skyfire does it best. Edlund and Hanner truly have their trademark style down pat here, and the music undoubtedly benefits.
Regarding individual performances, I have always found this to be Wenngren's finest hour, both as a lyricist and a vocalist. While not necessarily groundbreaking or riveting in his technique, he has cumulatively upped the ante regarding his penmanship. From the rather typical fantasy-inspired diatribes of Timeless Departure to the introspective oeuvres that shore up departures to the mind's eye like "Effusion of Strength" and "Shadow Creator;" we've come a long way. It is worth noting that Björk wrote most of the lyrics for the debut, but the point remains steadfast. Sjögren's swansong effort is also worth mention, as the nonexistent bass tone from the last two records has finally been rectified. He isn't abrasively upfront, but he boasts a great clangy tone that has no problem sharing sonic real estate with the buzzsaw-esque timbre of the guitars. "A Dead Man's Race" features a great, chill drop-out passage where he gets a decent grab at the spotlight, so not a raw deal by any means.
The only flaw of any real note revolves around the production of Jonsson's drums. The top end of the kit sounds fine, but the bass drums sound irritatingly dull and anemic. This gives way to the bizarre "chucka-chucka-chucka" sonic aesthetic to the blasting, which while not necessarily a conscious decision on the band's part, doesn't impress me as much as the rest of the mix. He blew both this performance and production job out of the water on Esoteric anyway, so credit where credit is due.
Being one of the few albums I can spin again and again without refrain, Spectral is without a doubt one of the best examples of melodeath executed exceptionally. I only own the regular pressing, but I am familiar enough with the bonus track "Patterns" to confirm its existence as a spectacular end cap and one of the best on the album. Skyfire as a band is a great example of a few childhood friends getting together and banging out the music they love. Pride and care for their craft goes a long way, and while it is structurally atypical, this lack of adherence to genre norms is what makes this one a fucking winner. Picking a favorite between this and the debut was always a worrisome proposition, and in the end it is up to the listener. If you dig the triumphant melodies and Bal-Sagoth worship Skyfire occasionally flirts with, Timeless Departure is for you. If you are a more traditional fan of the genre - or hell anyone in for a great listen, Spectral awaits...
The rest of Skyfire’s discography I either don’t like or can’t stand. The melodramatic, keyboard-laden, melodic death attitude and power metal leads are dandy for certain bands like early Kalmah and mid-era Eternal Tears Of Sorrow. That stuff rules, but most of Skyfire’s material sucks as their music tries to outdo what Children Of Bodom were doing at the turn of the century. Well, after this band did itself in with a lame debut and sophomore album, they dropped Spectral, while I shat bricks. Not only did this album ultimately slay (even when I liked most of Skyfire’s work), but it still manages to hold up today as a catchy, intense melodic death epic while remaining to the point.
Spectral offers modern production that’s also slightly muffled, a great balance of mixed instruments, and a tight sound and flow. It’s the great middle ground between the tinny garbage sound they had with the material preceding this album and the overly polished fodder they released later. Beyond that, the songs are exquisite – keyboard-infested melodic death with power metal leads that are intricate and incredibly fun to listen to because the compositions work. Nothing feels longer than it has to be, nothing drags on, nothing’s too short, and everything has a place and purpose. The riffs are bludgeoning and very crisp, as well as heavy and passionate while the leads are striking and arcane. The keys do play an important role as they define the melody and atmosphere for each track, but the focus always goes back to the riffs and leads as they trudge and are trusted with enhancing the fantasy-like tone of the album.
The melodrama of Skyfire’s music still exists, but to a lesser degree in part because of the tighter band sound, the increase in intensity, the structure of the compositions, and those riffs. Honestly, it’s the only time Skyfire sacrificed theatrics for competent playing. Songs like “Conjuring The Thoughts” and “Tranquillity’s Maze”, with the burly grumble of the bass tailing the charging riffs and leads, show a more skilled band at work. Wenngren’s vocals are probably the only thing I can criticize, as I think they aren’t as passionate as the rest of the music. His screams sound like he’s not even trying, and when you compare them to other vocalists (typically ones in black metal bands) he’s useless. The screams he does are exhaled and loud, kind of like older Children Of Bodom, but Wenngren doesn’t take any chances and has practically no range. It’s the one thing I can knock down, but they still don’t detract heavily from the music as one would think. In fact, they’re quite the afterthought when delving into the frenzied riffs and well-endowed pummeling of the drums.
I’d recommend this album as the only thing you listen to from this band. For those breaking the ice with extreme metal, then this band has more use. That’s what Skyfire did for me, but today when only one album of theirs still remains up to standard, that says three things: how much their other material sucks; how much I’ve changed my taste; how valuable Spectral is. Skyfire is inherently forgettable and insanely tame, although when the music has more than an ounce of vigor, then lasting power begins to make an impact.
To start off, I want to say that I bought this album on a completely blind (wouldn't "deaf" be a better way to describe a purchase made having never HEARD the music? But I digress) purchase. I had never heard a single song by Skyfire, I only knew their genre. And when I listened to the whole album the first time, I was really happy. I thought I had found something great that I would enjoy for years. However, I soon discovered (as is usually the case when I really like an album the first time I hear it) that a lot of the songs on this album sounded exactly the same. I mean really, really alike. Like to the point where I would expect one part of a song to be coming up next, only to discover later that the part of the song I was expecting was on an entirely different track.
And as the title suggests, it is not as though the music is bad, it is pretty much straight forward, European keyboard-driven melodic death metal, which in my book is not a bad thing. I really like Follow The Reaper by Children of Bodom, however I can pick out each individual song on that album in just a few seconds. On Spectral though, I can get through a whole song and not be able to tell you which one it is, as chances are it sounds exactly like the ones that came before it and the ones that will come after it.
The vocalist on this album pretty much never changes his style, every song is pretty much in the same tone: a death growl that is significantly lower-pitched than say, Alexi from Bodom and Petri from Norther. He never really changes his pitch throughout the whole album. Again, I would like to stress that his delivery is not bad in and of itself, it's just that some variation would be nice.
The keyboards are definitely what drive this album, and they are certainly played well, they just seem to be played the same way. The melodies appear to be recycled song-by-song; it's like the band heard one Bodom melody they really, really liked, and tried to fit it into every song. The keyboards are definitely the instrument that plays the most significant part in the repetitve nature of this album.
The guitar is definitely a secondary instrument for Skyfire, and although it fits in neatly with the keyboards, it is just kind of there. The album consists of a lot of low-tuned, driving riffs that don't change too much song-by-song. Most of the melody is done by the keyboards, the guitar seems to be more of a rhythm instrument of this album. There are a few guitar solos, but none that will make you stop and take a second listen.
I could keep going on instrument-by-instrument, but I think by now the point has been made. I would like to stress once again that despite the generally negative tone of this review, it's not that I find this album particularly bad or that there is anything really wrong with the music, as I previously stated that I really enjoyed it when I first got the album, it's just that it gets boring after a while (and not a long while either). I still listen to the album every once in a while, it's just that the tracks on this album do not have an individual character, they are basically all interchangeable with each other. To listen to one track on this album is to listen to all of them. This band is not doing anything too unique or original for their genre to be making albums that really have only one sound. There is definitely potential here, but they need to come up with some new ideas to complement those they already have.
Is there anything that this album lacks at all? The answer, surprisingly, is no. Let's take a closer look.
I knocked a point off of the flawless rating for 'Timeless Departure', because the production was not great, only above average, which is respectable for a debut album. However, by their third album, the production has been perfected, and in fact enhances the music a great deal. The layers are more discernable, and the power of the music increased even more than before.
Yes, the music is agonizingly powerful, in a deep and philosophical manner. All their songs seem to deal with philosophy, misanthropy, and of course, depression, and the music portrays this perfectly in a furious yet serene way.
Instrumentally, this music is also flawless. The background keyboards fit perfectly, as well as the other keyboards, which while more prominent, also play perfectly off the guitar sequences. Neither overpowers the other, and coexist in complete harmony. The same has been attempted by many other bands, who have not nearly succeeded as much.
The vocals are indeed powerful, and unremitting. They further add to the music and the lyrics, giving every piece a deeply philosophical feel. There are also no 'filler' songs, all tell a story, and each and every one is equally great with no parts that just serve to pass time.
If I had to pick the best tracks on this album (aside from all of them), I would recommend 'Conjuring the Thoughts', 'Shivering Shade' (duh), 'Shadow Creator', 'Awake', and 'Void of Hope'. Though this album is essentially perfect, if there were one aspect of it I could enhance, I would make the songs longer and more epic. Of course, this would have to be with no fillers, no 'idle' sections, and no break from the relentlessly amazing atmosphere that is created in every song on the album, but I am quite sure that these amazingly talented musicians could pull it off.
Anyone who appreciates great musicianship, whether or not they commonly like metal should check this album out. Simply spectacular, one of my all time favorites.
I will do my best not to compare this band with CHILDREN OF BODOM but when you’re a music reviewer and an observer of details things take on another turn. SKYFIRE do share the same bed as C.O.B., but they have a different approach.
Whereas C.O.B. plays a brand of Power Metal that’s thrashy and symphonic, even Punkish at times, SKYFIRE’s stuff is more orchestrated, epic, less Power Metal and much more Death/Black oriented. The compositional level on the bands albums has always been ambitious, I think “Timeless Departure” was a good starting point (though not being any memorable experience to yours truly), ”Mind Revolution” went past me and now “Spectral” is reassuring my interest in this band.
The album is a headstrong presentation of Epic Death/Black Metal with semi Progressive Metal influences that easily rivals C.O.B. or any other band with complex song structures and technical instrumentation. SKYFIRE’s apprenticeship is officially over, they have a sound they can call their own regardless of comparisons coming from other reviewers worldwide, take “Effusion Of Strength”, “Shivering Shade”, “A Dead Man’s Race” or “Tranquillity’s Maze”, each of them has skilled songwriting, dream like keyboard textures and hyperactive riffs/melodies. There are some atmospheric parts that might sound experimental but they fit rather well into the sound (see “Shivering Shades”).
A perfect album!
With their third full-length release, Skyfire has rounded out and polished their unique brand of melodic death. The previous two albums had been a bit sloppy and some songs, boring. However, Spectral shows a more matured and developed Skyfire. The production is better on this album allowing to showcase the great keyboard work, melodic riffs, and some very nice drumming.
In an over-saturated genre such as this, it is very hard to remain on top of the pack and few bands have been able to do so. If you know Skyfire, you may compare them to Children of Bodom or Kalmah. However, the aspects that set them apart are as follows:
1)The keyboards play off the guitar perfectly, instead of being used as a main instrument at points (see Effusion of Strength, Awake, Cursed By Belief, etc.)
2)Skyfire creates a much less chaotic melody than that of Children of Bodom or Kalmah. Their music is very developed and layered between the keyboards, guitars, and bass.
3)Mainly a difference from Bodom, because I will give Kalmah credit for this, Skyfire's lyrics are intelligent and make sense (sorry Alexi).
If you still aren't sure about buying this album, probably the best songs to sample are Awake and Shivering Shade, which exemplify the album as a whole.
Look out for these guys in the future. I have a feeling their next debut will shake the melodic death world if they keep progressing at this rate. Who knows, maybe the Hate Crew will has finally some serious competition. Enjoy!