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Before Omnium Gatherum perfected their slightly proggy, groovy melodic schtick on terrific records like The Redshift and New World Shadows, Skyfire had a great approximation of such a sound on Spectral. While Skyfire have never had the growling death metal guts in their music OG do, Spectral's thumping rhythms, tight song structures, killer leads and abandonment of all the most boring pitfalls of genre melodic death metal puts them in the right ball park.
Spectral is my favourite Skyfire banger, more 'whole' than the er, fun but raucously cheesy debut and far more striking than the sophomore. It has a great mix that allows each instrument to boast of its presence - fortunate, for let it not be said that anyone playing on this record slacked off or deserved any anonymity in the record's mastering by Andy LaRoque. It's also very atmospheric, with Skyfire's mix of keys and guitar leads finally being meshed together just right to create a rich, groovy and engaging sound. Henrik Wenngren is a pretty good vocalist for a band like this, at least achieving enough gruffness and scope to his performance to seem like a proper extreme metal vocalist, rather than a tool; although he does sound like Alexi Laiho in a couple of songs, especially 'Void of Hope', and overall if I were to change something about the album I might given it an Insomnium vocalist transplant.
The rhythm section meanwhile is the best the band has portrayed yet: the way Jonas Sjogren locks his bass in with Joakim Jonsson's double-kick drumming to create this locomotive, thundering effect is awesome; occasionally throwing in tight blast beats for accent. Stellar, really complimentary performances. Structuring is mostly very good too. It seems the band can't get beyond about the third or fourth minute of a composition without wanting to throw in some majestic guitar riff or atmospheric smoothness to enhance the cinematic vibe of the music, giving me visions of gleaming sky-bound cities of the future and the dimly lit sub-streets miles below them. 'Shivering Shade' emphasizes this vibe especially; it cruises along with this really neat electronic beeping sound in its verse that reminds of Shade Empire, just done with more panache that on that band's first two, slightly half-cocked albums.
Skyfire maintain a high quality of uncomplicated but blazing guitar leads throughout, and no song needs skipping. Opener 'Conjuring the Thoughts' gives you a good idea what to expect from the emotional, vibrant leads, not to mention the often quirky pace changes and bass-led grooves. Both 'Effusion of Strength' and 'Cursed by Belief' start out highly unconvincingly however, sounding a bit like something latter day Sirenia or someone might come up with - but both get really good, really quickly, especially 'Cursed by Belief' which charges into this electrically tense trade-off between serrated harmonies and simmering keys.
Most melodic death metal bands, when they slow down for a song or two, they really screw the pooch. Like, they really violate the poor bastard. Skyfire's Spectral, on the other hand, swings into its centrepiece 'Awake' as if it were the most natural thing in the world, with the guitars and vocals retaining all the emotional resonance they have throughout the record, backed up by crashing bass and burbling keys - with a crescendo into full-blown melodic metal. As far as I'm concerned moments like this exhibit the real abilities of the band, rather than just my affinity for the record in question, which is why I was bitterly disappointed by the eventual follow-up Esoteric. Although that's a story for another day, or never, I don't care any more. But the best song of all is 'Shadow Creator'. I've listened to it millions of times! The plugging bass, skittering drums and electronic pianos that open it, the scintillating effect of the lead guitars taking up that simple but so effective melody - it has one of the best starts in melodic metal. The rest of the song keeps that up, just a really cool, catchy track that puts most of the latest records by Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium (bands I like, by the way) to shame. The sudden, short blasts! The weird, clattering harmonized bits! It's all good yo.
I am so sick of hearing melodic death metal bands that do a bit of a harmonized riff, some gooey clean chorus or plonky keyboard section, then a "brutal" break and then head off to Burger King for a self-congratulatory slap-up meal - and that's because of records like this, that do the shit so damn well. Otherwise if every melodic death metal band was useless, I wouldn't mind. It's the fact that no-one tries, because kids are so easy to sell to. Some bands are an embarrassment to their respective genres. The vast majority of the sub-genre of melodic death metal is an embarrassment to this album. Think about it. I'm going to head off to Burger King.
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.
Having deviated from the symphonic elements that made their first album so unique, Skyfire now boasts a more guitar-centric sound with the keyboards adopting a more back seat approach. This modern approach was fully realized and mastered on Spectral, the band's third full-length release.
Although he is regrettably no longer a member of the band, Henrik Wenngren is in top form here. He is a brilliant death metal vocalist and lyricist, the likes of which nearly any band would kill to have as their frontman. His harsh shrieks contrasting with lower gutturals provides a brilliant aural balance matched by few. Band masterminds Andreas Edlund and Martin Hanner cover both guitar and keyboard duties. Skyfire never has and likely never will be a band to feature guitar solos; Spectral is no different. That said, ample room is left for the band's signature riffing style backed by supple keyboards. The keyboard approach yields quite a disparity whilst comparing Spectral to the group's earlier work. No more symphonic undertones here; a spacey, dissonant sound more akin to Mind Revolution is present instead. The keys are also much less prevalent, leaving room for the guitars and vocals to carry the lion's share of the load. Jonas Sjogren is adequate on the four-string, benefiting from the album's warm, quality production job.
Joakim Jonsson provides quality drumming, with more cymbal/tom hopping grandeur than blastbeats present. Remarkably, this fits the sound better as some of the more epic, multi-faceted tunes such as "Conjuring the Thoughts" and "A Dead Man's Race" wear on. Not surprisingly, these are some of the better cuts here along with "Shivering Shade" and "Void of Hope". None of the songs are particularly bad, but the album does kind of mush together near the end, with little to differentiate the separate tunes. The guitars are at most responsible for this anomaly, as many of the riffs are rehashed throughout the duration.
With an average track length of around five minutes, the listener will find the longest sounds to be the most engaging. Tracks such as "Awake" and "Shadow Creator" feature catchy, solid sections, but fail to inspire fully and are ultimately interchangeable. What we have here is another impressive release from the Swedish Skyfire crew, fans of melodic death metal can't miss this one, besides a couple of underwhelming tracks, this is a damn good release.
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!