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As consistent as Skyfire's catalogue may be, their debut, Timeless Departure is the antithesis of the sonic balance displayed on their later material. The keys are overbearing and upfront, with the vocals weak and buried in the mix. With all of these shortcomings stacked against Timeless Departure, it still reigns supreme as Skyfire's best work.
The orchestral bluster of the short intro readies the listener's ears for the opening of the bombastic gates, and "Fragments of Time" does well to introduce virgin ears to the amalgam of styles being pioneered here. Chugging, powerchord-driven guitar passages give way to classy leadwork set in front of mountains of programmed orchestration. It almost ends up sounding like the band wrote the keyboard sections first, and added the guitars and vocals later. It definitely evokes an interesting atmosphere, even if the string sound never fully satisfies from a sonic viewpoint. A few faint classical influences ebb and flow throughout some of these tracks, most evidently on the closer "From Here to Death".
The leadwork is impressive, even though Skyfire shied away from including solos. On "By God Forsaken" there is a truly sublime, atmospheric section about halfway into the song during the line "Look at my life. What do you see?" that sounds so uplifting and glorious that you wish you could revel in its harmonies for a longer period. The best individual keyboard section surfaces at about 2:15 into "Fragments of Time", which is ultimately joined by a chugging, ascending riff that perks my ears up during every listen. "Dimensions Unseen" remains Skyfire's most well-written and enduring song, even today thirteen years after its inception. The twinkling piano melody during the verses counterpoints the driving guitars and vocal patterns extremely well. Don't miss that one, if anything.
While the melodies are incredibly searing and memorable, most of these tracks are written in a very similar, formulaic matter. Most open with a melodic onslaught that initially turns heads, continuing in a slightly-altered form throughout the verses and two rounds of the chorus. After the second chorus a new keyboard section is implemented, usually in the form of a breakdown. A final chorus usually drives the track home. The only real exceptions to this pattern are "From Here to Death" and the title track due to its longer running time. I can't help but still see it as a compositional flaw, but this would be swiftly rectified by the time Mind Revolution was released.
I've read in interviews that both Wenngren and Björk penned the lyrics. Wenngren's performance has zeal and tenacity, but he is severely let down by the production. His vocals sound almost entirely gutted and buried, even when they are doubled-up. The production as a whole is very uneven, as the keyboards hog the spotlight in a near-universal manner. The rhythm section has some low end do it, but this is mostly Sjögren's bass. The rhythm guitar has very little staying power, only really making it's presence felt during "Dimensions Unseen".
Regardless, most of these wrinkles can be forgiven by virtue of the fact that Timeless Departure is a debut full-length. Skyfire would swiftly drop this orchestral approach, only slightly hinting at its return during sections of Esoteric. Even if the band returned to this compositional method, there is no way Timeless Departure can ever be dethroned.
I must say, from the perspective of a wide-ranged music enthusiast, this album is nearly perfect. Timeless Departure combines the elements of orchestral music, death/black metal, and symphonic metal in complete harmony.
The opening track grips your attention with a melodic/classical introduction., seemingly setting the stage for a full on-assault. However good the next track may be, we only see the album's true power beginning with 'The Universe Unveils'., which introduces agonizing shrieks into the orchestral bombast, perfectly playing off of each other.
Think that 'catchy' songs are only endemic to the field of pop music? Think again. This album gripped me with complex, yet memorable melodies in epic sequences; I cannot get enough! Yet with this 'catchy-ness', Skyfire still manages to maintain highly skilled musicianship, and not compromise the power of their music. The lyrics are exceedingly meaningful, which can be told by the tone of the music, as well as the screams expressing the very fabric of desolation and a mindset of the apocalypse. Amazingly, this music is fun to listen to, high quality, and meaningful at the same time! Shocked?
Skyfire is such a unique band that it cannot be grouped into the same genre as Children of Bodom and Kalmah. I found Children of Bodom to merely use keyboards as a slight add-on, while Skyfire integrates them fully as a part of their music. Kalmah pulls of the melodies better than Bodom, as well as introducing deeper levels of power and meaning to their song, but has not reached this level. Skyfire, with their opening release, blasts into the metal scene with a brand of metal so symphonic that the term is an understatement. Yes, the death metal orchestra has arrived! And they will crush you with their thundering, epic yet deeply emotional brand of epic music.
The songs I would most recommend off this album are: All of them! Each song is nearly a perfect ten out of ten, although 'Timeless Departure' and 'Dimensions Unseen' seem to stand out as more powerful.
So why did this not get a 100? Well, unfortunately, the production is only above average. This was the only problem I had with the album; with perfect production, it may have been slightly better, although it would have not made much difference. Even so, I am not complaining, and this is better production than most bands' first full album.
I recommend this as a valuable part of any metal listener's collection. You will not be disappointed. I even would go as far as to recommend this to someone who does not typically listen to metal; if you can get used to the vocals (which are superior to those in most 'harsh metal' bands), you will love this music.
As I lay in my bed, watching the half moon through the window I listened to Timeless Departure by Skyfire for the first time. It was the first I heard from them, so I didn't know quite what to expect. Hearing the first track, a very powerful, very beautiful melodic intro it struck me: This was going to be a very pleasant album. I continued to think so as the next tracks played. The music was melodic, with distorted guitars accompanied by furious growls. The vocalist could've been more powerful but I think it was the mix making him sound a little weak. He screamt on and on though, never seeming to get hoarse. And I loved the music. The keyboards were the foundation of the melodies, moving the music forward, towards the crescendo, yet adding atmosphere and an almost symphonic sound.
Guitars were executed flawlessly, heavy riffs between magnificent more melodic leads. They accompanied the keyboards in being the movement momentum as they put yet more depth and complexity to it all. The catchy riffs had been inserted almost everywhere, with a lot of changes to them, making each second of music interesting, offering something new. The drummer not only did what he was supposed to do, he also varied the pace, picked different drums to beat up. He kept his pace, and not only kept pace with the music, he synchronized the drums with the melody in a way worthy of imitation. Bass was in the background most of the time, yet masterly done.
So well, the musicians did play well together, they synchronized their parts, making it more than just a composition. They made it more than an assembly of the parts. Their playing efforts fit so well together that one sometimes wondered whether it was one person playing one instrument or what? Everything so tastefully combined, so masterly combined, yet better as a total, it made me wonder. It made me wonder if there were more bands like this, how I could get the rest of their albums and how many superb Swedish bands do I yet have to find? I still don't know the answer to the two last questions but I think some of Children of Bodom's material is similar to this. Songs built on the power metal structure, with harsh vocals are the elements reminding of CoB. Others, and there were more of them, made me think of Bal-Sagoth. They were mainly the vocals and the greatness of keyboards and guitars, but also flexibility in drumming and the ability to seamlessly combine the members' accomplishments into a bigger picture of sound. Skyfire is basically a more melodic version of Bal-Sagoth.
All in all, most fans of symphonic metal will love this disc. Anyone hoping that growls and harsh vocals automatically mean death metal probably won't survive the shock. Musically there isn't much to make complaints about, but more, much more to praise. As Timeless Departure was over pretty quickly I immediately gave it another spin. I was right about it being a complex album with much to discover. Now I also thought that this album perhaps was what the title suggested, a voyage into a musical dimension, music that will last forever, music that I'll like no matter how many times I listen to it. Pondering the similarities to Bal-Sagoth I decided to read through the lyrics right away, even though it was in the middle of the night. They wasn't the fantasy poetry of Byron's, but feelings caught in words, portraying the lost soul, expressing its hatred, its suffering, its endless quest, its search for a way back, its search to fill its life with a higher purpose, a meaning. Philosophical questions asked, its answers sought inside. It’s a revealing album. "Beyond the dimensions far away from my imagination / I clear my mind and try to understand its might / Let my lifeless body dwell in a land / unknown to many souls / Creators of this empty world / What did you really have in mind".
When I analyze it further I find however that while every song displays a song writing skill, not often paralleled, someone decided that their song concept was good enough to use on every song. As a result the a lot of the songs sound like each other, not very much - but still. It's not as Bal-Sagoth's 'A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria' where repetition have been embraced like a divine gift and variation have been more or less viewed like blasphemy...Sure, they wouldn't have suffered from some more variation, but since it took several listens in a row to start discerning it, it's no big deal. This is the only real thing I hold against them, besides a couple of production flaws, and even then I'm reluctant to do so Few records have touched me like Timeless Departure.
What to say of this…it’s supposed to be metal, I suppose, but the guitars are hardly audible. The synth is at the forefront of this entire album, to the point where it becomes ridiculous. Imagine some of Van Halen´s 80´s efforts or Europe’s “The Final Countdown” when it comes to synth-overdosing, and you have the idea. If you were to remove them, you would be stuck with an album not entirely without its merits, some decent drumming and a few interesting songs with classical influences, as well as some Iron Maiden-like guitar playing at times. Comparisons with Children of Bodom are clearly ludicrous – they are nowhere near their competence in sheer song writing, and they are not nearly as infectious and to the point. They come off more like a wannabe black metal band on a very bad day.
The screamy, raspy vocals are also drenched in the production somewhere, along with most of their good ideas. Although not really a bad album if you focus on the pure musical side of things, after four-five songs it becomes damn near unlistenable due to the thick layers of synthesizer worship that stands like a wall between yourself and an enjoyable listening session. The parts when the other instruments are allowed to shine through are actually enough to ensure that, should they be able to find a better production next time around, the result might be well worth listening to. On this occasion, that is hardly the case.
When a band combines both the more melodic side of Metal, as well as the more extreme side, it's no coincidence that they begin to climb my list of favorite bands real fast, as I’m a big fan of both sides of the Metal spectrum. So enter Skyfire; Skyfire is another one of those bands combining the melody and song arrangements of Power Metal with Black Metal vocals, symphonic keyboards, and Black Metal styled drumming. Children Of Bodom arguably started this genre of sorts, thus any bands of this type will undoubtedly be compared to them, and to compare Skyfire is fair. The vocals of Henrik Wenngren are very similar to Alexi Laiho and the usage of melody is largely done in the same manner, however, there are differences. Only very few hints of neo-classical song elements show up in Skyfire (a big portion of Children Of Bodom’s music is neo-classical influenced), instead, a more aggressive take on the song writing is used with more blast beats, more thrashy riffs, and a lot of galloping double bass. The keyboards provide an amazing amount of melody, which is further accentuated by melodic guitar parts that are played on top of the riffs almost full time; this is best demonstrated on "The Universe Unveils". Within one listen I was humming along to every song, especially the opener, "Fragments Of Time". This is not one big hum-along-fest though, the music is still very heavy and aggressive that will have you head banging along non-stop as well. The songs are usually very fast with only very short lived slower moments, "Breed Through Me, Bleed Through Me" is the only song that can be considered 'slower' than the rest.
One could also notice a resemblance in keyboard style to that of Bal-Sagoth, and in some cases even Rhapsody. The keys are very symphonic and include a mix of strings, piano, and the same triumphant melodies that make Bal-Sagoth and Rhapsody so popular with their fan base. Everybody in the band is very talented but no one over does it, and I'm sure they are holding back in favor of writing songs that are tighter (a wise choice). There are a lot of breaks and riff/drum pattern changes that are done in a very similar style to Children Of Bodom. The lyrics are mostly concerned with battle, death, and victory, but are not done in a sappy or corny way. To say that these lyrics for the songs take place in a Viking setting would be fair to state, which further could be made apparent by the occasional folk-ish keyboards; you could even make small comparisons to Viking Metal bands like Thyrfing and Ancient Rites in that regard.
There are only three low points to be found on Timeless Departure. Firstly, the vocals are a tad one-dimensional. They are generally the same scream with only slight changes in the tone. Minor usage of clean vocals or a deeper growl at times would add a lot. Secondly, the production is well done but could be improved; the rhythm guitar is too low in the mix at times, with the keyboards and melodic guitar parts being too upfront. Thirdly, there are about a few instances where you might think to yourself: "Didn't I just hear this in that song already?” When it comes down to it, what makes this band so good is that they play with a lot of energy and still remain both aggressive and extremely melodic at the same time. There are some songs on here that are just masterpieces despite the shortcomings, which just goes to show the song writing ability these guys have. Look for Skyfire to make a serious run at unseating Children Of Bodom at the top of their extreme melodic Metal throne!
Song Highlights: Fragments Of Time, The Universe Unveils, From Here To Death, Breed Through Me Bleed Through Me, Skyfire, and Timeless Departure