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Fantastic... but not stellar. - 85%

ReapSoul964, July 10th, 2013

Theocracy's "magnum opus," as frontman Matt Smith stated it, is nothing short of fantastic. The songs are all expertly crafted, polished to a beautiful shine, and full of inspiring and humbling messages for their Christian fans. The musicians have all outdone themselves, performing at the level of musicianship on their stellar "Mirror of Souls" or even higher than that (with the exception of "Absolution Day" and "Mirror of Souls," which haven't been topped thus far). This album even has a satisfying ending, which "Mirror of Souls" didn't have (though the title track of that album is, by far, Theocracy's best song, the ending left no closure for the album. I wanted more at the end of it). It remains one of my all-time favorite albums and I listen to it very frequently.

However, the album is not perfect. While Matt Smith stated that he felt this was the band's "magnum opus," as I stated earlier, I do not get the same feeling from it that I got from their sophomore release. Everything here is too polished, too shiny. It lacks the edge and depth that "Mirror of Souls" had, but only barely. Unfortunately, I was spoiled by "Mirror of Souls." If I had heard this album before the prior release, I probably would have had a much higher opinion of this one, since it has everything it needs to be an amazing release. The passion and depth of "Mirror of Souls" is sadly lacking in this album, though, and since that's what I was expecting when I pre-ordered this release, I found myself unable to listen to it for a few months. I would probably have given this album somewhere between 90% and 100% if it weren't for how much better "Mirror of Souls" is. "As the World Bleeds" definitely has grown on me since then, though, but along with that, this is what really killed the album (so to speak, since I listen to it often...) for me:

1) If I remember right, Smith stated that he wanted this to feel like a "Best of Theocracy" album. While that isn't too much of an issue normally, what "Mirror of Souls" brought with it was the feeling that I was listening to a concept album. Most of the songs were intricately linked together to a great degree, and the finale in "Mirror of Souls" summed up the entire feel of the album. While "As the World Bleeds" has the same feeling in its title track, which is also the final track, this release feels more scattered than the previous release. There is no real flow between the songs.

"Mirror of Souls" had no song that felt like it could be a single. Most of the songs felt like they fit better together rather than alone. I don't like singles.

This can be offset by the fact that I prefer concept albums to other types of releases, so I typically have less of an opinion of albums like this anyway. If you are okay with the whole "Best Of" approach, then you can ignore this point. This is what kills the album's potential the most for me, though.

2) Tying into the above point, this album feels too accessible. I was extremely disappointed right off the bat when I listened to it (though, as I stated earlier, it has grown on me since then). I have a feeling the band was trying hard to push the flair of the album too much. It still feels like a Theocracy album most of the time, but it's missing that special something that made the prior release stellar. This is fantastic, but it is by no means stellar.

3) Contrary to the above point, this doesn't really feel like a Theocracy album at many points. Here are just a few:

Halfway through "I Am," in an instrumental section, we hear an odd mathcore-ish breakdown, which, while being cool, seems out of place for how epic the song is overall.

"Nailed" has a very long breakdown (albeit a good one, compared to the chugging crap most -core bands are putting out these days) at the end of the song. I enjoy it, but does Theocracy really need to throw breakdowns around?

"Altar to the Unknown God" is another great song, and it's one of the songs I would've figured would be the single (30 Pieces of Silver is good, just not the right choice for a single from the album), but it feels too much like a pop song for a little while at the beginning of it.

Smith occasionally throws in Tobias Sammet-esque vocal parts ot his songs, too, which can get somewhat annoying here. I do like Edguy and Avantasia and I definitely enjoy Tobias' voice, but his humorous mannerisms seem a bit out of place in serious music, and while I definitely understand that Matt Smith is influenced by Edguy, Theocracy has had a much more serious approach to music (not including the Christmas songs, where the Tobias imitation is greatly appreciated. "Wynter Snowgirl, I'll see you next year!"). The Tobias imitation is used sparingly on "As the World Bleeds," but it's still distracting.

And finally... 4) "Drown" is... disappointing. For such a powerful message, the song itself really lets you down. It just feels so dry and forced. I usually just skip it. I would've preferred it if that song wasn't included in the album at all.

If Theocracy will work on making their music less accessible rather than polishing it, they might be able to match "Mirror of Souls" again, which was the most honest and passionate release I've heard in a long time. This one felt way too much like a "Best Of" album, as I stated earlier. So, Matt Smith accomplished his goal in that area... I just hope that next time, his goal is to hit people right in the heart with powerful music and humbling messages, not to sell a polished example of progressive/power metal. Theocracy is better than that. They proved that to us with "Mirror of Souls."

Pros: Very clean, very tight, expert musicianship, fantastic lyrical themes, messages that aren't in-your-face despite being so obviously Christian, solid new direction with the music, still feels enough like a Theocracy album

Cons: Doesn't feel as genuine as "Mirror of Souls," doesn't have much flow, some of the vocals, feels like a "Best Of" album

Songs I recommend: I Am, Nailed, Hide in the Fairytale, The Gift of Music, 30 Pieces of Silver, As the World Bleeds

Songs to avoid: Drown

Theocracy - As The World Bleeds - 80%

ConorFynes, March 20th, 2012

As a genre that is quite well-known for its vehemently anti-christian stance, it takes some balls to boldly stride into metal and preach the word of God. Matt Smith and his aptly titled Theocracy project seek to bring Christianity to the power metal masses, and I will open up my review by stating that this is a double-edged sword. While Smith's conviction to this belief system has resulted in a passionate performance and musically excellent album, there will be a great many metalheads who will turn up their noses upon learning that this band is rooting for the other team. That is really a shame, because Theocracy's 'As The World Bleeds' may very well be the best power metal album of the year.

This American power metal act's sound finds a tight resemblance to Edguy, and the sort of upbeat, technically virtuosic, neoclassical melodic speed metal that is so popular in Europe. Theocracy's debut featured only Matt Smith as the musician for every aspect of the band's sound, and 'As The World Bleeds' shows the project being upgraded into a full- blown band. This has certainly upped the quality of the musicianship. Theocracy delivers a killer performance, as intense as it is catchy and melodic. Smith's vocals in particular are spectacular, pulling off both operatic falsettos and intelligent harmonies. The songwriting is a step above much of the gimmicky power metal I have heard this year, as well. 'I Am' is an eleven minute epic of a song that builds up wonderfully, filled with memorable melodies and epic pay-offs.

The production polishes the work beautifully, and it is clear that 'As The World Bleeds' has been a work of labour. As power metal goes, it does not go quite as far as to reinvent the genre, but it packs quite a punch within the confines of the style. As great as Theocracy's work here is, there are a few issues. First and foremost- as many would have predicted- the lyrics will stand in the way of many listeners' full appreciation of what Theocracy are doing, including my own. While it may seem hypocritical to have no problem with themes of Satanism in metal and proceed to lambast Christian themes; it's largely the way the themes are dealt with that irks me. The contrast between the tender themes of Jesus' love and redemption that Smith sings about, and the dark sound of the guitars and 'badass' inflections he sometimes works into his vocal delivery won't do much but feed the detractors. Christian listeners of Theocracy's work will not have the same issue with this, I would imagine.

Another, smaller issue is the matter of flow and length. While the quality of musicianship and composition is top notch for power metal, there is a lack in variety that makes the hour length of 'As The World Bleeds' seem about ten minutes too long. The album's highlight is offered first, and from then on, it's more a case of following formula, as opposed to surprising the listener. Of course, power metal is not the hub of diversity in the metal world, but hearing a quirk here and there would have kept me as much on my feet as I was when the first intense moments of 'I Am' came flooding in. It will undoubtedly cause controversy among metal fans, but Theocracy is undeniably good at what they do; excellent, even. 'As The World Bleeds' has its weaknesses which keep it from being stellar, but it stands as being the most impressive thing I have heard from power metal this year.

Best progressive album released in 2011 - 86%

stormruller, March 9th, 2012

Theocracy is a Christian progressive power metal band from Georgia, United States founded in 2002 by vocalist Matt Smith and has now release their third album, "As The World Bleeds", I'm not a big fan of progressive bands, my favorite bands are the most known progressive bands in the genre like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and also Queensrÿche and Pagan's Mind if you judge these last two as progressive as some might say they are not so much progressive. Of course there are also good progressive bands out there but I take my time in listening to melodic metal, hard rock and AOR lately.

Theocracy's new album is a great progressive metal album, great stuff here, amazing guitar riffs, very good vocals done by Matt Smith (he remembers a lot vocalist Michelle Luppi from Vision Divine). In the first song of their new album, you can note that you're about to listen a great progressive metal album, the 11-minute epic "I AM" has it's heavy and slow moments, simply amazing song.

Throughout "As The World Bleeds" you can listen to some fast moments by the bands like songs "The Master Storyteller" with it's amazing chorus and the little stop in the guitar solo and only drums at the end, I really like this "little stop" in metal music!! "Hide In The Fairytale" is another song in the same style with this "little stop" during the chorus lines, other great fast songs here are "Altar To The Unknown God" and "Light Of The World". The album has also it's ballad moments and which the same songs has also it's heavy moments like "The Gift Of Music" and "Drown". My favorite song here is the song "30 Pieces Of Silver" which is a brilliant song, great job done by the band. The band choose to finish the album with "As The World Bleeds" which is my least favorite.

Overall, all songs here deserves highlights and if you miss any good progressive bands and over the last few years didn't find a good progressive album, be sure to check out this album. Theocracy is now for sure one of my top favorite bands in the progressive metal genre and "As The World Bleeds" is among the best albums of 2011.

Originally written for: http://hhnews.hdfree.com.br

For believers and heathens alike - 85%

LordAquila, February 6th, 2012

First off let’s address the elephant with the miter in the room: Theocracy is a Christian band. For the open-minded they offer a haven of splendid power metal the close-minded are missing out on. Speaking as a non-Christian myself I can say their lyrics do not necessarily stand in the way of enjoying their music. Your choice, your gain or loss.

With that out of the way, let’s get to business. I’ve been a fan of the band since their eponymous debut and the sophomore “Mirror Of Souls” was a huge improvement over that, combining the strongest qualities of mastermind and vocalist Matt Smith into a shimmering ball of inspirational power metal. For the third release Smith has surrounded himself for the first time with a full band, and the difference is noticeable. One word: solos! The lead guitar work of Val Allen Wood adds a healthy dose of shredding madness to the recipe and the guitar work in general is the star of the album. Not to say Smith himself isn’t on excellent form here, the man delivers his best vocal performance to date. Theocracy has moved beyond what was essentially a solo project into a fully formed band.

“As The World Bleeds” assembles both the classic sound of Theocracy and a more experimental, dare I say, progressive direction, even though it was conceived almost simultaneously with “Mirror Of Souls”. Speedy power metal freaks will not be disappointed by such heavenly hymns as “The Master Storyteller” and “Hide In The Fairytale”, of which there are a whole lot more. The band can also still tear it up and it’s safe to say “30 Pieces Of Silver” is this album’s “Absolution Day”. I don’t like the word, but it ís quite “riff-tastic”. On “Mirror Of Souls” the innovation was mostly contained within the 22-minute behemoth of the title track, but here it’s smartly scattered all over the place. Opener “I AM” runs for eleven minutes during which galloping riffs and delicious orchestration trade off with Smith’s multi-layered one-man choir, listing the many ways in which God totally owns you. I am impressed and amazed, even though I first thought the song was about some occurrence at one o’clock in the night. I am in need of new glasses.

There’s more innovation coming up in “Nailed”, which both resembles “Laying The Demon To Rest” with its aggressive rhythms and “Martyr” with its oddly fitting flamenco-guitar. The song transforms to something completely new for the band in the chorus and this kind of boldness runs throughout “As The World Bleeds”. Take a look at “The Gift Of Music”. It starts out like a Christmas carol (think “Bethlehem”), but turns out to be a soaring epic with a strong build-up, catchy symphonic bridge and some metallic fury to finish. This Christmas, why not give someone the gift of music? IT ROCKS. Not all experimentation works though. A particular riff in “Drown” echoes Dream Theater’s “The Dark Eternal Night” a little too much (not to mention Machine Head’s “Old”) and the song never quite takes off, even rehashing some vocal melodies from “Mirror Of Souls” in the chorus. Luckily the current title track takes us one last time on eagles’ wings to those highest regions of power metal bliss.

Theocracy has always seemed like a good-humored band in my book, what with all their novelty and Christmas-songs (some spitfire vocals in “I AM” actually reminded me of “The Gregarious Raconteur”, a goofy track about some sort of sports announcer). The often darker and more serious tone of “As The World Bleeds” takes some time getting used to. Look at the album cover: it’s giving the river of blood from “The Shining” a run for its money. This is not for the queasy. Lyrically the crisis-of-faith theme is never far away, be it personal or universal. The prejudice a lot of people will have against this album is ironically what the band is rallying against during the title track. For the unbigoted there are at least a number of interesting subjects here, for you to agree or disagree with.

The million-dollar, or better, 30-pieces-of-silver question left is: how does “As The World Bleeds” hold up to “Mirror Of Souls”? While a strange and new album will always pale a little compared to one I’ve treasured for so long, I can safely say that Theocracy has not disappointed and that’s the only thing that matters. In the end, music is not a competition. It’s a gift.

Originally written for: www.blackwindmetal.com

Their best yet! - 95%

MetalFRO, January 3rd, 2012

Heavy metal fans can be a persnickety bunch, often being overly sensitive about genre boundaries or what category a particular band or album fits into. If there's too much influence or sound borrowed from an outside style, or too many "unmetal" elements injected into the style, it often becomes the death knell for a band trying to gain crossover appeal between metal fans and rock fans in general. Metal bands often have to walk a slippery slope between artistic integrity and pleasing their fanbase. Steer too far away from your metal roots and you're branded a traitor. Don't inject enough "freshness" into your sound or music and after a couple albums you run the risk of being a "stale, washed up has-been" in the metal scene.

Thankfully, Theocracy doesn't have to deal with either question. They are a metal band through to their very core, as their 3 albums will attest to. And each album has been a different experience from the others, offering different elements and feeling while retaining the same basic metal constructs that fans have come to expect. With this, their 3rd album release, we get a further development of the Theocracy sound. For the genre-specific out there, this band falls squarely in the "Progressive Power Metal" category, but to tag them merely as such does this band a grave injustice. Theocracy have to be heard to be believed, and their music transcends the basic category it falls into because of just how well it's written, performed, and just executed overall.

In a bit of turnabout from 2008's "Mirror of Souls", "As the World Bleeds" sees the band beginning the proceedings with the longest song of the album, the epic opener "I AM". This song perfectly encapsulates everything this band is about: it's brimming with catchy melodies, contains both quiet moments and driving metal, is passionate and anthemic, and takes the listener on a journey while listening. As you listen through the rest of the album, you get much of the same in varying degrees - not every song is nearly as epic as the opening track, but the variety the album presents in tempo, melodic feel, heaviness, etc. is part of what keeps Theocracy albums so captivating from beginning to end. The songwriting is also a big part of what makes this record such a winner. In this regard, "As the World Bleeds" is quite possibly their strongest record. "Mirror of Souls" had a lot of heavy-hitter tracks which really showed what the band could do, but a couple of the tracks were a touch less memorable after multiple listens. I have spun this CD numerous times so far and have not tired of the material at all. While some songs tend to blend together a touch more than those on "Mirror of Souls", the overall strength of the album as a whole outweighs this minor shortcoming.

As expected, the instrumentation on this album is fantastic. With Matt Smith moving full-on into the role of vocalist, one might expect this album to sound a lot different than previous Theocracy releases in terms of style and presentation, but it really is consistent with what has come before in terms of songwriting approach and quality. Guitars still ring through the speakers with sufficient crunch and authority, and solo work is as good here as it has been. In some ways, the guitar solo work is a step up from the previous album as there is more of it here and it is more varied an interesting. Bass guitar adds nice weight underneath and while not being overly flashy, is well played and a good compliment. Drum work is as good as ever with on-point double bass work and the right balance of speed and precision with dynamics and range when called for. Keyboards sound great here, encompassing a number of different sounds and adding plenty of texture to the overall presentation. Matt Smith's vocals are in fine form here, as strong as he was on "Mirror of Souls" and perhaps even a half-notch above that album in terms of his overall vocal use. He really pushes himself here both in terms of the use of his upper range, as well as his overall versatility and dynamic range.

What more needs to be said? This is a strong contender for me for "Metal Album Of The Year" if such an award existed in my little world. The year isn't over yet, and there is at least one other hotly anticipated album I haven't heard yet that could rival this for sheer quality and presentation, but either way, Theocracy delivers again in spades with this release. If you are one of the few who didn't get into "Mirror of Souls" because of the epic 22-minute suite at the end, give this album a fair shake. I think you'll find the consistency of songwriting and quality of material to be welcome, and the immaculate performances here are some of the best you'll hear in metal music this year. If you're in any way a fan (casual or hardcore) of progressive rock and/or metal, you won't want to miss this one. Essential.

95/100

Originally posted on MetalFRO's Musings:
http://metalfroreview.blogspot.com/2011/12/theocracy-as-world-bleeds-2011.html