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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.