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Like a lot of bands it took Titan Force several years to finally get off ground and put out a full length album, however it was more than worth the wait and effort with them launching one of the best melodic USPM albums out there. They would be quick to release their follow up Winner / Loser two years later in 1991. Still perhaps a bit too late to the game though as they would fall back into obscurity after this, with only a single demo released in 1994 it would take them another 10 some years to return for touring and some compilations. As it currently stands this is the second and last official Titan Force album.
For 1991 Titan Force still didn't put the brakes on anything being remotely mainstream or contemporary here, in fact they step in the other direction and take a new approach with this album with more experimentation. As usual, for better and worse. The main theme is duality, from the album cover art itself, the title, the lyrics, and how the majority of the tracks generally play out shifting between low dark brooding sections, to positive upbeat and uplifting energy that fueled the debut release. This works to great effect. I think they accomplished this on the debut as well, here however it's definitely the main focus with each and every track and it works for the most part. The problem is rather that some of these tracks in general just don't really do anything interesting and fall a little flat. Some elements are toned down too, Conklin included. He actually displays even more dynamics here, channeling John Arch and then even Eric Adams at times, but he's softer and more reserved, when his relentless energy on the debut really took it to new heights. So it's questionable as to what they were doing with him here or maybe he himself wanted to try something a bit different. It's hard to complain since it's still an awesome performance, there's just a strange difference to pinpoint.
The production is still top notch just like the debut and I love how much the bass comes through. An excellent balance of all the sounds but again, it's hard to accept Conklin's push to the background. The darker sections on most of the tracks here are a real highlight and something they didn't really steer strongly into on the debut. There's a real eerie sadness when they go all in on it, to the extent that my favorite track off this album is probably the finale Dreamscape. Which almost sounds like a lost track from 1991-1992 Solitude Aeturnus, not a comparison I could make on the debut or throughout most of this album. Even down to Conklin's delivery on this track and the echoes of his vocals in the open space without much instrumental interference. A captivating and moody track that hits hard with a lot of complexity going on despite its slowness, the same cannot however be said for some of the other weaker tracks like Shadow of a Promise or Face to Face. These just come off as really monotone without any strong hook to them. You keep waiting for them to do something, but they don't. Eyes of the Young is the cool one where Conklin humorously reminds me of Eric Adams and Manowar, a nice mid paced number with some excellent soloing and bass jammin', though I think the back half of One and All has the coolest groove. That track and the first one Fields of Valor rock. Small Price to Pay easily sounds like something that could have been on the debut, fast, catchy, and fun. Title track Winner / Loser is my other top favorite next to Dreamscape, really nailing the duality shapeshifting from dark to light, damn cool track.
Certainly a strange release. It's not like a huge slip up at all or anything and it's always a bit shameful to let a really good album (their debut) overshadow the rest, this is still a great record on its own. It's still a grower that maybe just continues to need time. Either way I still recommend giving it a shot and a little time if you're a fan of melodic white collar progressive USPM and any of the bands I mentioned in the reviews for this and the debut. Now, Titan Force have been consistently active for the last several years with KIT festivals, the main brothers and Conklin are still active and there's been rumors about new material being released... but the years continue to pile up and it's a shame nothing seems to be coming to fruition here. Metal is really healthy again thesedays and classic styles have re-emerged, all the while Titan Force's material holds up really well and they didn't concede to any bad or lazy mainstream traps, I hope they can somehow get some new material out again (outside of compilations).
Although many seem to think this sophomore release sacrificed complexity for the sake of melody, I’m of the opposite mind. It’s slower and maybe not as technical, but definitely more complex and actually less melodic this time around. The songs are far more built around the lyrics, as if the band really wanted to get this story told in a linear fashion without getting abrupted by refrains. I see that simply as a different approach. It is more complex in that it demands more out of the listener. All the qualities are there, you just have to listen for them more carefully. That’s the reason I first dismissed Winner / Loser, however after giving it some time, it grew on me until it became almost as good as their excellent debut.
Overall, Winner / Loser is similar to the debut in sound and the impression it leaves on you. We have the same guitar style, drumming, production, and the same eclectic bass player, but with perhaps one exception: Harry Conklin. He sings much the same way, just not as consistently high and with a little more restraint. Maybe the band wanted to take some focus off of him? I don’t know, but in any case his performance is still damn good here, even if it doesn’t reach up to standard he previously set. Something else that hasn’t changed is that true highlights are kind of missing (with one exception). There are no low points, but no more than one song I would describe as all-the-way awesome; the rest of the songs range between being good to very good, only occasionally verging on brilliance.
The absolute highlight would be ‘Small Price to Pay’ – a real trend-breaker of a song with its original melodies and refrain. The guitar patterns - basically some swift power chord progressions crescending into some longer, lighter ones - create a truly awesome effect and pave the way for Conklin’s inspiring vocal melodies. Other songs that deserve mention are ‘Face to Face’ for its intriguing rhythms, ‘Shadow of a Promise’ for its unusual upbeat and the title song for being a very solid – if unremarkable – head banger.
Titan Force (and consequently this album) get a lot of bonus points for being one of the most unique-sounding bands of the 80s. Basically, if you’re looking for talented music that strikes the middle-ground between power and progressive metal, Titan Force is the band for you.