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I’ll be the first to admit that I purchased guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen’s newest studio album to make sure vocalist Tim “The Ripper” Owens was in good hands after his sudden departure from Iced Earth at the end of 2007. Fortunately, I was most pleasantly surprised by this effort and can safely say that this may be one of the best metal albums of 2008!
What separates this album from most of Malmsteen’s previous efforts is how it seems to place a greater emphasis on the actual songwriting rather than on the usual guitar wankery that most listeners have come to expect. Each song seems to have been carefully constructed and packed with memorable hooks in addition to supreme technicality. Ripping power metal anthems such as "Death Dealer" and "Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse)" provide powerful guitar lines and inspiring choruses, dark tracks such as "Live to Fight (Another Day)" and "Eleventh Hour" provide strong mid-tempo riffs and more aggressive vocals, and the more accessible "Red Devil" sounds like something Judas Priest would’ve done back in the early 80’s. Even the instrumental tracks like "Caprici Di Diablo" manage to stay coherent in their hard-to-play exercises.
Another obvious factor that makes this album stand out is the inclusion of Owens on lead vocals. With all due respect to guys like Joe Lynn Turner and Jeff Scott Soto, Owens is the strongest singer that Malmsteen has ever gotten a hold of. His range is shown off almost as often as the guitar playing (almost) and he manages to inject healthy amounts of aggression that couldn’t have been provided by any of his predecessors. Also worth noting is the performance of former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian. He rarely overpowers the guitars or vocals but he does provide some atmospheric backing on the darker songs such as "Live To Fight (Another Day)."
So what are some of the album’s flaws? The first thing that comes to mind is the production; it is unsurprisingly dominated by the guitar playing and tends to drown the vocals out at times, leading to a performance that isn’t as strongly felt as in Owens’ previous bands. Another flaw is the ballad "Magic City." It doesn’t seem to stand up the rest of the songs on here and probably would’ve been better if Malmsteen didn’t sing lead vocals on it. The album may also be a little too technical for some listeners to handle, but that’s rather obvious at this point. It is Malmsteen we’re talking about, after all...
All in all, it is easily in the top 5 of 2008 and worth checking out for fans of Tim Owens and neo-classical power metal in general.
1) Excellent band performance, particularly lead vocals and guitar.
2) Great song variety and accessible structures
3) Strong displays of technical ability
1) Unbalanced production
2) "Magic City" could’ve been better
3) Perhaps a little too technical for some
My Current Favorites:
"Death Dealer," "Damnation Game," "Live to Fight (Another Day)," "Red Devil," and "Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse)"