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Bound by secrets yet untold. - 87%

hells_unicorn, June 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Nightmare Records

Somewhere in the barren wasteland that was the American music scene of the mid-1990s, a latter day heavy metal trustee from the upper mid-west found himself at a crossroads. His newly born label Nightmare Records was largely a vehicle for his original band Gemini, an AOR tinged heavy metal outfit that would largely be overshadowed by the commercial success of 80s mainstays like Queensryche and Fates Warning, and it's lack of traction, along with that of a brief spin-off band The Kings Machine would leave him seeking greener pastures outside the continental U.S. to get his vision off the ground. That trustee's name was Lance King, and his first truly consequential clientele venture outside his home territory was an AOR turned progressive power metal upstart out of England dubbed Balance Of Power. Though they were already a surprisingly strong retro-80s outfit prior to King's entry, it was his assuming vocal duties that introduced this outfit to the world of power metal, and thus was born the first of a successive streak of three highly obscure yet musically extravagant offerings in Book Of Secrets.

Drawing from a combination of King's own affinity for the work of Queensryche and Dream Theater, typified in his fusion of the vocal leaders of both outfits, and the iconic 80s arena-tinged rock/metal gloss that typified this band's debut, the resulting presents a highly credible amalgam of both worlds. The songwriting is heavily informed by the more expanded formula often employed by the likes of Threshold and Vanden Plas, often clocking in at times that are far from conducive to rock radio, yet with a hook-driven character that is about as infectious as the most radio-oriented output of Queensryche's material on Rage For Order and Operation: Mindcrime. Along with King's more impassioned and wide-ranged vocal display, a key ingredient in this band's sound moving in a more metal direction is the entry of shredder Pete Southern filling the slot vacated by Paul Curtis following the release of the previous album. His soloing approach is particularly frenetic and technical, falling maybe just a tad bit shy of John Petrucci territory, but not for any want of trying and laying on the Neo-classical noodling with the best of them.

Though presented in a conceptual package that includes several narrations by a deep-voiced speaker filling in the gaps of what is essentially an apocalyptic tale with plenty of biblical paraphrases, this collection of songs generally functions as one of strong stand alone works. Following a brief atmospheric introduction, things kick into full on heavy metal bluster with a fast-coasting and epic cruiser with a riff set somewhat reminiscent of Jake E. Lee's tenure with Ozzy Osbourne dubbed "Walking On Top Of The World", which also proves to be one of Lance King's more glass-shattering vocal performances to boot. The up tempo journey into majestic landscapes amid a war torn earth continue with another long-winded mixture of rhythmically intricate grooves and consonant melodic hooks in such epic bangers as "Book Of Secrets", the shred-happy mid-paced anthem "Seven Days Into Nevermore" and the somewhat more ballad-driven yet still glorious "When Heaven Calls Your Name". Truth be told, whether the songs run five minutes or eight, there is a sense of consistency in both style and harmonic scheme that makes them all feel the same length and possessed of the same level of power.

For a metal album in 1998, particularly coming out of the United Kingdom, this is about as good as it got and functioned as something of an early battle cry from a style that many had dismissed as dead along with the decade that spawned it. Of everything that Balance Of Power has put out following their heavily 80s infused arena rock debut the year prior, this album is the closest to a retro-80s power metal album and one that was put out long before the concept had become palpable, let alone popular. The only real flaw to speak of is that the songwriting is a bit green and this album finds a lot of similar ideas being repeated from one song to the next, which was something that was likewise exhibited on When The World Falls Down. However, from the standpoint of raw talent and sheer execution, this is arguably the best thing to be put forth in this style since the likes of Operation: Mindcrime and Transcendence, a veritable lone chain-mail clad metal crusader standing in the rain awaiting a battle that was soon to reach a fever pitch in the metal world on mainland Europe.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Santaniello, aka Diamhea. (R.I.P.)