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Towering above the seas of blood. - 82%

hells_unicorn, January 14th, 2013

It's been a long time coming for America to rediscover its own place amongst the pioneers of metal music, but the past few years have seen an interesting resurgence of old practices, spearheaded by an early to mid 80s revivalist movement by the likes of White Wizzard and Holy Grail. While these bands have lived off a sort of campy approach to restating the sounds of Iron Maiden and Jag Panzer, there are a few underground acts that are taking a somewhat different path, one that can be treated with a greater level of severity. Among the more interesting bands to crop up of late is Blood Dancer, a San Diego based outfit with a mildly unconventional approach to melding past and present heavy/power metal practices.

From the onset of this band's self-titled debut, one can't help but be taken in by the symphonic overture as it expresses a sound quite similar to the early 2000s European sound of Dark Moor and Rhapsody Of Fire. But after the keyboards subside and the opening riff of "Death To The Saints" chimes in, the flavor is based a lot more closely in a rudimentary metallic assault somewhere between Maiden's "Powerslave" and Helloween's "Keepers" albums. By the same token, the production is quite powerful and punchy, seeking after a sound not all that dissimilar to the early offerings of Hammerfall, and about as complex. The vocals prove to be the most unique aspect, sounding somewhat along the lines of Joacim Cans, but with a bit more edge and attitude and occasional screams that hint at a subtle metalcore influence, and thankfully a mild one that doesn't detract from the earlier metal influences.

As things progress, so to does the arsenal of devices employed to keep the listener guessing. "The Herald Of War" takes a mid-tempo rocking approach, but is loaded up with contrasting rhythmic ideas and busy riffs that go a bit beyond the typical Accept and Grave Digger worship common to a number of more traditionally oriented European bands of late. "Without Heroes" continues in a similar vein but with a catchier and predictable set of hooks, conjuring up images of Blaze Bailey's early solo following his departure from Maiden. The all acoustic interlude "Discourse Of The Soul" is something of a unique addition as it finds a sound pretty close to 80s Black Sabbath and a smal smattering of classically-tinged elements both from the guitar leads and the droning keyboards in the background. But like with a number of bands in this mold, most of the best tricks are saved for the longer epic number, in this case the closer "Last Stand Of The Pagan Kings", which delivers a poignant musical story with a drawn out set of guitar galloping and chugging grooves, including the most ambitious set of shred lines found on the album.

There is a great deal of potential here, particularly if the band manages to get a crisper production job done on their next album. What is heard on here is quite good by independent standards, but one can't help but notice the overpowering character of the drums and guitars and the particularly loud cymbal noise. But overall, this is a fine collection of songs that bring back that Manowar spirit of striking a fatal blow to the false ones, though with a bit less macho posturing. Any American who has been longing for a viable domestic answer to Hammerfall, Dream Evil or Sacred Steel will definitely want to check this album out.