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Orcs and elves - 83%

iamntbatman, June 13th, 2015

The mega-prolific Ced is at it again with yet another project. After expanding his flagship Rocka Rollas to a full-band lineup and shifting to a broader heavy/power metal sound rather than focusing exclusively on Running Wild worship, then in turn reviving that same nautical speed/power glory in Blazon Stone, Ced has gone somewhat back to his old ways of doing everything himself, vocals included, an approach he hasn't taken in any of his numerous projects since the very early days of Rocka Rollas (though he is back behind the mic in that band). This time he's opted to broaden his palette to pull from other German power/speed metal influences like Blind Guardian, Helloween and Gamma Ray.

Ced's vocals in Breitenhold just ooze exuberance and youthful vigor, more than effective enough to serve as the focal point for Breitenhold's galloping fantasy-fueled riff fests. Though the lyrics are, as is usual in Ced's projects, sort of generic/uninspired, they're not totally embarrassing or anything, just standard metal anthems of fantasy, battle and adventures. He has clearly put tons of effort into his vocal training though, as his ability to create those totally necessary high-pitched wails is really convincing. He really belts it out in songs like "Thunderstorm Arise." His skill with layering voices for those fist-pumping dude-choir bits has carried over from his other projects as well, if not relied on quite as heavily as the technique is in either Blazon Stone or Rocka Rollas.

Compared to those other two bands, the riffs in Breitenhold are a bit more subtle, letting more of the dynamics and attention-grabbing fall to the vocals. Riffs are mostly speedy affairs but are fairly often not a lot more than galloping palm muted riffs or series of strummed chords while the real fireworks happen in the leads or vocal lines. Sometimes the riffs do steal the thunder, though, like the speed demon that opens up "The Battle Far Beyond." The leads are mostly as glorious as they need to be and sometimes are downright great. The soloing throughout is spot on and is injected with heaps of emotion, like in instrumental interlude "Neverwaking Sleep," but some of the longer stretches of lead work seem a little directionless, like in the lead-in to the central solo of the title track.

That's not to say things ever sound even remotely unprofessional. By now Ced's accomplishments as both an instrumentalist and producer are well-documented. Bass lines are fluid and immaculately captured, drums are played authoritatively and captured with plenty of crack and rumble, and the guitar playing is ridiculously tight throughout. There's also obvious confidence in his own singing prowess as the vocals are pushed right up front in the mix. The problem with this approach is that the big sing-along choruses in Breiteinhold just don't quite grab me the same way they do in Rocka Rollas or Blazon Stone especially. There are some winners, but the consistency just isn't quite there.

Coupled with the relative de-emphasis on riffs carrying the weight of the album, I just can't quite muster the same excitement for this album as I did for the Blazon Stone debut especially. I was also a bit misled by the album, as I thought it would be a pretty major departure from Ced's old Running Wild tricks, but not only does that band's influence still make a strong showing here, the other major influences he's taking from are still stalwarts of classic German power/speed so it's not like he started playing old Swedish heavy metal or USPM or something. I should also mention that I definitely prefer Running Wild to just about any other of those other bands, so the disappointment with this album is something of a paradox: I lament that it didn't quite move far enough away from the Rolfisms of Ced material of the past, yet I also prefer those Rolfisms to what he's reaching for with Breitenhold in the first place.

That said, I can't help but enjoy a lot of the music on Secret Worlds. "Thunderstorm Arise" is just a ripping track and "Legions of Breitenhold" has a chorus that's sure to get your blood pumping. There's also a little more attention given to little things like track sequencing, intros, outros and interlude tracks that seem to indicate that Ced has started to reign in his unending fount of power/speed metal and focus a bit harder on refining his approaches and emphasizing quality. Though this album just came out in November 2015, there's already another Breitenhold album just over the horizon and the snippets I've heard from that seem to address my issues with this debut - the music is a bit riffier but has moved further from the Running Wild territory. I suppose we'll see what Ced has done with the band sooner rather than later, as was probably your expectation from the prolific musician at this point anyway.