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12 years later, this star has dimmed - 70%

BloodIronBeer, January 30th, 2007
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Century Media Records

Note: this is one of a very few reviews I felt like I needed to rewrite, and sure my tastes have moved here and there on probably a lot of albums, but the score of 94 that I previously gave is well ... astronomically out of line with the quality of this album. I really pride myself on really holding off 90+ scores for truly deserving albums, and this is a glaring misstep in that endeavor. Maybe I didn't give this album enough time to simmer, maybe I was enamored with the theme just that much, or perhaps I had sustained some hitherto forgotten head trauma; but without doubt, this album is no where near a 94.

So, Dragonland always played a style of power metal as intensely cheesy and on-the-nose as their band name suggests. But on this album, for whatever reason, they decided to incorporate the groovy riffs of metalcore, the slick almost-heavy riffs of the Gothenburg style of Soilwork and In Flames, and an atmospheric, sometimes spacey take on their symphonics via some amalgamation of ET and Harry Potter soundtracks.

The vocalist remains the same as in the past, that Swedish power metal kind of voice with a slight accent. He isn't the most powerful, talented singer on Earth, or even in the Swedish power metal scene, but he can hold his own. Aside from this, some of the guitar tone and most drumming, Dragonland has pretty much completely changed direction.

Now, here I have removed a bit talking about how well put together the songs are, because that is silly. Fact of the matter is, the song writing here is pedestrian. Aside from the straight on symphonic tracks, The Book of Shadows and the Old House on the Hill tracks, almost every song breaks into the chorus within about 0:50. It's common knowledge that this is a preferred benchmark for radio air play, and why it normally follows that music that does this doesn't really have the greatest artistic integrity. The formula is: main melody, groovy riff, chorus, back and forth, throw in a guitar solo and/or interlude, more chorus, end.

There is hints of Swedish melodic death in a few spot (Direction:Perfection and Antimatter are basically carbon copies of early to mid era Soilwork), some neoclassical (Beethoven's Nightmare, duh), and a considerable portion of progressive metal. There’s even a couple parts featuring harsh vocals, not as main vocals, but to accent certain lines in the main melody. There is an immense emphasis on symphonic/orchestral parts, especially later in the album (the last 14 minutes comprising of the Old House on the Hill trilogy) . It's well executed from a presentation standpoint, and even though the parts are all synthesized they all sound quite real. In fact, in re-writing, I had to go look at the credits to see if these weren't indeed real instruments (even though the strings later in the album do give it away) - this album is extremely well produced, that's for sure. There is a depth and clarity to the sound, and the atmospheric bits and symphonic arrangements never fight to fit inside the sonic space. I could see this as being a contributing factor to why I thought so highly of this album at first.

The title track is indicative of the problem with this album, the main melody is kind of somewhere between flower metal and metalcore, with this sheen of pop appeal, and groovy beat, and a chorus that just does this unabashedly pop sounding "whoooOOOooooOOOOa whoOOOOooooa", "yeah" and then the word "astronomy". Yes, those are the lyrics to the chorus in their entirety: "whoa", "yeah" and "astronomy". A handful of tracks later, they drop the metal altogether and go full 80's pop rock ballad on Too Late for Sorrow, featuring a kind of duet with a female vocalist, not a single metal riff, or what would be considered a metal beat.

Those tracks aside, however, the album is still pretty solid. The track Contact really manages to clear the pitfalls of the melodic death metal fusion they're doing and the verse is just really cool with this fast thrash/d-beat contrasted with soft, steady melancholy melody line over top. Beethoven's Nightmare is another highlight with the, albeit predictable, neo-classical leads with pummeling drums, quoting the 1st and 3rd movement of Beethoven's 14th piano sonata, the "Moonlight Sonata". It's predictable, as it's one of the most popular pieces of piano music in history; but I have a big soft spot for Beethoven.

This kind of brings up something else pertinent to why I might have liked this album so much before, I was probably a little too impressed with the appeal of empty symphonic sounding tracks. 12 years ago, I was not very well versed in classical music. The Book of Shadows track is just a hodgepodge of dramatic sounding symphonic idioms from any Hollywood movie, it's really the worst kind of bad. The first part of the Old House on the Hill isn't much better except for the very end where the metal comes back in and they get to this polka/symphonic/metal thing that is way more interesting than the "let's try to sound like a big budget Hollywood movie" crap they're doing on the majority of these four symphonic tracks. The second track of Old House on the Hill is definitely the strongest - with it's eerie keyboards and staggered rhythm - even though it squanders the first 45 seconds on a 3 minute track. The third part definitely gets points for modulating keys and it's creepy dark circus music thing, but ultimately all three tracks have a little bit too much filler, too much pussy-footing, and not nearly enough cohesion.

In conclusion: fantastic production, very catchy at times, but frequently suffers from being stylistically unpalatable, with too much reaching for mass appeal. The symphonic parts have some very fun ideas in spots, but are structurally and compositionally a comedy of errors. I kind of thought I would give this an even lower score, I guess that goes to show there is something redeeming in the execution of the theme and the catchiness of the better tracks.