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A true diamond in the rough - 83%

Bloodstone, March 27th, 2005

A bit hard to come up with a really fitting title for a review of this album, actually. I'm also having a hard time to develop a real opinion of it, because of its quite extreme pros and cons, of which the latter actually dominates in sheer amount.

Let's see; the sound and overall execution of the material is enormously derivative of the rest of the Euro-power scene, the production sucks, the band lacks a lot of instrumental talent (a rarity for power metal nowadays, but unfortunately it doesn't make them sound unique or anything), and finally the album is too long for its own good. Damnation, this one doesn't seem to have much going for it at all. Now what could possibly save this album from being lumped among those other lacklusters of power metal that are slowly corroding the whole power scene by giving it a bad name?

Well, it's the actual SONGWRITING, that is really far more impressive than it should be on an album in this vein. Most of the time it moves along in a straightforward and slightly above average power metal fashion; however, every now and then absolute and utter brilliance strikes. At times, this album shows potential of being THE power metal album of the fucking millennium, I shit you not. Ok, it IS pretty derivative even during those moments, but hey, this is power metal we're talking about here, where everyone must subscribe to the fact that "a good song is always a good song", and in light of the current situation of power metal, it could actually have been worse.

This is an AMBITIOUS motherfucker of an album. Just as requiem mentioned, the song are long, feature many different sections and are really complex in structure, as is the case with the vocal lines and also the lyrics. Yup, you guessed it: it's a concept album...about some random guy who gets bitten by a vampire sometime in the middle age, and his struggles between life and death, good and evil, etc...not bad, even though some of the lines come off as a bit forced in places due to where the band comes from (France...frog metal omgwtflolz:S). Anyway, at times it amazes me how the band actually manages to connect all these various parts into such amazing, glorious and insanely EPIC metal tunes that actually sound as though they're making any sense...

...while at other times it's not quite the same pretty sight. Several songs are a bit inconsistent in themselves; for example, in some songs the verses and choruses are little more than your basic, typical speedy double bass flower trip under random mediocre harpsicord/stradivarius/wtf-ever patterns, while in the middle there's maybe four or five extremely distinct, nicely connected, epic and memorable parts that pretty much salvage the whole song and prevents you from losing your attention from the album as whole. But only occasionally do manage to fukin rawk from beginning to end...once again referring to requiem's review, he definitely has a point in saying that the band doesn't *quite* possess the talent to wield an album of this extraordinary magnitude. Still, those moments when the album truly gets going have to be worth SOMETHING...

Getting right to describing the band's sound...holy fuck, I hear so many other bands on here, I don't even know where to begin. Put briefly, I would perhaps say a more flowery version of Gamma Ray, circa 'Somewhere Out in Space'...but that's not quite the case for album as WHOLE, actually. When describing the riffage (yes, actual riffs it does have, making me seriously hesitate in labelling it "flower" metal), The Ray is the closest comparison, but there's also a fair amount of key work on here, and that's where the bands Stratovarius, Rhapsody and Dark Moor come to mind...moreso than the entirely keyboard-dominated Sonata Arctica, probably. When the band is REALLY blazing away at full speed, I think Dragonforce, much because of the "bombastic" double bass work (attained through mixing it ridiculously loud, of course, but that's another discussion) and extremely light and high-pitched, almost castrati vocals (comes through more in this band than in Dragonforce, though).

Yeah, the vocals are kinda weak, unfortunately. I mean, the vocal MELODIES themselves are absolutely great and memorable as fuck, but the way they are sung...he hits high notes rather frequently, but isn't doing so with much power and conviction, sorry to say. Having had a go at high-pitched vocals myself, I think the problem may be that he's not singing from his STOMACH, instead preferring to hit those notes using only his throat and therefore attaining very limited power when doing it. That Elisa-replacement dude in Dark Moor comes to mind - but a lot of the time he also sounds a lot like Kai Hansen, and even Timo Kotipelto (just listen to the pre-chorus of "Keepers of the Earth": "Looking at the sky-eeeyy, I am waiting for moooore!!") at other times, if maybe not quite coming anywhere close to outdoing any of them. Still, this is the dude behind 98% of the songwriting on here, so kudos to him for that. In general, this isn't the first album you put on when craving for instrumental masturbation; the production (heavy and RAW, though not in a good way) doesn't help much either.

Indeed, this album is HARD to get into, especially for a power metal album (there's no prog here, for those you wondering). I ordered this album together with Exodus' comeback album, and thus this disc had to be shelved for quite a while after I spun it the first time. Those things I wrote in the second paragraph were my exact feelings initially; it was after maybe spin five that I TRULY began to pick up on the songs' hidden qualities. Buried under a pile of total flower metal cheese is an extremely strong, albeit flawed, epic POWER metal album. God knows I've given it enough time by now, though, having owned and listened to it on various occasions for over a year. There was a period when I hailed it as pretty much the best power metal album ever, just as it had "fully" grown on me, but today, judging it with more experienced ears and my usual critic's hat on, 83% does feel like a fair rating when everything is considered. After all, my ratings system is less generous than average. Yet be aware; I see endless fields of potential in this band, and I am soooo looking forward to hearing from them again.

Highlights include in particular the first two songs, "Evil" and "Lust for Life" (see: the new Freedom Call album for more of those totally unoriginal song titles;)). "Glory to the miracle! TO THE MIRACLE!! I was damned, now I'm living again!" The epicness prevails. See also the intro section of "Lust for Life", plus the chorus: "I don't belong to the sky, I just follow my way!!" As for pure heaviness, look no further than "Keepers of the Earth" at 4.41, with that rhythm guitar backing the solo - awesome heavy/melodic combo here, especially at 4.54 when everything comes together along with those cymbals tearing up the whole place, and more... The album-closing piano ballad is a personal fave, and here's where the slightly mispronounced vocals actually become really charming. "I am free, flying beyond the stars/Dust to Dust, leaving with human's soul!" Kinda similar to Gamma Ray's "Lake of Tears" in places, except made even cooler. "Look to the sky...you'll see me again!!" Again; more of that shit, and you have a true masterpiece on your hands.