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Metallum Romanum VII - Candy Time - 70%

Sean16, January 12th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Virus Records (Amazon)

The band’s moniker is a single Latin word, where the U has been written V: this already reeked of vervm metallvm romanvm from miles away. Getting closer, you spot four guys in their forties proudly posing in legionnaire armor, realize that the singer is nicknamed Spartacus, and that the other musicians all coined ancient Roman versions of their actual names: no doubt left, this is unadulterated Roman metal indeed. Hailing from Italy? Add a few extra points. Alright, the album nearly failed the Latin lyrics test, but there’s a quote from Tacitus in the title track, so all is forgiven.

While poking fun is easy, art is difficult, and to this respect Imperivm is a fully respectable group. And sincere. It makes the refreshing impression of a bunch of old friends who, after years of listening to big names of cheerful European power metal, thought that, after all, they might as well simply play themselves the music they like. Not a single bit of originality to be expected here, then, save for the Roman theme; while this Rome Burns album was recorded in 2017, it sounds singularly out of time, and any release date from over the past twenty years would have been equally credible. Its success will thus only depend on the musicians’ ability to chain catchy melodies, sing-along choruses and fast wanky solos for forty-five minutes non-stop, without allowing the listener to scratch too much under the surface, an act which would reveal the inherent superficiality of the work.

Mission accomplished – almost. Most tracks manage to pull out the best from the well-known, but still effective mixture of galloping riffs, high-pitched melodic vocals and showy solos, without forgetting the expected touch of fancy keyboards, mostly predominant in the intros, before the guitars claim the stage back. The mid-tempo title track, especially, shows real anthemic properties, and Sabaton gained world-wide reputation by writing songs which weren’t more imaginative; only, they wrote them a dozen of years before, that makes all the difference.

This is of course a situation where most of the burden reposes on the vocalist’s shoulders, and overall “Spartacus” carries it pretty well. Should he lose faith for even half a second while yelling My name is Spartacus! The mighty gladiator who never di-iiies!, the whole song would fall flat; he does not, and the song is nearly irresistible. The same could be said about most of his performance: always dancing on the thin line that separates sheer epic enthusiasm from ridicule, only very punctually falling into the latter. Though he can reach high notes with ease, he doesn’t abuse of these, keeping the virtuosity for the choruses; verses are usually sung in a mid-ranged fashion, not devoid of pleasant raspy undertones. The mandatory choirs are present as well, wisely not blown out of proportion, rather, often limited to a single, lower-pitched backing vocal line.

The rest of the line-up shows sufficient technical skills to make the album thoroughly enjoyable, greatly helped by the production, clear, precise and devoid of artifice. The fat resounding bass, especially, is an undeniable plus, adding like a supplement of ancient virility to a genre which isn’t exactly renowned for its sheer heaviness. It goes as far as overshadowing the drums, mostly limited to metronomic snare pounding over short double-bass gallops – doing the job, nothing less, nothing more either. At least they sound like drums, not plastic cans. Solos are no doubt calibrated, usually consisting in an instrumental version of the song’s core melody enhanced by a flourish of arpeggios of variable length and complexity, but who cares as long as they’re played fluid enough. Small variation from the formula, the opener Last Breath features a hybrid guitar-and-keyboard solo, Stratovarius fashion, where the instruments answer to each other, but that one is the exception rather than the rule, the guitar otherwise reigning undisputed.

Picking a favorite track in such a collection of skillfully crafted, lively tunes will be pretty much up to every listener’s choice. While I have a soft spot for the colorful Spartacus Never Dies or Domus Aurea, I’d also acknowledge it’s a matter of purely subjective personal taste. Not to say all tracks are equally good, either. The ballad of the album, No Wife, No Queen, isn’t the worst of the genre, but sounds a tad too much like an obligatory part of the cheesy europower contract the band had to fulfill, without any particular affinity for it; mighty Spartacus seems to have momentarily lost his fervor there, monotonously reciting his text over a background of meowing guitars and trickling piano. Besides, the general bouncy vibe of the music may occasionally fall at odd with the seriousness of the historical events covered – mostly war, murder and destruction, after all. It’s hard, for instance, to believe a dancing tune like I Am the King really deals with the tragedy of king Romulus having no choice but killing his own brother to reach supreme power...

Never mind. Rome Burns is the kind of album which is always pleasant to listen to. Unpretentious, entertaining, sugary just enough to be tasty, that’s exactly how one would figure a europower record dealing with ancient Rome to sound like, and asking for more would be unreasonable. Thus the quest for Roman metal goes on.

Highlights: Rome Burns, Spartacus Never Dies, Domus Aurea