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Passably Savage - 72%

AnalogKid, September 14th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

Long life and health to Dushan Petrossi! The mastermind behind some of my favorite neoclassical metal has returned to his part time fantasy-skinned side project. While 2010’s Symphony Of War was a good album and maybe the best under the Magic Kingdom moniker, I think (and I believe others will agree with me) that Iron Mask has been Petrossi and bassist Vasiliy Molchanov’s main project for a very good reason. However, Savage Requiem has a statement or two to make, and while Magic Kingdom has a reputation for being a “pretty good album every five years” sort of band, that attitude may soon be bound for the grave.

I say this in part because of the addition of Christian Palin as the project’s vocalist. Petrossi has worked with some big names on his albums (see erstwhile Iron Mask vocalist Mark Boals), and seems to know how to get the most out of his mercenary vocal talent. Personally, I find Boals’ work with Iron Mask to be some of his very best, and while Magic Kingdom has boasted the voice of Olaf Hayer, I do not find Symphony Of War to have been the man’s best work. Palin is most notably responsible for vocal duties on Adagio’s excellent Archangels In Black, as well as fronting Random Eyes and power metal quasi-supergroup Epicrenel.

The sound of Savage Requiem is, while not a far throw from Symphony Of War, a bit beefier in both the guitar and voice departments. While Iron Mask’s Fifth Son Of Winterdoom cut back on the typical arpeggios, sequences, and baroque-styled solos that have long been Petrossi’s trademark, they’re back in force here, but with a little more “oomph” to the metal behind them. Dushan hogs a lot of the spotlight, consequently, with his furious fretwork, but his rhythm section is tighter than ever, and Palin’s singing is more throaty and aggressive (and we even glimpse a couple of growls). Actually, had the last couple of Iron Mask albums not deviated considerably from the group’s early blueprint, we might now be confusing Savage Requiem with another title from that act. So, maybe this sorcerer of shred has come full circle?

Well, in any case, this isn’t going to let down fans of prior Magic Kingdom – nor any other aficionados of neoclassical guitar gymnastics. Opener “Guardian Angels” starts things right on cue, and the group gradually begins spicing the album with some familiar, yet fresh-sounding entries like “Ship Of Ghost”, which distracts itself merrily with a jaunt into Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy’ before digressing into its solo section. The title track follows by being appropriately catchy and memorable, and dual corkers “With Fire And Sword” and “Dragon Princess” tie a pretty little bow around the album’s tail end. This album just might have the most up-and-up tracklisting of any Magic Kingdom release yet.

With such a well-established sound being the focus of Savage Requiem, anyone vaguely acquainted will know what they’re in for. The measure of such an album, therefore, is not “does it shred?”, therefore, but rather “how memorable are the songs behind all those Malmsteen licks?”. By my estimation, they’re pretty darn good, and Dushan Petrossi has not only earned some replay value with yet another of his compositions, but also built his credibility up one more notch with an attractive album that embellishes just enough upon the Magic Kingdom formula so as to remain supremely listenable. A high-priority listen for Petrossi fans and neoclassical enthusiasts alike!

Originally written for Black Wind Metal

The dragon gets a bit less savage. - 81%

hells_unicorn, June 29th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

Dushan Petrossi is arguably one of the most unique band leaders in the power metal world, putting forth a body of work between several projects that can be qualified as both consistent yet also quirky. In essence, his dual main projects of Magic Kingdom (his original venture) and Iron Mask have shared a common vision of reaffirming a lot of the accomplishment made since Helloween and Yngwie Malmsteen hit the scene, while putting a fairly unique spin on it by incorporating elements of more extreme styles, arguably introducing a novel blend of power metal and melodic death metal that's slightly more accessible than even the better known Children Of Bodom by limiting the harsher vocal slots to a supporting role. However, there was definitely a genuine interest on Petrossi's part with the darker side of metal, which ultimately culminated in a third project dubbed Arms Of War that fully embraced the melodic death metal nuances of his past works stylistically. The end result of this eventuality is that Magic Kingdom's occasional death/thrash interludes have now been wholly exported to the aforementioned newer project.

Consequently, the newly released fourth opus of Magic Kingdom's ongoing existence Savage Requiem finds itself in more conventional territory, opting for something much closer to an orthodox hybrid of German influenced power metal songwriting with the Malmsteen inspired classicism that this project has been often noted for competently emulating. The soloing gymnastics and assorted flashy elements have been largely limited to the guitar, and has likewise been downplayed a bit to make room for a heavier emphasis on strong, occasionally grooving but otherwise memorable riff work. Most of the atmospheric detailing via keyboards has been focused towards orchestral texturing, largely relegated to a supporting role to keep the arrangement full, which makes sense as this is the first album not to feature a permanent keyboardist. But the biggest change is the introduction of vocalist Christian Palin, arguably best known for his brief stint with Adagio, who brings a dirtier and more gravely vocal performance than either original vocalist Max Leclercq or his temporary replacement Olaf Hayer and actually ends up sounding fairly similar to Nils Johanssen of Astral Doors.

In spite of being generally conventional and perhaps a bit closer to an orthodox emulation of Malmsteen's mid-90s material than in days past, this is a fun and engaging album that showcases a solid blend of flash and nuance. The opening instrumental "In Umbra Mea" and the following epic grower "Guardian Angels" hit all the right buttons in terms of hook work and offer a balanced mixture of mid-tempo development and fast cruising that is fairly reminiscent of recent Helloween offerings with a stronger orchestral element. Slower, more forbidding excursions into 80s metal reminiscence like " Full Moon Sacrifice" and "Savage Requiem" are also well realized, and bring a bit more of a Black Sabbath or even a Candlemass element in to the mix. "Ship Of Ghosts" definitely moves things back into more of a catchy, melodic speeding element indicative of the lofty side of the Helloween/Gamma Ray coin, though a nice little quotation of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" is worked in for an obligatory classical nod. But ultimately the true testament of Petrossi's prowess comes forth in more 80s oriented Malmsteen homages at blistering tempos such as "Rivals Forever", "With Fire And Sword", and the closing thrill ride "Battlefield Magic", all of them ratcheting up the Baroque era harmonic cliches and rapid paced soloing something fierce, and the latter of the three even invoking Malmsteen's "Trilogy Suite" theme in between Helloween oriented hooks.

This is a slight step down from the more multifaceted and eclectic Symphony Of War, but comes pretty close to matching it in terms of overall quality. There is definitely enough of an overall familiarity of sound to satisfy any and all that have followed this band since Metallic Tragedy, though stylistically it ends up sounding a little bit closer to Iron Mask's earlier offerings, which were likewise much closer to an orthodox Malmsteen sound. The only thing that would potentially push this project closer to invoking the mid-80s Malmsteen spirit would be if Dushan brought Mark Boals into this project as well, but that would probably all but eliminate any distinction, though obviously small, that still exists between said Iron Mask and this project. It's a bit difficult to tell which project is Petrossi's primary one at this point, but who really cares, since his continual juggling of two projects has yielded such a consistent and prolific output to date. As long as there is a side of dragon fire to go with the sea of notes flowing from Dushan's guitar, there's no reason to complain.

Originally submitted to (The Metal Observer) on June 29, 2015.

If Only It Could Mirror the Cover Art More... - 60%

doomknocker, May 23rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

It's not every day (or every few years, even) that we get a new batch of recorded works from Belgium's power metal fellows. Moving beyond simple Malmsteenery and venturing into a sound they could call their own (well, within reason...), the listening public has been able to watch as the group grew from horribly-produced roots into something that flirts on sensational over their almost 20 years in existence. Within reason, of course. But during each successive disappearance, it becomes harder, over time, to think them over until such a time when something new comes our way (I'm being real, here...), so

While "Savage Requiem" won't redefine power metal in any stretch of the word, what the listener gets is, instead, a rather solid affair with more virtues than vices. The main musical focus combines the straightforward hard rockin' of Power Quest with a mild-to-moderate amount of epic grandiosity with more reliance on melodies born of choirs and guitar leads as opposed to multiple layers of symphonic gloss (or cheese depending on who you are). This in itself is quite an interesting turn of events; there are keyboards here, sure, but they seem to only serve to expand upon the ideas already presented in the riffwork, blending in a more subtle fashion than one would come to expect with this kind of feel and approach. If anything, the lead guitar work contains most of the flash and flair (as mentioned before), which are plentifully quick and harmonic yet thankfully straying far enough from overkill as possible to render them ignorable or overlooked because of it. But when the compositional level is loaded to the brim alongside these finer traits it’s money…pure, unadulterated money (“Guardian Angels” and the more deep moments of “Full Moon Sacrifice” let you have it right between ye eyes).

Yet that said, and to be utterly frank and a bit unfair, "Savage Requiem" is rather good and more than simply competently written and performed, but it's not quite as thundering in itself as one would hope it to be. The pacing is fine and the level of songwriting and creativity never dips below “simply entertaining”, but all the same I felt a touch cold and distant with the material at hand. Almost like the stylistic level was lower than it should’ve been, or the material itself feels more restrained than is necessary. Much of it comes from the rather rock-like format and arrangement scheme versus zipping about all over the place with energy and melody to spare (per usual with even the more low-key of power metal acts), which in itself robs quite a bit of the songs’ potency along the way, yet not so much as to not find it all anything less than simply a good, engaging listen. If anything that’s the main issue of contention with me (…well, the vocals aren’t the best, they kinda slide out of key more than they should, but that’s about it), so if all you’re wanting is a simpler method of the melodic/power metal aesthetic, then this’ll tickle your fancy quite a bit.

All in all “Savage Requiem” was enjoyable and well done, yet it doesn’t offer as much as one would come to hope or expect. Yet it’s within those limitations that you can still find plenty to appreciate. I can’t say it blew me away, but at the same time it didn’t lose me. More than slightly recommended.

Battlefield Magic! - 92%

Larry6990, April 6th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, AFM Records (Digipak)

Having been a massive fan of this band for at least 8 years, their 3 full-length albums have thus far been enough to whet my appetite over that time. After 2010's glorious "Symphony of War", I had abandoned all hope of another Magic Kingdom album - assuming that its mastermind, Dushan Petrossi, would be focused on his more prominent Iron Mask project. So these last few months have been like an explosion of excitement upon the announcement of Dushan's return to Magic Kingdom. A new album with a new vocalist, a new drummer and incredible new artwork, was on the horizon! Let me say without any hesitation - this is, and will be, the best power metal release of 2015...

Why? Simply because, despite the scares of having to abandon this band altogether, this still sounds like a continuation of the Magic Kingdom we know and love. Petrossi's Malmsteen-esque fretwork, the explosive choruses, the lyrics about dragons/knights/wizards etc, the harpsichord, that pseudo-medieval atmosphere... It's all here in droves! Kicking things off is the sweeping orchestral intro "In Umbra Mea"; in which the synthesized orchestra is presented very nicely indeed. This crescendos appropriately towards "Guardian Angels", the first two minutes of which are purely instrumental. This acts as a sort of continuation to the intro which establishes the convention that this is an 'epic' - not just an album.

Michael Brush's stunning effort behind the kit follows the classic double-kick euro-power gallop we all love, whilst embellishing with style whenever he can. Petrossi's famous Baroque-esque guitar work is never disappointing. Even Vassili on the bass has some stand out moments, especially in the album's slower periods. But of course, we are without the familiar soaring vocals of Olaf Hayer this time! Ex-Adagio man Christian Palin has stepped in - and he fits like the melodic equivalent of a jigsaw piece! He brings a natural edge to the lyrics which I can imagine being a real hit live. Just listen to his vocals in the closing seconds of "Full Moon Sacrifice"...very nice indeed!

The impressive thing about Petrossi's songwriting, is that he chocks both his Iron Mask and Magic Kingdom albums full of variety, whilst remaining stylistically loyal. The previously mentioned "Full Moon Sacrifice" and the title track are moody, mid-paced stompers, not dissimilar from their 2006 track "Barabas". There is a semi-ballad in the form of "Dragon Princess" which picks up the pace wonderfully in its latter half. And of course, there are the up-tempo, vibrant, soaring, catchy melodic power metal hymns like "Rivals Forever" and "With Fire & Sword" which never fail to raise our invisible axes!

Particular highlights of this gem include the guitar solo of "Ship of Ghosts" (Beethoven anyone?), the furious finale of "Battlefield Magic", the monstrous roar at the end of the title track, and the entirety of "Four Demon Kings of Shadowlands" - which is, frankly, a masterpiece of the genre. For perfectly incorporating blazing guitar shredding, impressively composed symphonic segments, full-sounding riffs, and choruses which are catchier than the plague - this album deserves a nod towards 'album of the year' territory.

I am somewhat disappointed at the lack of growled vocals, considering how much they enhanced songs like "We Rise" and "Unholy Abyss". Palin is clearly capable of it, so why lose that extra dimension? The only other qualm I have is that Petrossi decided against adding another chapter to the grandiose 'Metallic Tragedy' saga. I could always do with a huge 20+ minute epic containing narration, characters etc. However, these are the complaints of a tiny mouse clinging to the back of a roaring lion with a jetpack. "Savage Requiem" is a symphonic power metal treasure, and you should own it!

"I dedicate this song,
This Savage Requiem,
To every man on Earth
To live this life with passion!"