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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.