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Five guardians stood at the firmament's wake. - 94%

hells_unicorn, December 17th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Doolittle Group (Amazon)

Though the more common way to describe the initial surge or resurgence of a scene is as that of a wave, perhaps a better analogy would be to that of a circle. As the old truism goes, there is nothing new under the sun, and the various revivals of older metal scenes that goes with younger generations discovering the past often finds things ending up pretty much exactly where they were musically. Likewise, no scene ever totally dies, but merely goes out of view for one part of the world as another one will be wont to take it up. Thus it could be rightly observed that in the past seven or eight years there has been a renewed interest in the Helloween-centered, speed metal infused variant of power metal that skyrocketed to prominence at the beginning of the current millennium. Though it was largely supplanted by the middle of the previous decade by a more AOR-tinged and groove-oriented variant, largely spearheaded by Masterplan and the stylistic changes occurring in genre mainstays such as Edguy and Sonata Arctica, there has been an impressive flock of younger outfits that are not content to hang around mid-paced land, and one of the more impressive newcomers to the scene is the Swedish based powerhouse Morning Dwell.

Ushered in to the scene thanks to support from Christian Rivel's (Narnia, Golden Resurrection) Liljegren Records in 2014 with an exceptional eponymous debut that made one want to literally party like it was 1999, little time was wasted before their even more over-the-top sophomore effort The Guardians Of Time hit the shelves in late 2016. Their sound can be best summed up as a perfect amalgam of the court jester themed, Keepers era Helloween on steroids sound that typified Edguy during the Theater Of Salvation era, as well as the more intergalactic and synth-infused variant that Power Quest brought to the fore as a slightly less noodling answer to Dragonforce in the early 2000s. At the helm, and arguably one of the more consequential power metal frontmen to emerge in the past few years is that of Petter Hjerpe, an unapologetic Michael Kiske fan boy who ends up sounding all but exactly the way Tobias Sammet did prior to his oddball fascination with looking like Rob Thomas and sounding like a more haggard version of his former self. Naturally, this should not imply that the musicians supporting Hjerpe are to be discounted, particularly the keyboardist and guitarists who make an incredible series of displays reminiscent of Steve Williams and Adam Bickers trading blows on the Power Quest debut.

In comparison to the last studio outing, The Guardians Of Time has a bit more of an overt Power Quest character to the music going on behind the vocals, rather than an even mixture of said sound with a more comical Edguy/Helloween gloss. The debut was obviously no slouch in the speed department, but the moment that "At The End Of The Universe" leaves its serene organ and keyboard drenched prelude for the upper stratosphere, what emerges would be what Magic Never Dies might have sounded like had they gotten Thomen Stauch (Blind Guardian) or Thomas Knack (Gamma Ray, Iron Savior) to handle drums and brought the most thrashing display that either could muster. Similar fits of speed metal laced insanity with an optimistic, consonant musical display like Freedom Call at their most upbeat are found soon after in "Rise From The Sand" and "Where Morning Dwells". Only slightly less insane in the speed department but still fodder for the same crowd that craves things fast and melodic stand "The Sun Never Shines" and the longer and more epic "King Of The World". Based on these songs alone it's difficult not to picture this album belonging to the same era that gave us all Stairway To Fairyland and Southgate.

While this time around things are definitely geared more towards a heroic, fast-paced power metal adventure, there is still a healthy remnant of the quirkier side of Hjerpe and company's craft that points to that likewise other side of the Theater Of Salvation coin that was largely untouched by most of Edguy's contemporaries in the late 1990s. Though containing some of the speedy elements of the aforementioned songs here and there, the album's towering 13 minute epic "The Mask And The Clocktower" has a sort of creepy, Avantasia-like vibe to it that's even a bit out there when compared to Tobias' more involved epic songs from the older days of Edguy such as "The Kingdom" and "Theater Of Salvation". The intro has an almost creepy, nightmare in a carnival feel to it that is a tad bit different from the epic closer off the debut "The Story Never Ends", though the overall body of the song follows a similar formula of build up and explosion. The album takes a decidedly sudden turn towards the more epic at the tail end with a couple of longer and more complex mid-paced anthems in "Gate Of Time" and "A New World" that generally follow the same consonant melodic feel as the faster material, but with more twists and turns.

It's a somewhat ironic outcome that while Morning Dwell clearly went in a more stylistically uniform direction here relative to their last outing, they ended up in territory that is also a tad more complex. It may be a bit presumptuous to say so given that this album is still quite young relative to the classic albums to which it has been compared to here, but this collection of songs is arguably the best thing to come out of the more traditionally geared Helloween school of power metal since the style first began to crawl its way back out of the underground in the late 90s. Many are quick to say that the power metal scene has become too saturated with new acts and that there is a finite amount of room for greatness, but this conventional wisdom assumes a zero sum view of the sub-genre that has never really been true. Though many of the expressions being brought back to the fore have heavy similarities to each other, there is always room for greatness among them all, and The Guardians Of Time is about as compelling of a throwback to the power metal revival of 20 years prior as anyone will find at present.