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Doesn't quite shine, but gives a decent glow. - 75%

hells_unicorn, June 8th, 2012

Nightmare could be referred to as the first French metal band of serious consequence, both in traditional and power metal circles and they’ve maintained a reasonably consequential presence in the scene since being resurrected in the late 90s after more than a decade of being disbanded. But they have also been a band that seems to not quite follow through on things of late, opting for a modern sound that is more metallic than the likes of recent Sonata Arctica and Edguy output, yet slightly mired in the AOR trappings of recent Masterplan and Allen/Lande output. Ever since the exodus of co-founding guitarist Nicolas De Dominicis, they’ve veered away from their traditionally rooted sound for something a bit heavier, but also less organic and mystical.

The latest album manifestation of this outfit is largely an exercise in playing it safe, playing off the thick, meaty guitar and drum sound that has typified recent Helstar output, but merging it with a more melodically consonant demeanor and a heavily sleaze-infused vocal character. Basically Jo Amore steals the show with every single not he hits, melding a strong dose of attitude and edge with his gritty snarl that definitely gives Jørn Lande’s pipes a solid run for their money. But underneath this old school vibe is a lot of present day practices that takes things down a few pegs, particularly the down-tuned vibe of the guitar riffs, which has some elements of modern thrash to it, but largely sounds like a slightly too simple play on Symphony X’s sound, especially on the magnum opus of this album “The Dominion Gate (Part 3)”, the latest installment in an ongoing series since the album bearing the same name, and also the first one without their departed co-founding guitarist.

There is definitely a healthy dose of charm to this album, particularly but not limited to the somewhat more progressive elements in play. The keyboard work takes a refreshingly symphonic, supporting role rather than the usual mix of atmospherics and wild lead lines competing with the guitars. “Sunrise In Hell” and “The Burden Of God” represent the more agitated and faster side of this album’s largely mid-tempo paradigm, and largely build a pleasing middle ground between Mid-Eastern musical trappings and 80s oriented sing along choruses. The rest of the album tends to be a bit more rhythmically precise and subdued, particularly the heavily orchestrated and formulaic “The Preacher”. The smaller parts of the whole tend to resemble the minimalism of latter day Dio output, and echo the similarly dark guitar tone tendencies, but there is even less reliance on the lead guitar lines to outright drive the songs in favor of Jo Amore’s continual dominance of presence.

By all standards, this is a decent album, but it doesn’t quite reach out and compel the listener to come back the way “Cosmovision” did. Granted, said album was something of a perfect storm of originality between the conglomeration of early 2000s speeding mayhem, old school 80s guitar sounds, and a heavily theatrical production by a renowned name in black metal circles to make it sound like nothing ever heard before. This album is more along the lines of an occasional joy to hear, but not quite something that would really stand out from the pack. It’s far from the massive plummet from greatness that many experienced post 2003 in this sub-genre, but it just falls short of closing the deal and truly delivering the goods.