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A Diamond beneath the Power Metal Sea. - 90%

hells_unicorn, June 1st, 2008

There is an endless sea of material out there from bands putting together great power metal music which didn’t quite achieve the notoriety and success of many better known German and Finnish acts still around today. The most interesting of this material occurred during the genre’s returned ascension to prominence in the later 1990s. Although there are differing takes on why or how this resurgence began to occur a mere 2 or 3 years after it was presumed dead, it obviously started to happen somewhere from 1995-1996. Albums like Gamma Ray’s “Land of the Free”, Blind Guardian’s “Imaginations from the Other Side”, Nocturnal Rites’ “In a time of Blood and Fire”, and even the Kamelot debut sent ripples through the ebb and flow of heavy metal and started spawning a new generation of melodic speed metal adherents.

Enter “Phoenix Rizing” soon afterwards, a band that underscores the spontaneous nature of this power metal reawakening and the lack of any real rules to confine it to the formulaic style that still dominates some of the later acts in this genre. There is a fair amount of Queensryche and pre-Kiske era Helloween influences, augmented further with a strong keyboard presence before it was popularized by Sonata Arctica and Nightwish popularized it. The resulting sound carries some similarities to mid-90s Stratovarius, particularly “Episode”, at least in terms of overall atmosphere. But unlike their Finnish rivals, the stereotypically constant high wails Timo Koltipelto relies upon is nowhere to be found on here. Tom Piippo’s voice is actually fairly reminiscent of James Rivera with a slight dose of Geoff Tate, although there aren’t any high shrieks or screams as heard by those two during their better renowned material in the 80s. It may not be able to satisfy people who want another Daniel Heiman or Henning Basse clone, but it definitely gets the job done for people who prefer something closer to the character of the USPM vocal sound.

Be this as it may, the difficult thing about trying to classify what is on here is that there isn’t really a stereotypical Norwegian sound within the power metal spectrum, as the country is mostly known for its infamous black metal scene. If nothing else, “Rise from the Ashes” has a strong epic vibe to it, from the intergalactic sounding keyboard ambiences during the opening prelude title track, throughout the various speed metal and mid-tempo tracks on here. But it doesn’t consistently follow the kind of epic sound that you’d get out of the Keepers era of Helloween or even mid-90s Blind Guardian the way many others in the late 90s started to in Europe. “Enclosed by your Destiny” and “Without Warning” do have strong melodic inclinations to these now cliché sounds, but the pacing and bear simplicity of the arrangement definitely gives it a less flowery sound. Picture Destiny’s End’s “Breathe Deep the Dark” (which came out around the same time by the way) but with keyboards and multiple backup vocal tracks.

There are a few well placed ballad elements here and there, but the general flow of this album is pretty consistent in its speed metal approach. The riffs and melodic material are mostly simplistic and slowly developed, though the band often will shift between slow and fast sections abruptly. There is thematic material on “Without Warning”, “Dark Clouds Gathering” and a few others that point towards pre-Helloween influences such as Diamond Head and early 80s Iron Maiden, while other parts of these showcase some brilliant atmospheric keyboard work, particularly that ominous sounding piano intro to “Dark Clouds Gathering”. The band even manages to morph a hit single from one of the most annoying techno/pop bands ever (Aqua) into something that a fan of speed metal can actually enjoy, a feat that will probably never be repeated by anyone else. If nothing else, it shows that with a little tweaking of the instrumentation and the vocal interpretation, something that is relatively comical sounding can sound dark and metallic.

Even though I’m a big fan of Highland Glory’s work, this album has a slight edge over both of the albums put out under that name. Somehow these guys never really thought it a priority to get back to a sound like this, even despite the fact that Jan Grefstad is almost a complete carbon copy of Dan Heiman. For its time, and to an even larger extent today, this album is quite a unique listen. It seems to be pretty damn hard to come by since I don’t think that Jack Olsen and the others have not seen fit to re-release this album or the one that came after it. But if you can find this, and you want an interesting alternative to all of the Judas Priest and Helloween emulations out there, this would definitely be worth tacking down.