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Power the Sky/Questador. - 71%

hells_unicorn, July 1st, 2008

In the past few years most of the power metal scene has been moving away from the fast, late 80s style Helloween brand of melodic speed metal with heavy keyboard usage to something more in line with modern AOR music. This has affected some bands more drastically than others, whereas some such as Masterplan, Ride the Sky, Power World, Heed, and Helloween have carried this newer power metal hybrid very well, others such as Nocturnal Rites, Avantasia, Nightwish, Metalium and Sonata Arctica have consequently put out inferior music or even uninspired groove dribble. Somewhere in between these two extremes lays Power Quest’s latest full length offering.

One of the positive aspects of this newer variant is that it has brought a little more variety into the rhythm section and riff element of the formula. When more than 60% of an album is loaded with constant double bass drum work and speed riffing, the concept starts to lose its intended effect after a while. The downside is that sometimes this will also carry a downsized role for lead guitar work and fully remove the standard metal riffing approach altogether in favor of an entirely groove oriented formula. In this respect Power Quest has remained consistent in the lead guitar department, although like on Nocturnal Rites’ “Grand Illusion” has come with a lot of guest solo slots, one by now second guitarist and former Cellador lead player Bill Hudson, and have mostly avoided replacing solid power metal riffs with primitive, tribal sounding groove drudgery.

There are a number of albums in power metal’s not so distant past that could be compared to this, in various respects. The melodic approach and pacing carries a lot of similarities to Ride the Sky, but with a cleaner and richer vocal delivery and three times as many densely harmonized choruses. And much like the short-lived Uli Kusch side project there are actually no obligatory ballads to speak of, only heavy mid-tempo and fast but not too fast up-tempo metal. The keyboard presence has actually been reduced to a level pretty similar to “Plague House Puppet Show”, although despite there being two guitarists in this fold the riff arrangement is a lot tighter than the Twilightning approach. Bits and pieces of the same 80s rock characteristics also heavily present in the Power World debut, which likely were influenced by this band, are here as well.

Overall it is safe to say that the primary influence at work here is later Stratovarius with a slight helping of 90s Helloween. The album’s opening song “Cemetery Gates” has that catchy as hell principle lead riff that manages to be twice as interesting as Stratovarius’ “Eagleheart”, not to mention a lot more guitar oriented. The fact that Alessio decided to pick up the guitar definitely expanded the band’s options riff wise, and they exploit it heavily with occasional rhythmic interchanges and rhythm fills. If it weren’t for the extremely strict rhythmic harmony of this song, and Alessio’s much cleaner vocals, this would be a 100% dead ringer for something on Twilightning’s debut. “Master of Illusion” also sounds a lot like something off of “Delirium Veil”, but with some dense backup vocal work and a pretty evenly unison riff attack from both sides. There is a really abrupt change in feel right before the solo section that throws the listener for a loop, but for the most part the format retains a steady, formulaic nature.

Most of what is on here is extremely catchy and up beat, resulting in an overall listen that is rather straight line. Any sense of climax and tension usually comes out of the guitar solo sections, which is the one aspect of this band that has remained unchanged since they started 7 years ago. The best solo work can be found on “Kings of Eternity”, the Bill Hudson interchange with now wah pedal happy Andrea Martongelli on “The Vigil”, and entire lead section on the album’s closer “Never Again”. These also prove to be the best songs on the album as they reach closer to the melodic speed metal style on “Neverworld” and the debut. “Kings of Eternity”, in particular, sounds exactly like one of those fast and happy anthems like “Sacred Land” and “Into the Light”, but without the constant double bass rumble and an evolved and more complex riff and drum collaboration.

Some of the other material on here sounds a little bit like revised versions of older songs, mostly manifesting as more complex versions of their former selves. “Hearts and Voices” has a radically similar keyboard theme to that Van Halen influenced anthem off of Neverworld “Forevermore”. The keyboard work has backed off a little to make room for more guitar work, and once again the newly reformed two guitar arrangement exploits itself well on here, trading in plain power chord ideas with occasional harmonic screams for harmonic fills reminiscent of late 80s Helloween. The chorus is a little bit repetitive vocally, but the riff layering underneath keep it interesting. “Save the World” is an updated and less repetitive version of “Another World” off the Magic Never Dies album. Atmospherically it’s a little bit more modern and dark, but it definitely keeps that same overall sense of triumph that this band consistently relies on.

Naturally this newer format isn’t without some flawed moments, most of them localized on a few specific songs. Although not hugely offensive to the ears, “I don’t believe in friends forever” tends to meander a little and has some modern rock grooves that rob the arrangement of its tightness. The principle riff sounds a little bit similar to something on Anthrax’s “Sound of White Noise”, while mixing a less memorable chorus section in the usual catchy, keyboard and vocal happy fashion that result in a pretty stylistically confused song. “Civilized?” has a quasi-Black Label Society sounding principle riff, which doesn’t really fit the rest of the song, and tends to clash with the Masterplan/Ride the Sky sounding keyboard theme overtop of it. “Human Machine” is a little better and avoids anything too muddy or over harmonic scream indulgent, but doesn’t really move fast enough or have enough of a chunky bottom end to work as the slower rocker that it tries to be.

As a whole, this is definitely more of an AOR influenced metal album than a power/speed metal album in the respect that the band’s previous works are known as. The band carries it better than a lot of others who have switched over to this sound, but the better route to take next time would be to get back to what was going on when they started, which will likely be possible now that this band has managed to steal Cellador’s principle guitar player away. Perhaps it is a testament to the ongoing power metal recession in the US that hasn’t really end yet despite the advent of said band emerging from the musically barren mid-west of the states and the rise of Dragonforce’s star on the west side of the Atlantic. The majority of Power Quest’s fans might be let down by this album, especially if they’re hoping for more blazing speed like on Magic Never Dies. If you can appreciate slower power metal albums like “Plague House Puppet Show” and the Power World debut, this will treat you a lot better, as it has with me.