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Blessed & Possessed - 90%

ApochWeiss, July 21st, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Napalm Records

Continuing their reign on Napalm Records, German power metal legends Powerwolf return with their sixth full-length effort, Blessed & Possessed. This has easily become one of the most anticipated effort of their career following the success of previous releases like 2009's Bible of the Beast and 2013's Preachers of the Night. But, with a lot riding on the delivery of this album in particular, does Powerwolf disappoint, or does Blessed & Possessed maintain the spirit of the band once more?

Well, the short answer is that, yes, Blessed & Possessed delivers that signature Powerwolf sound that has become a staple on their recent releases, both in composition and technical manners. While a fairly crisp effort, there's no denying the eighties-esque atmospheres felt throughout the album, such as the strong echo on the drum kit and hints of back alley atmospheres in the grand horrific takes on the days of templar knights and the crusades. Keyboards that often mimic a cleaner church organ, mid-range distortion on the guitars, fantastic bass rumble that isn't too loud or largely buried all the time, and the always impressive signature vocal range Attila Dorn possesses weaves a familiar sound that fans have come to expect at this point. Alter one of those things and it wouldn't have the same impact of metal worship and nightmarish themes with a slight cheesiness to lighten the mood and work with the always enthusiastic presence that makes it clear Powerwolf are still having a blast writing and recording new material.

Those clean keyboards and choir-like chanting kick off the title track with great vigor, leading to some tight guitar work and enthusiastic vocals that, while impressive in the semi-chugging approach, really let the drums fill things up. The bass could be a little more dominant given the steady pacing of the main riffs, but it works well enough to get the point across until the double bass click fuelled chorus. There's also two militaristic marching bridges that hit, only further pushing that medieval warfare theme the lyrics establish. "Army of the Night" doesn't quite have that battle concept running through it musically, but it still ends up represented in the lyrics, much like the lead single "Armata Strigoi". Both are a little toned down, though the former has a much grander chorus that even includes female choir backing vocals, as well as a guitar solo that shows a little punk influence briefly thrown into the mix.

"We Are the Wild" stands as one of the most eighties influenced tracks you'll happen across, but still one fun as hell romp many might consider full blown "cheese metal". This anthemic piece presents the main riffs in a manner that is as upbeat as "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats, plenty of gang chants throughout the chorus, and your traditional heavy metal guitar solo just before the three minute mark that screams dirty back alleys, more so as its incorporated into the chorus towards the end. "Sanctus Dominus" has that anthem vibe to it as well, restricted to a simpler lyrical/vocal structure with a booming chorus that often finds the drums adding what comes off as thunder in the chorus at just the right time. It's not one of the more enthusiastic tracks, but the music carries itself as a fairly subtle empowering experience.

There's also "Dead Until Dark", one of the most energetic tracks of the album. The very beginning has a brief early solo, a more electrified one compared to the simpler laid back solo two-and-a-half minutes in, charging forward with tight guitars that carry a hard rock authority above the drums, building until a brief pause shifts into the rich, gang chant filled chorus that doesn't fail to keep your blood racing and fist pumping into the air. Meanwhile there's "Sacramental Sister" that sounds like Powerwolf crossed with some Sabaton (primarily in the epic chorus) as well as an odd hint of Oingo Boingo given the notes played in the chords. It sounds like it might not work, but the latter is so minor you might not even pick up on it, but it all just feels natural both to the song, as well as the band in general.

Finally there's the closing epic "Let There Be Night", the longest track of the effort. Again, we find the eighties atmosphere at work in many segments, but for the most part it's a slow moving blend of neo-classical ideals and traditional power metal, topped off with bouts of that militaristic marching drum work that appeared during "Blessed & Possessed". This stands as a major departure from the sound of the previous eleven tracks, introducing a dark and gloomy atmosphere that is even complimented by rain just past the four-and-a-half minute mark, the distant howling of wolves, church bells and, yes, even some livestock of the feather and winged variety. But, really, once that starts, the music itself is actually over, as the last half is essentially just an extended outro built around ambience that fits the lore of the band. While suiting, this is the only song that actually leaves you let down. It just feels like a wasted opportunity, really. The pacing, the tone, the powerful hymnal chorus that felt like a church sermon than just another entry into the band's discography, all of this feels squandered given how open to expansion it ends up, as if a fairly basic template left with little addition for a dismal conclusion that winds up more of a hindrance than an actual benefit.

Really, if you have heard any recent Powerwolf album, or even the "Armata Strigoi" single, you'll have a good idea of what to expect on this release. Powerwolf may live by the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" motto, but this is easily their most refined album to date. It's unfortunate that such a powerful album would have a closing track that just seems to be unfinished, acting as a tarnish to an otherwise fantastic album that could easily stand as a contender for album of the year. And, well, for many a fan, it will be in their hearts despite this (myself included). Whether you're a long time fan of Powerwolf, or one that's never heard a song of theirs at all, Blessed and Possessed effortlessly lives up to those glorious power metal expectations.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.