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Fitting visuals for a chaotic affair. - 63%

hells_unicorn, October 7th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Independent

Individuality is a prized tradition of metal, one that could be likened to something sacrosanct, hence the tendency of similar sounding bands to be routinely panned as clones or rip-offs. However, as with all things, there a point where the quest for achieving a distinctive sound becomes overrated, particularly when others things start to take a backseat to it. To a noticeable extent, this virtual fetish for originality has been a staple of the U.S. brand of power metal of late, and particularly so in the case of Indiana's fairly young act ScreamKing when considering their second go at the fine art of studio LP creation. Everything in the 80s and 2000s power metal house but the kitchen sink is thrown at the listener in what can be best described as a modern take on the thrashing character of recent Helstar outings like Glory Of Chaos and This Wicked Nest, and the more quirky tech. fair of bands like Steel Prophet and latter day Agent Steel.

All of the right elements are in place for a band that would be a solid, younger contender to continue the traditions set forth by all of the previously mentioned bands, but a combination of over-ambition and a lack of tact turns what would be a solid offering of modern-tinged USPM into a fairly confused mess. There is a recurring theme of warfare resulting from sea travel that ties each song together lyrically, but musically speaking everything goes all over the place between jarring shifts in musical direction with little sense of transition and a set of novel segues featuring some vernacular musical themes such as a Native American chant on "War Horse" and a droning hummed melody on "Cannibals Of Sacrifice" that clash with the arrangement rather than complement it. The songwriting itself functions as a hit or miss affair of sorts, with a more bass-driven, hauntingly atmospheric build to a swift and heavy conclusion in "Halo Of Fear" and a speeding yet melodic nod to Jag Panzer in "Feeding The Predator" being the most consistent offerings amid the bunch.

Though there is definitely a solid album trying to break through a sea of clashing elements, the issues that this album has go beyond uneven songwriting and spills into the performance itself. Perhaps the biggest culprit here is the vocals, which try way too hard to vary themselves and come off as a disjointed mess of Harry Conklin and James Rivera worship, combined with occasional nods to Udo Dirkschneider and even Cam Pipes at times. The ultra-high screaming parts are competently done, if maybe a tad bit tinny sounding, but they shift around way too much with the grunting and yelling, almost as if Ripper Owens and Warrel Dane were singing some sort of twisted duet. The drum work occasionally feels a bit out of sync with the rest of the arrangement as well at times, thought this may owe to the drum mix being kind of dry and hollow sounding, clashing with the denser guitar and bass. This is particularly noticeable on the more grooving moments of songs like "Bloodstains" and "Instrument Of Death", two songs that listen more like turn-of-the-millennium Nevermore with higher vocals rather than typical power metal of the day.

In essence, ScreamKing's latest offering is not so much a flawed affair due to lack of experience, but more so the kind of average yet unimpressive mixed bag that can result from trying way too hard. The varied background of death, thrash and power metal that each member of this fold brings to the table seems to have resulted in a band that is struggling to stay on the same page despite their respective individual talents. Truth be told, it is refreshing to hear a band that leans a bit more in the heavier direction and listens more like Mystic Prophecy or newer Helstar and have a more ambitious rhythm section build off of technique, speed and groove, rather than a modern tinged throwback like Hammerfall or a full out one like White Wizzard or Striker. Nevertheless, despite the well placed guitar solos, chunky bass work and driving drumming, the end result is a puzzle with several pieces not quite fitting together. With a more dialed back vocal display, a more gradual approach to songwriting and a cleaner production, this is a band that could potentially give Helstar a run for their money.