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Good album of classic metal, with some thrash and prog influences - 74%

lukretion, May 10th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Noise Records

Stigmata IV (formerly Stigmata, and soon to become Stygma IV due to legal problems with their name) is an Austrian band from Salzburg, probably one of the best heavy metal bands to come out of Austria. Their debut album, released in 1997, was a hybrid between progressive metal (and even prog rock) and straightforward heavy metal / thrash. On their sophomore album, "The Court of Eternity", the thrash / classic metal influences loom larger, while the prog metal influences are significantly reduced. Their sound on this album can be described as a cross between Rainbow, early-Savatage and Nevermore, with some remote prog metal influence, mostly in the ambition to propose song structures that are more intricated than the standard verse-chorus-verse formula. The outcome is not very far away from what bands like Angel Dust were playing at the time.

The music is quite heavy, yet melodic. The tone dark and brooding, in an anthemic sort of way. The songs are sustained by robust heavy metal riffs enriched by frequent keyboard arrangements (mostly strings, and some organ). The pace is fast, the tone aggressive, but the band never lose sight of melody. There is a lot of interplay between harsh and muscular verses and melodic, ear-pleasing choruses. Vocalist Ritchie Krenmaier plays a big role in ensuring the success of this constant contrast between aggression and melody. He is a very good singer - his voice mostly stays in the mid-low register, with a gritty tone and a raw edge, but he is also capable of carrying a melody and hitting high notes without losing power or grit. His style is clearly influenced by Dio, but at times he also reminds me of Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian, for the raspy, gritty voice) and Warrel Dane (Nevermore, for the deep, dramatic vocal tone). His delivery is darkly emotional, which really gives the songs their right dimension. He is one of those rare singers that can turn an OK song into a great, memorable tune.

In fairness, all guys in the band are very proficient musicians. The bass player, Alexander Hilzensauer, is especially amazing. His style is quite distinct and unusual for a metal band. He is much more than just a backdrop for the guitar or the drums, his bass often carries the melody of the songs. His playing is reminiscent of the great prog rock players like Chris Squire of Yes. He also plays around a lot with a fretless bass, which gives a unique tone to many of the songs here. Main-man Günter Maier is an excellent guitarist as well (he also plays the keyboards). His playing is often restrained, there are not loads of meandering solos here. But his riffs are interesting, powerful and exciting. The drumming is nothing exceptional but complements well the rest of the band.

The 10 songs on the album are quite homogeneous, both in terms of sound and quality. The album as a whole flows well. I think some of the songs are a bit overstretched. Indeed, most songs last longer than 5 minute, a sign of their prog metal ambitions. However, this does not work well on all songs, which at times come across as unnecessarily repetitive.

The best tunes are opener The Crusade of Lies (with a fast, aggressive verse that flows into a blissfully melodic chorus), Nature's Revenge, Room Eleven (great tune, short, aggressive, powerful - a classic metal anthem and the song that convinced me to check out the album), the Rainbow-style ballad Don't Close Your Eyes, and the title track The Court of Eternity (a dark, anthemic mid-tempo about life after death, slightly too repetitive for my taste).

There are also two songs that are more reminiscent of their earlier proggy sound: Mirror Man and Fool III (which continues a story of madness and murder that was first started on the debut album). These are the two longest songs on the album. They are not bad, but the many tempo shifts and mood changes are not well interconnected into one another, and so the songs come across as slightly disjointed. I think Stigmata are at their best on the shorter, grittier tunes. Unfortunately, I feel that their prog ambition is not fully matched by their compositional ability (which was the main problem of the debut album), and so their attempts at composing a "prog epic" come out as not fully successful.

Nevertheless, this is a good album of classic metal, with some thrash and prog metal influences. Recommended for fans of Savatage, Queensryche, Dio, Rainbow, and bands like Lefay or Angel Dust.