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Great moments spaced out with mediocrity - 68%

PorcupineOfDoom, August 12th, 2016

This album seems to have a lot of positive perception by power metal fans, so much so that it makes me question if I missed something. Mirror of Souls sure has its moments, but I don't know if I could truly say that I love it. Among the excellent stuff to be found, much of this release is ordinary and it leaves me feeling slightly empty come the end of this record.

I used to complain in my early reviews about song lengths, but honestly I thought I'd got over that issue. I've listened to songs far longer than the ones that Theocracy offer us, but here they mostly drag. I think it's the pace of the music that really makes it seem so long (most long tracks I've heard have run at a pretty slow rate of knots), as there's just so much content in each track that I get fed up of it long before the end of each track. I'm not that big on prog either as it tends to make songs start really slow and only get properly interesting towards the end (to my ears), and unfortunately Theocracy are pretty big on making each track into a massive adventure when really they'd be better off simplifying things, just a little. Because what they're doing isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination when they finally get to the climax, but they spend so much time getting there that I can safely write off half the song before it even begins.

To illustrate my point, here's a run through of the average track on Mirror of Souls: The verses are almost always pretty lacklustre, with either very basic thrash-esque riffing or an almost unaccompanied vocalist. The chorus tends to step things up to a limited degree, but then we can expect another drop as the second verse comes in, albeit marginally more charged than the first time around. We plod on a little longer, going through another chorus and perhaps a brief interlude before a solo, and only then do Theocracy finally hook me. Up until the solos everything feels so reserved, and then all of a sudden the guitars are blazing and there's energy where previously there had been absolutely nothing. I can feel myself getting excited listening to the last couple of minutes of tracks like 'The Writing in the Sand' and 'Martyr', and truly this album is brilliant in those moments. So brilliant that I'm willing to listen to forty minutes of mediocrity just for those twenty minutes of awesomeness. If the split was the other way around I'm certain that Mirror of Souls would stick with me far more than it does.

One of the big gripes that I have is the production. I'm not the kind of guy to complain about the guitars sounding too clean, but there's a distinct lack of power coming from their direction. Particularly the lead guitars are very weak, and they often struggle to make it past the rhythm section and the vocals. Behind lead singer Matt Smith there are a further five vocalists, which annoyingly leads to everything else being completely drowned out. Matt's vocals are actually of a decent quality - complete with a large range and without going completely overboard in his theatrics - but the issue is that they overshadow everything else. I have no problems with that when nothing interesting is happening, but when we finally hit fifth gear I'd rather we got a chance to hear the leads that we've been waiting on for so long.

I also feel obliged to point out how cheesy some of this stuff is. That's half the fun of bands like DragonForce, but it's really not what Theocracy are going for here. They try their best to remain dignified and sell you this album as being very profound, but there are moments where I can't help but cringe. The choruses on 'Laying the Demon to Rest' and 'Absolution Day' and even some parts of the twenty-two minute title-track are just a step too far in the wrong direction. The lyrics are some of the most outwardly Christian that I've come across, but that's not what makes it so cheesy. It's actually the over-exuberance that does it for me as it sounds so forced that it's painful to listen to. The more serious sections are far less offensive in reality.

I know that this review has mostly focused on the negatives that this album has, but when it works it really works well. If you want some power metal with a slightly serious edge to it, something devoutly Christian or some very long and epic songs, go for Theocracy. Not everything here suited my tastes, but that doesn't mean that it isn't exactly what you're looking for.

Proficient but also really annoying - 55%

Empyreal, August 16th, 2011

I am rather torn on this one, as on the plus side, these guys can write some tight, hooky tunes, but on the other, they embody a lot of things that really bug me about modern power metal. Theocracy are Christians, and that’s one strike right there, but they also have several problems which would be evident even if they didn’t blatantly worship Christ in their vomit-worthy lyrics. A lot of people seem to like these guys, but well, I really don’t.

I’ll start off with the good first, as that would be the pious thing to do, I suppose…the band really does have a good sense of riffs and melodies, and they construct some dynamic and epic songs. Pretty much every song here is spotlessly constructed and contains several changes in tempo, some nice headbanging fodder and an emotional part or two. The band has chops, and at times I questioned whether or not I was giving this a low score out of spite for the Christian themes, and not for any actual flaw in the music. But frankly I really just don’t like this, cannot really enjoy it, and as it went on I realized the reasons why.

One, the songs go on way too long. The first few are OK, as they’re like 4 minutes, and for a while I thought I might’ve misjudged these guys, but after that I just found myself bored as hell, waiting for the 6+ minute songs later on to end. There’s a virtue in concise songwriting, which these guys have not learned, as everything just kind of hangs out. After a while it’s just really dull, no matter how technically proficient and tight it is. Just because you CAN write long songs doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Two, this is very much in the school of really annoyingly overproduced modern power metal with guitars you couldn’t make any cleaner and slicker if you tried. This has crunch to it, but it’s a really pristine, overly sleek kind of crunch that just makes me a little nauseous. I usually go for clean productions and clear sounds in general, but this just doesn’t sit well with me – the riffing style DEMANDS more grit and meanness to it, which this production job cannot do at all. Either that, or less focus on the riffs and more on the melodies, a la Edguy’s earlier work or any number of Stratovarius albums – that might make this sound a little better.

Three, the vocals are just awful. He’s technically able, like the rest of the band, and he can stay on key, but his voice itself is really what holds this back the most. He’s got this really nasal, high-pitched tone that grates on my ears to no end, and he sings in the most fakely cheery way imaginable – I’m sure he’s a nice guy and was genuinely trying his best here, but damn is it fucking irritating as hell. Listen to “Absolution Day” and try to tell me you don’t need to put on some filthy death metal to wash out the creepy over-exuberance.

He’s just so cutesy and overt about it all; there’s no subtlety or nuance to these melodies. They remind me in tone of a lot of the kind of over joyous prayer music you’d hear in church, which I guess makes sense, but mostly it’s just kind of uncomfortable to listen to. He sounds like he’s forcing himself to be happy; it doesn’t come off as genuine to me. I’m sure a bit of hard-assed aggression wouldn’t send these guys to Hell or anything. There’s a fine line between sounding happy and sounding like a brainwashed overzealous religious sermon, which this frankly sounds like at times. I’m not trying to bash on this just for being Christian, as the melodies would have been annoying no matter what they slightly resembled. They’re just not entertaining, and all they really serve to do is irritate the listener.

The subject matter might be handled with dignity, and you never really get the idea they’re shoving anything down your throat, but the tone is still quite reverent and Christian, and for that I just can’t enjoy this no matter what. I can’t relate to it, and the songs do nothing for me emotionally or on a purely musical level either. With more emotional range (some sorrow, doubt or darkness would have spiced this up and made it interesting) and a bit – just a pinch – less of that reverence, I might have been able to go a bit easier on this, but in the end it’s all about how the music makes you feel, and me, I can’t get into this at all.

Christian Metal at its Finest - 94%

ReapSoul964, June 28th, 2011

Theocracy has produced a masterpiece with Mirror of Souls. This album has all of the right elements and a few unexpected surprises. The progressive elements are nice, especially in the 22 minute title track. There are really only a few things to complain about, but this is one of the few albums that I have that truly has nothing filler on it. If this album is an indicator to Theocracy's future career, then I eagerly await their next release and all of the releases after. The messages are strong and truthful, though if you aren't a Christian, they may be a little hard to take. Still, Matt sings without condemning any nonbelievers. If you like power metal, progressive metal, Christian metal, and symphonic metal, then do yourself a favor and check this out.

Matt Smith's vocals are a very strong point on this album. His range is one of the best I've heard in a long time, ranging from some nice lows to some very strong highs. While high vocals are often something to be on the fence about, Matt's high vocals aren't overdone. The highs seem to fit perfectly. While I love power metal, a lot of power metal vocalists get on my nerves. He has a very good vibrato, like many power metal musicians, and has an awesome ability to make his voice soar. He has no aggression, though, which is something that helps power metal be a little less goofy. He isn't Ronnie James Dio or Christian Liljegren, but he doesn't need to be.

The guitar work is also pretty nice. The riffs range from heavy and chugging, with a lot of crunchy distortion, to fast, soaring, and free, with solos spread throughout the album. There are also several nice clean and acoustic parts that help give the album more power in the melodic department. There aren't as many guitar solos as you might expect from a power metal album, but that helps it feel more like a flowing story than a bunch of 80s hair metal songs. The guitar solos are done very well, though. The guitars do follow some power metal standards, though, like slow chord changes in fast parts and grand leads in other parts. They don't feel overdone, though. The guitarwork is tasteful, which is probably one of the best things that can be said about a melodic metal album. I also really like the fact that many of the songs have several different parts throughout them. Too many modern metal bands stick with one or two main riffs per song. Metalcore does this way too much. The guitar parts here are so much more varied and so much more enjoyable.

I can't really hear most of the bass parts in this album. The bass needs to be more audible.

Shawn Benson's drumming is awesome. It isn't overdone. While I love hearing 16th note kick drum runs, those are way too overused. Shawn doesn't do that nearly as much as bands like Divinefire or Children of Bodom (and any other band that overuses those). Shawn's pattern changes up quite a bit throughout the songs, ranging from the tasteful addition to the album's ballad, Bethlehem, to standard power metal runs in songs like On Eagles' Wings to slower traditional blastbeats scattered throughout Mirror of Souls and to a mix of it all on the somewhat thrashy song, Laying the Demon to Rest. The only thing I didn't like about the drumming was how the snare drum sounded. Thankfully, the drumming on this album is much more than a guy just moving the song along. The drums here are treated like a real instrument rather than just a click track with a double pedal.

While the musicianship was great on each song, there were a few songs that I felt were not as good as some of the others. A Tower of Ashes feels like it is lacking something important, though I can't really place my finger on what it is. It doesn't feel like it should be an opening track. If it was somewhere else in the album, I would probably be fine with it. Bethlehem is one of two songs that I consider semi-filler on this album, though both songs are still very good. I don't like Bethlehem because of how slow it is. Then again, that comes from my absolute hatred of almost every single ballad-type song I've ever heard. Very few of those songs make it onto my iPod. Bethlehem is one of the few that I will always listen to. The Writing in the Sand is the second song that feels semi-filler because it is also pretty slow. However, I love the message. It comes from my favorite Bible verse, John 8:7, where Jesus saves a woman's life by saying that only a blameless and sinless person can truly judge another person's sin. Perhaps it is for this reason alone that I really enjoy the song. Otherwise, I would probably cast it aside as filler. Thankfully, it does not fall into that category. Absolution Day is another awesome song, but the intro guitar part to the song seems to chaotic for how the song plays out later on. It is too annoying for how melodic the rest of the song ends up being. Martyr is a good song, but it feels like it could use a more interesting lead part during the main riff. It can get a little dull, though it is still a great song. Mirror of Souls is an absolutely amazing song, but it doesn't feel like it ends the album perfectly. The ending piano part is very, very nice, though. It just doesn't feel like it concludes the album properly. Mirror of Souls feels like a bit of a cliffhanger. Finally, Wages of Sin is not on the American release and is one of the best songs on the album. I don't have that song and it really helps boost the album's rating.

The lyrics are obviously Christian, as I've stated. A Tower of Ashes speaks about hypocrisy with a Tower of Babel-like story, claiming that people who continue to build towers higher and higher to try to impress man are not living their lives in a Biblically proper sense. It's a pretty standard message. On Eagles' Wings talks about trusting God and the miracle of someone beating the odds in life and death. Laying the Demon to Rest is about resisting temptation and relying on God when the struggle is too much to bear by oneself. Bethlehem is a song about the birth of the Christ. The Writing in the Sand is about hypocrisy, acceptance, and letting God judge man rather than man judge man. Absolution Day is a declaration of Christ's worth and willingness to die for the sins of mankind. Martyr is about living life for Christ. No, Matt Smith is not suggesting that Christians should go kill themselves for Jesus. Mirror of Souls is one of the strong points of the album and refers to a dream about salvation in a different light. Wages of Sin is about the cost of sin, as the title states. None of the lyrics are veiled, though no lyrics are directly attacking anybody. If you don't mind people talking about Christianity, then this album should be perfectly fine. Theocracy isn't trying to shove Christ down anybody's throat with these lyrics. If lyrics like these bother you, then you shouldn't be reading a review for a Christian album in the first place, though I encourage you to at least try them out. If not, then this album is a perfect addition to your power metal collection. Several very strong lessons are brought up in each song. Christian or not, we all can learn from several of them.

The title track, Mirror of Souls, is one of the reasons that this album is so amazing. Clocking in at 22 minutes and 26 seconds in length, this is one of the longest songs I have ever heard. It feels like it is three different but related songs, though, with three different parts that all lead up to an ultimate declaration. The first part deals with the human perspective, brought in by a house of mirrors. These mirrors show different names and faces that all reflect the viewer, but none truly represent him or her. All show desirable things and all cause a very elated feeling, causing the viewer to want to see more and more. I feel like this is Matt's view of the world, which is always trying to show people that certain things are good when they really aren't. The second section starts after the person, the one who is dreaming the dream, in the song gets locked outside of the hall of mirrors after opening a door, hoping it would lead to more. The dreamer lands outside in a torrential downpour with no hope in sight save for a light across a dark chasm. This section has been titled The Stranger in the Storm, which refers to a kind stranger helping the dreamer get across the chasm. The stranger built a bridge to cross the dark gap (which I think of as sin) so that the dreamer (the sinner, obsessed with the worldly things seen in the mirrors) could reach the light (salvation). After the dreamer gets across, the stranger vanishes. The dreamer marches onward, still determined to see more of the mirrors. The dreamer reaches the light and opens another door to a much more massive mirror, the mirror of the soul. A deep voice tells the dreamer to look at his or her reflection in the large mirror. Looking back is a disgusting, deformed figure with eyes as black as night. Every time I hear that part, I get a picture of a zombie in my head. As the dreamer runs away from the mirror, the stranger returns and tells what the mirrors represented. With the truth revealed, the dreamer reflects by saying that the mirror represents God's eyes, looking directly at the soul, while the other mirrors represented lies and material wealth. The stranger and the dreamer go back to the mirror one more time and the stranger's pure reflection is the only one seen, showing that after the dreamer accepted the stranger's gift of salvation from the storm (sin), his sins were forgotten.

Mirror of Souls is obviously heavily based on the Christian concept of salvation. However, the fact that it is such a long song and that it never gets boring at that length means a lot. For the longest time, I never listened to songs over 9 minutes long. Mirror of Souls changed that. This song opened my eyes to progressive metal. The song style changes so much while still being tasteful, going from frantic and fast parts to slow and somber parts to heavier parts with blastbeats and more. It feels like a classical masterpiece, incorporating several different musical sections into one beautiful song that can technically be broken up into several parts. The song feels more like a story than a song. It grabs my attention every single time and it offers something new each time. It takes several listens to fully grasp the main concept. It's a story that keeps giving. If you aren't hooked after hearing this song, then you probably will never like Theocracy. I highly suggest trying this song out first before you get the album. At 22:26 in length, this song could almost stand alone as an entire album. I've got a 5-song demo that is 8 minutes shorter, so this could be the length of an extended demo. Look on youtube for this song and listen for yourself..

There are very few major flaws in this album. All of the flaws are pretty easy to overlook IF you like power metal, progressive metal, symphonic metal, and Christian metal. For any believer who likes those genres, you need this album. For any nonbeliever who likes those genres, you still need to try this album out. Look past the lyrics if absolutely necessary and think of them as an uplifting alternative to the hatred in a lot of other metal out there. If you don't agree with Christianity, that's fine. Try to apply the messages to your lifestyle anyway. This is one of the many places the album succeeds. It isn't hard to listen to because it is sincere. This album isn't perfect, but honestly, I think the early Christian composers would have been very proud of what these guys accomplished. Theocracy needs to hurry up with their third masterpiece. I'm getting impatient.

Mirror of Souls - 100%

KLemley, August 24th, 2010

Theocracy’s second release manages to fix the only 2 problems from the debut (drum machine usage and under-production), while not creating any new ones. As simple as that sounds, it’s a rare ability these days. For those not familiar with Theocracy’s style, the best way to summarize would be power metal akin to Blind Guardian, Iced Earth (Smith’s vocals are closer to Ripper’s than Barlow’s), and Sonata Arctica with flourishes of progressive metal here and there. And yes, if the name’s not a dead giveaway, they are a Christian band, and for those who have a problem with the lyrics, look at it this way – you don’t believe it, so what? Do you believe in the mythology Blind Guardian writes about? What about the story of the Setians from the Something Wicked Trilogy from Iced Earth? Just take these lyrics in that way if it helps you digest the incredible music better.

The album kicks off with A Tower of Ashes, which starts out with some organs. Then it brings in some crunchy riffs with them, before dropping both in favor of an almost speed metal bit. It serves a brilliant intro, though as a song by itself it would be a bit above average, but not spectacular. It’s just another testament to Theocracy’s ability to compose actual albums, as opposed to a group of songs (Dark Passion Play). On Eagles’ Wings is a great, catchy song. For those wondering where the power in power metal went, look no further than this song. The chorus is uplifting, the bridge is empowering. This song seems to embody power metal. Laying the Demon to Rest is an odd song for a power metal group, and partly why I consider Theocracy progressive metal as well as power metal. The song starts off with a wall o’ guitars and Smith yelling overtop, demonstrating his considerable vocal abilities. Then the song slows down with a haunting keyboard melody underneath lower-register vocals. Then the song gets faster for the next part. Before the choral chorus, there’s some antiphony between gang vocals and Smith’s higher range. Then, there’s a lengthy instrumental bridge featuring brutal blast beats giving way to technical guitar licks. Afterward there’s a section that could be almost comparable to melodic thrash metal, which gives way to the chorus a second time.

On their last album, the ballad, Sinner, was forgettable at best. This metal ballad, on the other hand, cracks my top 5 favorite metal ballads of all time (along with Welcome Home [Sanitarium] by Metallica, Tides of Time by Epica, The Islander by Nightwish, and White Waters by Epica). It even features some counterpoint vocals in the last chorus. Absolution Days is thrash meets power. The guitar work is fast, yet melodic. It’s one of the heaviest songs on the album (the only competitors are Laying the Demon to Rest and Martyr), and also one of the most empowering. The Writing in the Sand is typical contemporary power metal – keyboards, guitar riffs, man-choirs….the whole bit. Martyr is heavy, and unique. There’s a bit in the bridge that should NOT work in any metal song, ever….yet it does. It also makes great use of antiphony. The final song, the title track, is 22.5 minutes long, and it is indeed epic. Acoustic intro, guitar solos, orchestration, keyboard solos, varying time signatures, high vocals, low vocals, rough vocals, clean vocals, antiphony, double bass, heavy riffs, slower melodic parts, faster intense parts….basically, anything you could want in a metal song (except growling or screaming, but come on, it’s power metal. What did you expect?).

This album is an incredible experience, with the 8 tracks working together wonderfully (and clocking in at over an hour). The closest thing I’ve heard to musical perfection, ever. More than Nightwish’s legendary “Once.” More than Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” More than anything Iron Maiden, or Blind Guardian, or Sonata Arctica, or Hammerfall, or Iced Earth, or Therion, or Kamelot, or Epica have ever done. For ANY fan of power metal, this is a must-have. Like I said, if you disdain Christian lyrics, just think of it in the same way you think of the mythology so prominent in other power metal.

This is the real stuff. - 90%

hells_unicorn, April 24th, 2009

Power metal has gone through something of a recession insofar as the number of epic bands holding true to the older practices before Masterplan and Edguy introduced a greater degree of 80s AOR into the mix. The style has basically slowed down from a glory ride of high flying riffs and Speed Metal elements meets the consonant melodies and choruses that Helloween first introduced in the late 80s, into something more slowed down, subdued, and in line with modern rock sensibilities. There are a fair share of bands who pull this off well, while others who adopted this style after having done the older epic style earlier in their careers have lost a good deal of their edge. This older style was much more indicative of European bands, while the newer one that European bands seem to be fond of sounds pretty comparable to late 80s American heavy metal with modern guitar sounds and elements of groove metal. It is in this respect that Theocracy is interesting since they are essentially an American band playing a slightly progressive version of the old European style.

This aptly titled album “Mirror Of Souls” is basically a large scale Christian allegory set to an interesting blend of European power metal styles. There is definitely a strong Edguy and Freedom Call influence in terms of their chorus sound, which is heavily catchy and steeped in church choir-like harmony. Vocalist Matt Smith is heavily comparable to lighter styled high singers in the mold of Narnia’s Christian Rivel-Liljegren, Chris Bay and even former Anthrax singer Joey Belladonna. His vocal interpretation can get a bit harder edged at times, depending on the mood in a particular song, but largely he maintains a clean cut demeanor. The riff work and music surrounding the melodic material actually goes back and forth between several signature styles: sometimes a simplified speed/thrash approach in the mode of Helstar, at others a more straight lined Helloween approach with a lot of descending scale fills and consonant lead harmonies, and sometimes even coming close to a semi-Dream Theater mode of low end guitar grooves and a noticeable keyboard presence.

The way that this band is ultimately able to separate itself from being just another cliché band in an older and now less fashionable style of Metal is via the heavy progressive influences and a true adherence to epic songwriting models. Most of these songs are pretty ambitious and loaded with differing ideas and stylistic devices, and several of them get pretty longwinded. They avoid the heavy keyboard usage heard on the first two Avantasia albums, although musically a lot of this is fairly comparable to said albums both in sound and overall approach, and rely a lot more on guitar work the way the older Speed Metal adherents did in the late 80s. Vocally things hang a little closer to the Avantasia model, particularly on the ballad “Bethlehem”, where that overlapping multiple part chorus approach heavily used by Savatage is also employed. The acoustic work on here is also quite well realized, drawing upon some classical and rock music influences.

Even when the band seems to go into a somewhat more stylistically derivative direction, the end result is something that is either well enough mixed with something else to not be particularly noticeable or done in the most uninhibited manner that it comes off as different. “Laying The Demon To Rest” and “Absolution Day” have pretty heavily thrash oriented riff work in the mode of Anthrax and sound a good bit darker than your standard European power metal band circa 2001/2002, while they still refer back to that standard catchy chorus approach to keep the feel of a large concert hall in tact. Stratovarius also figures in pretty heavily into some songs, particularly “Martyr” and “On Eagle’s Wings”, though there is a lot less emphasis on guitar solos and keyboard work and a much greater one on guitar riffing.

If you miss the good old days before Tobias Sammet became the “Lavatory Love Machine”, before Avantasia was all about scarecrows and AOR, and before Freedom Call began taking song title ideas from “The Lion King”, this is a really good pick up. There’s a heavy quantity of quality ideas on here that will get you singing along and playing air guitar in seconds flat. There might be a little bit of a challenge getting past the Christian themes on here, but if you can tolerate it from the likes of Trouble, Crimson Moonlight and Narnia, this isn’t really all that more overt in its message than said bands. It’s definitely one of the better releases for this style in past 5 years.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 24, 2009.

Metal, Christian, and Superb - 98%

s1al, December 24th, 2008

Christian music is often a bit of a conundrum. There is way, way more of it on the market than is needed, and most of it is just bad. On the other hand, there are a number of Christian bands that are consistently among the best in their genres. Theocracy is one of those bands.

Theocracy's first album was created and performed entirely by Matt Smith. In the five years since then, he's not only managed to improve his songwriting, vocals, and guitar playing, he also found two other excellent musicians to play the other parts. While there have been three different bassists thus far, none of them have stayed and Matt ended up playing that instrument for the album again.

The production is simply excellent. I really don't know what else to say on that. The bass could have been mixed higher, but when you switch on high bass it comes through quite well and is active (especially for power metal) and harmonizes well with the rest of the band.

The songwriting is amazing. The instruments have a very metal feel to them, yet the harmony and melody is more reminiscent of classical at many times. There is a progressive feel to the music that outpaces that in most power metal and a general musical technique that competes with the top bands in any sub-genre of metal.

The vocals, though, shine past even the songwriting. Smith is among the top three vocalists in power metal, with a range that includes everything but bass and the upper reaches of tenor (which he can still hit with rare falsettos). He can hold a note for an incredible length of time and is fully capable of singing in several vocal styles. The choir effects are another great feat, with the layered vocals adding a unique effect in many songs.

Highlights of the album: A Tower of Ashes is a great song. Mirror of Souls, the 22+ minute title track, is an epic among epics, surpassed by very few. Absolution day is another great track. All of the songs are very good and have a great variety, breaking a common mold in power metal.

The lyrics are a refreshing break from the repetitious nature of Christian pop and modern rock. Make no mistake, though, they are very Christian in nature. Synonyms are used and a general epic atmosphere is achieved, but Christianity is still the total theme of the album.

There are no glaring weaknesses on this album. "Laying the Demon to Rest" is very... unique by power metal standards, but it is still a very strong song. As mentioned before, the bass could have been mixed a bit higher.

To sum it up, there is a lot of "Christian Metal," out there, most of which is neither particularly Christian or particularly metal, much less good. This is very much good, Christian metal, a phrase that had almost become an oxymoron. Congratulations to Theocracy for making "Mirror of Souls" on the best albums of 2008.

Christian Metal that doesn't suck (1 of 5) - 92%

caspian, November 27th, 2008

Christian metal, just like any contemporary Christian music, has the tendency to consistently suck. It a rather odd thing really- obviously some amazing music has been written in the whole jesus-loving theme over the last 1000 or so years, but the last 40 or so years? Its all dried up. Maybe it was the introduction of the health-and-wealth theology which turned it all into major key MOR mush, perhaps the increasing persecution complex most Christians seem to have has been responsible for it. In short, 99% of modern christian music is either annoyingly triumphant and self content or really whiny and bitchy (masochistic people might want to download Carman's The Standard for some hilarious and horrible examples), and no one likes that.

Christian Metal's chances of being good are made even smaller by the fact that the aggressive, typically individualist strains of metal don't really fit well with Christianity, which is not - or at least shouldn't be- aggressive, and is more about being a sheep then a goat. For the Christian metal band, the chances of writing music and lyrics that manage not to contradict each other is slim, and for the few bands who do manage to do that even fewer manage to actually sound good.

Power metal's probably the best bet for good Christian metal (well I think drone doom would work better but no one seems keen to start a drone band, shame); the music can be relatively fast, heavy and aggressive without being self contradictory (like say, Christian death metal) and probably more so then any other genre it can be both super triumphant and fairly doomy and depressing. It’s easy to screw this genre up, though.

Theocracy don't get it right every time but overall I’m pretty pleased and surprised by this record. Unlike many bands that use the genre descriptor 'progressive' fits well with this band; the song writing is all complex and shifts gear fairly often. I'm not super knowledgeable about this genre but to me it kind of sounds like a thrashier Blind Guardian (especially with the vocals) with some sugar coated melody thrown in from time to time. The songs are generally extremely good, although your enjoyment of this will depend on how you can handle really religious lyrics.

A bunch of different tempos and feels are thrown around; for the most part it works. You've got the relatively short and supremely catchy'On Eagles Wings' (not a cover of the Hillsong tune guys, sorry) which is all fast paced riffs and huge choruses, but for the most part everything's a lot longer and epic. It works pretty damn well, I think, the song writing's excellent. 'Martyr' is all heavy, serious business riffs and gang vocals and its use of a flamenco break really shouldn't work, but instead it's a really deft touch that kicks of the final section brilliantly. It's the kind of thing that only really works when you've got a band that really knows what it's doing. That tune's probably the best here but there's a heap of other really solid songs on here; 'Laying the Demon to Rest' is perhaps a bit unconvincing in some of it's chugging, vaguely death-metalish riffs but it's still a rather enjoyable epic with plenty of tempo changes and riffs, while 'Writing on the Sand' (based on that rather excellent 'Let he who is without sin..' story of Jesus) is pretty cool in all of it's melodramatic, mid-paced glory.

The music on here is pretty first class. Theocracy can shred up a storm but often the whole band goes for a steady build towards the end of song; saving the best riffs and tasty solos for the climax. It's restrained but yet fairly grandiose; on a purely musical level this is really, really good. Overall though there are a few things that let this down. The lyrics are probably the biggest problem; I don't mind 'em but if you're not down with the old man in the sky then you'll likely spend most of your time cringing. 'Bethlehem' in particular is where it's at it'™s worst; and the faux-folk 'power metal hymn' accompaniment isn't all that great; and while 'Absolution Day' is power metal at it's most triumphant and catchy, the lyrics will get all of you godless heathens cringing and reaching for the skip button (shame, because the guitar work is ridiculously melodic and excellent; kinda like Sonata Arctica but with actual riffs). Likewise the title track, while otherwise a competently executed 22-minute epic suffers from some hugely, massively obvious metaphors (Hmm, I wonder who the kind stranger at the abyss is?) that just didn't really need to be there. The dude is pretty earnest and I find that hard to fault, he's just nowhere near the subtle wordsmith that he tries to be, although he manages to avoid the self content/whine and bitch problems that plague most modern Christian music. A bit nit picky but his voice does get pretty damn overwrought when things go all soft and ballad-though for the most part he sounds pretty passionate and good.

But honestly the lyrics are really the only thing that's stopping me from going "Finally we have a Christian band to match Trouble yayayayayay!!!" The lyrics are about as subtle as a blunt sledgehammer, yes, but they fit well within the music - none of the bizarre happy lyrics/sad music that many a Christian metal band loves- and the music itself is absolutely top notch; melodic and catchy, but varied, relatively unpredictable and satisfyingly heavy. Theocracy have released an absolute beast (/lamb?) of an album and it's well worth checking out, just take my lyrics warning as a bit of a disclaimer. Having said that, if you're a Christian then I'd say this is essential listening, and worth blasting when your mum/brother/etc puts on some Hillsong united or DC Talk.