Thursday, June 18, 2015

Album Review: Damnation Angels - The Valiant Fire

You might not realize it, but while power metal is in a state of decline, power metal is also doing just fine for itself.  How can that be?  The answer is that power metal has not died, it has merely transformed itself.  The days of dozens of bands aping the Helloween formula and riding it to success are currently behind us, but power metal still exists by way of what is not being described as 'symphonic metal'.  The bands that a decade ago would have been pure power metal bands have found life and success by adding heavy doses of orchestration to their sound, hyping the drama of the music above the sugary hooks that were once the main attraction.  Kamelot is the leader of this pack, but there are countless others who have followed suit, one of them being Damnation Angels.

The band's debut album made a splash in the world of power metal, setting them up as one of the rising stars on the scene.  After releasing an album that critics and fans both heaped praise upon, the band is back with their second album, trying to build upon that success.

"Finding Requiem" opens the album with a minute of swelling orchestrations and churning strings, before the song gallops into focus.  There are shifting tones and rhythms, with a main riff that is pure speed, verses that chug along on a groove, and a chorus that slows down to a sweet crooning.  I'm not sure it's the most cohesive of songs, but the individual elements are all strong, particularly the use of the strings to take the place of much of the space the guitar solo would be expected to fill.

"Icarus Syndrome" dials back on the drama a bit, with a main riff that swings with a heavy groove, and a more concise structure.  With the type of metallic chassis Damnation Angels trades in, brevity is a virtue.  The songs that stretch the times out a little further struggle to justify the extra minutes, because while they may have some interesting orchestral flourishes, the crux of the song isn't strong enough to hold attention quite that long.

But those complaints are rather minor, in context.  The songs throughout "The Valiant Fire" are a strong mix of heavy thunder and sticky hooks.  The band plays a similar style to Kamelot, but PelleK's vocals never drift so far into the melancholy.  His voice keeps things moving along with enough upbeat energy to make the record enjoyable, not a chore.  Darkness becomes insufferable when every element of every song is built solely upon it.  Thankfully, that doesn't happen here, and the songs are allowed to embrace their catchy nature.

"The Passing" features the album's most epic melody, with a mournful tone that sits perfectly in the mix with the weightier orchestral parts, as opposed to the more than nine minute "The Frontiersman", which gets bogged down in its attempt to be bigger than a typical metal song.  Between the obvious attempt at scope, and the lengthy orchestral portions, that song stands out as the worst number on the album, simply because it feels like it's trying to hard.  The basic verse and chorus are good, but the song got stretched too far for those pieces to stand up to the task.

What's more, the tone of the album changes around the time of that track.  The opening numbers are more direct, more focused on delivering a sharp hook, while the second half of the record gives more attention to the dramatic effects of the music.  Both approaches have their merit, but I would have preferred the record to focus on one or the other, or at least not so obviously separate them into two halves.

That being said, "The Valiant Fire" is a record that will win over fans of this brand of power metal without fail.  I won't make the direct comparison to Kamelot, other than to say that Damnation Angels holds up well to the leaders of the genre.  There's a lot to like about "The Valiant Fire", you just need to be a bit patient to unlock it all.

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