Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Album Review: Human Fortress - Thieves Of The Night

There was a time in the early part of the 2000s when Human Fortress was positioned to be one of the rising stars in the world of power metal. They had put out a couple of albums that earned them a sterling reputation, and a healthy following. Power metal was still in the midst of that boom period, and they hit the formula so well that it seemed as though everyone loved them. But then a funny thing happened, and the band threw away all their good will. They released an album called "Eternal Empire", which shifted their sound so dramatically it was hard to tell they were the same band. And unlike Bloodbound, who similarly went through a creative shift on their masterpiece "Tabula Rasa", I don't recall anyone who thought Human Fortress' effort was good.

That brings us to today, with the second album in the resurrected career of the band, who are once again delivering power metal in the tried-and-true way. I won't get into the questions about their sincerity, since I don't think that has any bearing on whether the music is good or not. I'll stick with talking about the songs.

"Amberstow" opens the album with a nice medieval acoustic guitar part, which segues into a track that gives us throat-shredding vocals, plenty of double bass drumming, and a thankfully limited amount of cliche power metal riffing. It's one of those songs that is perfectly solid and well-executed, but just doesn't leave a deep impression on me. To put it another way, I like it but I don't love it. That feeling encapsulates quite a bit of the album. A song like "Last Prayer To The Lord" has the right elements, but the chorus feels a bit foreign to the rest of the song, which keeps the whole thing from hitting the mark.

Part of the problem lies with the vocals. Gus Monsanto has a good voice, but he pushes himself into the range where his voice is 'gritty' so often that I think it works against the entire point of power metal, which is to be melodic. His approach doesn't give the melodies room to breath, and instead gives off the air that Human Fortress is heavier than they actually are. Heaviness is not the band's strength, as evidenced by "Thrice Blessed", which tries to take up the spirit of later-day Dio, but is more boring than sinister.

Over nearly an hour, Human Fortress delivers plenty of material for us to sink our teeth into. Unfortunately, that length also means there's plenty of time for us to grow tired of what they're offering. I don't mean to make this sound harsh, because "Thieves Of The Night" isn't a bad record by any means. It's a safe, solid power metal record that just happens to overstay its welcome a bit. At forty-five minutes, it would be a fun little romp through nostalgic power metal, but the additional ten minutes pushes it to where I'm ready for it to be over before the album is done. Power metal is a tough genre for long albums, because the bands that rigidly adhere to following the formula keep giving us the same thing time and time again. By the time you get to the tenth or twelfth track, you've already heard everything you're going to.

Human Fortress is making amends for their past failure, and they're doing an ok job of it. "Thieves Of The Night" is a solid record, and I enjoyed listening to it, but I think they played it too safe. It's so on-the-nose that it doesn't sound fresh. It's good, but it's old hat at this point.

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