Sunday, May 7, 2017

Album Review: Seven Kingdoms - Decennium

Power metal is a tricky genre. My entry to the vast world of metal largely came through the trenches of power metal, and even though that predisposes me to liking the shimmering melodic edge the music provides, I have to say that it is a style that becomes tired and stale incredibly quickly. Because the music focuses so heavily on the sweeping choruses and catchy vocals hooks, there isn't much else to grab onto, which makes for a lot of generic music when the singers can't sharpen the song's teeth to deadly precision.

And if there's anything to make power metal even less appealing to people who haven't already bought in to the cheesiness, it's sci-fi cover art that screams "NERD ALERT". I realize it's a common theme, but I don't see the connection between music and sci-fi, and as a fan of only one of the two, I'm usually less interested to hear an album that has such an obvious theme I don't care about.

The album kicks off with "Stargazer", which falls into another pet peeve of mine. The song is not a cover of Rainbow's classic, and using the same title is a self-defeating move, since as soon as I see it, I can't help but compare Seven Kingdom's track to one of the greatest songs ever written. As you would expect, that doesn't go well for the new entry. The biggest problem, to my ears, is that Sabrina Valentine constantly sounds like she is caught between two different vocal approaches. She has that classical sound in her tone, but she doesn't go full-on operatic on these songs, which is a bit confusing.

Women in metal have two main options for how they approach their vocals. They can take the operatic route, which has led many to great success. They can also sing straight-up rock/metal, which works just as well. Few vocalists, male or female, can pull off multiple styles at the same time. I feel that Sabrina has tried to do that, and it drags the album down. As she adds and subtracts those elements from her voice, it seems to happen at random, and without an explanation. It pulls me out of the music, if I'm being honest.

But that issue aside, the real crux of the album is in how I defined power metal earlier. It's a genre of music where there is no expectation of originality or memorability so far as riffs go, which puts all the focus on the melodies. Regardless of the vocal approach, the melodies here just aren't hooky enough to make this album work. They're soft-edged and lacking the killer instinct to make a listener pay attention. It's easy to lose focus and completely lose track of where in a song you are. The verses and choruses blend together far too much, which means the songs aren't building to a high point, they're flat-lining.

There's some charm in what Seven Kingdoms is trying to do here, but it's an album that desperately needed an outside hand to help guide the writing. There are some good ideas here and there, but I never hear what is propelling the band. It's a flat album that lacks passion and energy, and sounds like an album being made for the sake of making an album.

That makes it terribly disappointing.

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