One of the interesting and strangely rewarding things about being a power metal enthusiast in 2015 is the fact that, due to the general indifference shown by media outlets and the metal population at large, particularly within the United States, fans don’t really get hit over the head with an uninterrupted outpouring of releases 8 days a week as you might for, say, death and black metal. Perhaps that seems like a strange thing to celebrate, but during an age where glut has become the new standard, it’s refreshing to exist in a realm where you often don’t have much of a choice but to really get to know the releases you count as triumphs. To illustrate the point: While there have been a few noteworthy power metal releases in 2015, there haven’t been enough to completely overshadow what’s still getting regular play from 2014’s sufficient crop. In this sense, power metal is defying the “churn & burn” mandate that seems to govern much of music today.
The shortage of a comprehensive power metal vogue also means that, for the most part, the bands that commit to the genre are by-God in it for a true love and obligation to the game. In other words, there’s little evidence of bandwagoning, which is equally refreshing.
With that in mind, if you’re lucky enough to resonate with power metal and haven’t been paying attention to what’s been rumbling down the chute from the U.S. lately, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. Releases haven’t exactly been dropping from the trees, per say, but a good portion of what we’ve gotten certainly qualifies for medal contention. To keep things pinned to 2015, consider Artizan’s The Furthest Reaches, Tanagra’s None of This is Real, and Judicator’s ludicrous At the Expense of Humanity. Three high-quality PM records from one country in one year might typically be sufficient, but St. Paul, Minnesota’s Chaos Frame apparently prefers to kick the festivities up to a deafening roar, because Paths to Exile, their sophomore effort, is nothing short of extraordinary.
First of all, are you shittin’ me with this thing? Who? Wuh? Where’d?
There’s nary a bad tune to be found on this record. Seriously. That fact alone should be enough to inspire some of you to pound some samples into your ears and free the tight velcro grip on those wallets, but just in case it’s not: Chaos Frame shares current, ex- and guest members from Noble Beast, a band that released one of 2014’s most sublime examples of exhilarating, aggressive modern power metal. And while Paths to Exile certainly shares some of that band’s Blind Guardian-galvanized strut, particularly in those exquisitely stacked choruses, Chaos Frame is an entirely different beast altogether. An even more… noble beast, one might wager? Inconceivable. Just a more proggy, less dungeon-inspired incursion that shares the same level of skill in terms of first-string musicianship from a relatively unheralded act.
Something a number of American progressive/power metal acts seem to be managing in excess lately is the idea that you can be uplifting without being overly bubbly, and Chaos Frame nails that notion home with a one-ton hammer. There are no “Heavy Metal Hamsters” or squirrelly circus jigs within a hundred miles of these dudes. Outside of the opening track, every song flashes moments where things seamlessly break off for a stretch of surprisingly dense or FAST execution that strikes with as much oomph as Brian Blessed charging atop a Clydesdale. For comparison’s sake, think Pharaoh, Falconer, Manticora and Spirit of Ukko era Kiuas all balled into one. Now add one of the better vocal performances this side of a Daniel Heiman-fronted Lost Horizon/Heed record and you’ve got the basic gist.
Lofty praise, for sure, but Paths to Exile delivers, front to back. And as satisfying as the entire picture manages to be, the weight delivered in its midsection via “Terra Firma,” “Paper Sun” and “Giantkiller” is just staggering. Nimble acoustic picking blends with knotty riffing and ample time signature shifts; infectious choruses swirl into falsettoed, King Diamond-inspired “oh-ohhhs”; bolts of blast-beating drums run like hellfire; pretty leads split the sky without ever being overblown; and there’s even a bloody saxophone solo that winds up resting so perfectly within the overall scheme of things that you’ll wonder why more bands of this nature don’t work this oft-maligned instrument into their own blueprint. Embrace your inner Tim Cappello, heavy metal.
It’s been a while since I’ve come across a prog/power metal record as altogether satisfying as Paths to Exile. In the end, however, one probably needs some level of appreciation for the style to fully acknowledge what’s going on here. It’s too bad, really, because above all else, Chaos Frame simply succeeds at delivering great heavy metal – energetic, exciting, empowering heavy metal that’s perfectly suited for those who appreciate impeccable musicianship, towering vocals and just generally feeling fucking fantastic after listening to one of the better records that 2015 has to offer.