Originally released on Nightmare Records back in January, Decennium proved itself worthy enough to score a re-release just a few short months later, now on power-metal “major” Napalm. In their ten-year career (hence this latest album title), Florida’s Seven Kingdoms has also proved themselves worthy of that upgrade, getting better with every release. After humbler beginnings in more melodeath waters and with a mostly different line-up, Seven Kingdoms switched vocalists for their 2010 eponymous album, which saw them switching to straightforward European-style power metal. That album garnered some good press, although I must admit I haven’t spent any time with it, and the band would expand their horizons on tour with the heavy-hitting likes of Blind Guardian and Stratovarius. Two years later, 2012’s excellent The Fire Is Mine firmly established Seven Kingdoms as among America’s top purveyors of that certain grandiose, epic, melodic flair.
Like all good power metal, Decennium succeeds through a few standard factors – one, the obvious: power. Decennium is packed with speedy riffs and driving rhythms, as guitarists Camden Cruz and Kevin Byrd dance around one another with skill and taste, their melodic lines interweaving like vintage Hansen and Weikath. Drummer Keith Byrd keeps everything moving at a crackling pace, and the whole package is filled to the brim with an energy that easily allows it to hit the gleefully epic sweet spot that defines power metal greatness.
The second factor: Melodies; hooks. What it carries forth in speedy riffage, Decennium backs up doubly in soaring vocal hooks. Sabrina Valentine’s voice has been something of an odd one for me – it’s clean, almost too clean sometimes, particularly in her highest register, and yet it still works brilliantly and fits snugly. For Decennium, she seems to be branching out, expanding her range – her vocals are stronger here than on The Fire Is Mine – and that expansion is a welcome one, adding further melodic range to these songs. Also, for Decennium, now there are moments of a roughed-up edge heretofore absent, and it’s a welcome addition, adding a little extra bite to some of Decennium’s most metallic moments.
And of course, the third and most important factor: Songs. From the opening “Stargazer,” with its instantly catchy “Question the unknown!” tag, through the stellar “Undying” and “In The Walls,” Decennium starts with all guns blazing. Both “Undying” and “Walls” were previewed on last year’s In The Walls EP, which also featured two re-recorded tunes from the band’s earliest era, and alongside the graphic-novel-inspired “The Ballad Of Deathface Ginny,” those tracks are hands-down Decennium’s finest moments. “Walls” adapts an HP Lovecraft tale into soaring power metallic awesomeness, with claw-like hooks in Valentine’s “the bastards will not let me sleep” pre-chorus and the choir-amplified pomp of the chorus itself. Further, there’s much to love about the likes of “Castles In The Snow” and “Kingslayer,” even if Decennium’s second half does step back a bit and become a bit more faceless. “Neverending,” “The Faceless Hero,” and “Hollow” just don’t compete with what comes before them – none are outright duds, just weaker variations upon what’s come before.
Given its slight drop in the end, I’m torn on whether Decennium topples The Fire Is Mine as the band’s finest hour so far. The high points here are higher than Seven Kingdoms has ever been, but overall, it’s not as consistently as strong of an album as Fire is. Still, if nothing else, it’s not a huge step down, and it’s new, and new tunes by a great band should always be celebrated. Decennium is without a doubt a remarkably solid album by one of America’s finest purveyors of a decidedly European aesthetic, and firmly among the best power metal records I’ve heard in a quite awhile.