Second Stormposted on 5/2015 By:
Provided you took a break from admiring a dadbod last week, you probably saw this Spotify study proposing 33 is the age when music taste freezes. At that point, your saggy middle-age ass is more prone to jiggle to the music of your youth than whatever the youth of the day are enjoying. The study itself was interesting, applying big data to define a phenomenon culture has joked about since forever, but the reactions from around the net were more so. Some suffered an early onset of get-off-my-lawn-isms. Others finally understood why music criticism is a heaping pile of horseshit: under-30s don't know what they're talking about and over-30s don't know what they're listening to. But the best reactions were from those who tried to apply pop psychology. The soundest was from Zoe Chace, who used her guest-host time on Slate's podcast The Gist to research a reason for taste freeze: by your 30s, you have felt all of the feels so newer music holds fewer surprises.
There's a chance you've already felt Lancer's feel. In an interview with Bravewords that coincided with the release of the Swede's 2013 eponymous debut, singer Isak Stenvall said, "We met at a music academy and our mission was to spread the word of Power Metal." Later, he listed touchstones: Helloween, HammerFall, Iron Maiden, and the like. If Lancer is spreading the word, it's using those bands' tongues. Sophomore release Second Storm's songs are stacked with Helloweenie double-chrouses forever modulating skyward, sounding like an orgy of angels climaxing. Stenvall's Joacim Cans-sucking-helium belting is range-y enough to leap frog limp power prog fronted by comic store counter clerks. Even bassist Emil Öberg is given the green light to dress up iron-upping solo sessions with diddles and widdles.
Does that read like a slog? No, but reading and listening -- as you surely know in this age of feel-good hyperbole -- aren't the same. Fact is, for eight songs on this nine track effort, Lancer is missing "it." They make the right noises, noises that sound like nostalgic noises, but you're rarely convinced. Ultimately, Lancer rely on the novelty of their shtick -- a Joust-like battle ostrich mascot -- instead of the novelty of their music, which is like telling your ex you're different because you're wearing a hat.
There are technical reasons why Lancer misses the mark. For instance, the band's lack of groove is particularly debilitating. The 10-minute "Aton" is like cross country skiing through a tar pit. There's no swing, no syncopation, nothing to prod a listener along. An old growth forest is less wooden. It brings out more Zs than a Scrabble cheater. But at least "Aton" breaks from the blueprint. The rest of Second Storm has an assembly line quality, as tracks rise and fall in the exact same way. That's forgivable if you have your own sound. When you're pulling off second-rate Helloween, it just drives home that you're not Helloween. Then again, neither is modern-day Helloween, but you know where this is going.
However, perhaps not. Second Storm actually does surprise by ending on a high note. "Fools Marches On" is everything the previous songs weren't. It's infectiously energetic. Its muscular sprint is confident, showcasing the required power metal quality of believing in your gallops of gallops you're the only band that should play this music. Because of that, it finally sounds like Lancer. And Lancer is good. It's probably even better if you never felt anything like it before.