originally written by Jim Brandon
2005’s Godspeed was the first Symphorce effort I’d heard, and for being mainly power metal-based it was an album I grew to respect and admire due to the way Andy B. Franck (Brainstorm) and his capable cohorts modernized their sound without bowing too far to the trends of the time. With sixth album Become Death, the band takes the music a few logical steps further without changing the landscape of their chosen art form, staying fresh but offering little that will alienate their loyal following. Whether or not this attracts new fans is uncertain, but, as always, you’ll find nothing but rock solid songwriting that delivers the metal goods, even if this latest effort falls slightly short of expectations following a great disc such as Godspeed.
Become Death isn’t an extremely heavy album, which is fine, and I can see how a few might go so far as to call this album ‘safe’. Yet the guitar tone is somewhat thick, and reminds me a little of the properly polished edition of Nevermore’s Enemies Of Reality, the plus side being that the guitars definitely attract attention with their burly sound. The mix is very good, the drums are crisp but with just enough dirt thrown on them to bring a natural, earthy feel to the music, and just the slightest tweaking of the bass drums would have made this even more pleasant to indulge in. Franck mixes up flatter singing with his rich trademark melodic vocals, bringing about a very sincere and honest vibe to the album rather than merely being competent and cookie cutter, but also totally avoiding histrionics of any kind.
The music is typically lush, graceful when necessary, and pummeling when energized. Tracks like “Inside The Cast” are laid-back and rely on lighter progressive vibes and excellent vocal arrangements that are both soulful and vibrant. Soft spoken-work segues appear briefly that don’t sound misplaced, and combined with the slower, grooving elements of “No Final Words To Say” it helps take the song to another level of expression that some, unfortunately, will find almost too modern and lighthearted. Dynamics don’t play a huge role in Symphorce’s songwriting, keeping things as straight ahead and direct as possible. I find the disc lacks the traditional epic feel that encompasses the majority of power metal, and comes across as gritty and bloody-knuckled rather than pristine and elegant, and “Ancient Prophecies” along with “Lost And Found” adds just enough speedy aggression to keep the adrenaline flowing, signaling two future live favorites for their fans.
If there is a fault here and there, it rests with the very, very wispy feeling the album gives off overall from a songwriting standpoint. The leads in particular just sort of float by with nothing of tangible substance to grasp onto, and a few of the more compelling dual harmonies sound a bit muted. “Lies” has something going on in the background that reminds me of Herbie Hancock, and there are points where the music is almost too relaxed without really creating a strong mood. It just feels like things have been mellowed in a manner that really could have been expanded upon in a more powerful way without needlessly adding heaviness or trance-inducing experimentalism. The hooks, the gutsy melodic riffs, they just aren’t there this time.
In conclusion, I just wish Symphorce had really gone for it on this CD, and hit us with a classic. Instead, we have a solid album that offers limited surprises, and still manages to succeed. If you wanted the band to intensify their sound, you’ll be disappointed, but going into this with no expectations you’ll discover a good album that might not make it onto your Top 10 list at the end of the year, but if you’re a fan of theirs already or have been curious about them, Become Death is a good investment. That’s what I got out of this, and wish there had been something more interesting to talk about, but have no major complaints.