Norway is better known for prog metal than power metal, even if both are but dimly lit stars amidst all the black metal in that icy north. Maybe it’s because what little power metal does escape the frozen abyss could just as easily be called progressive metal. Probably should just call it power-prog. In any case, Notodden ’s Fracture figured it was about time Pagan’s Mind and Communic got a little help in securing their homeland a more permanent place on the power-/ prog metal map and so set about constructing for us their debut record, Dominate and Overload.
It’s usually easiest (and maybe laziest) to describe a band’s sound in terms of others’ whose they approximate, but there really is no point in dropping names here, because the list would be long and to a large extent, obvious. Let it suffice to say that anybody whose listening history includes power and/or prog metal will recognize the influences of the best acts in the genre(s), classic and current. Likewise for the vocal talents of Paal Strand, who is among the more powerful vocalists to hit the scene in recent years. Despite frequently calling to mind the giants of his realm, he retains a distinctive character while running the gamut of tone and texture. More than any other element of the sound, there is no underestimating the importance of a power metal band’s vocalist and Strand’s got the pipes around which a signature sound can and ought to be built.
Fracture’s musical approach is pretty well captured by the record’s title, as the songs are formed from a heavy thrash mold that devotes far more space to dual guitars than keyboards, a detail to be noted immediately by those who lament the frequent overshadowing of the metal by the prog. Even if the tone and foundational riff style of Dominate… lie closer to the modern edge, the lead riffs and solos are steeped in more traditional values, giving the album a sense of the band’s allegiance to their roots even as they clearly embrace contemporary progression. And this is power-prog, after all, so it goes without saying (or should, anyway) that it is chock full of hook-laden melody, Fracture’s take on which generates an atmosphere of high emotion while only occasionally flirting with the overblown histrionics known to plague the style.
Each of these nine songs benefits from above-average songwriting that draws great strength from the natural interplay between Strand’s vocals and the twin guitars of Jostein Thomassen and Wegard Golebiowski. Even so, there is the sense that the band are playing it just a little too safe in the this department, as structure rarely strays far from familiar (for their niche) territory and they do all their work within the space of four to five-and-a-half minutes. All the talent on display and the ease with which it’s forwarded just screams for a little instrumental variation, eclecticism, something epic. Just a touch of adventurousness and a tweak or two to give the guitar tone a more distinctive sound would go a long way to setting Fracture atop their domain. That said, maybe the band wanted to give the power-prog crowd an album that just rocks, leaving wankery and extravagance for others, and in this regard they have succeeded.
It’s too bad that the power- and prog-metal camps haven’t given us much to crow about this year, but what little has come down the line is pretty fucking good (Dofka and Voices From Beyond come to mind), even if some barely fit the category (Blaze Bayley), or occupy just one circle of the Venn diagram (Rhapsody of Fire’s pure power metal). Nonetheless, as an unlikely representative from the wintry hinterlands, Fracture has made a strong case for Dominate and Overload to be included with that little group’s recent output and certainly seems poised to make greater impact still in years to come.