Even if all the opportunistic carbon-copy acts in heavy metal’s recent history leave you less than excited about throwback sounds, it’s hard to deny the retro appeal when those sounds reflect a heartfelt bond with the genre’s past. Then, even if it’s difficult to define, the sincerity that distinguishes the classically minded artist from the trend-hopping hack is easily recognized. Among the former group, those familiar sounds just sort of come through naturally and are often successful because they function as an integral part of larger, more audacious machinery. Norway’s Triosphere makes this connection on their sophomore effort, The Road Less Travelled, by folding the lit-Bic-swaying feel of arena rock into the fiery bombast of progressive power metal.
Whereas this record is undoubtedly metal, vocalist Pico Haukland imparts a distinct melodic hard rock feel to the melodies in most of these songs. She is very much at home between Doro Pesch and Heart’s Ann Wilson, and her lines in “The Human Condition” make obvious nods to Journey in more than one spot. The familiarity in the underlying music is a little vaguer, as the tones, riffs and rhythms frequently emanate a prog-filtered Gothenburg vibe but also spend a lot of time in that rock-and-roll balladry of the seventies and eighties. Intuitively, the melding of these two styles seems rather uncomely but to hear Triosphere execute it makes clear what they had in mind. It turns out that the relative restraint of melodic rock serves as a surprisingly effective tempering complement to the gigged up histrionics of progressive power metal. The Road Less Travelled emerges naturally from the confluence of the two.
The musicianship on display throughout these eleven songs and 51 minutes is top-notch, reflected especially in some killer leads and solos, but what lifts the talent above mere technical flash is genuinely inspired energy. Even in those restrained moments of verse and chorus designed to highlight Pico’s vocals, the riffing is catchy and the harmonies pleasing, but it’s in the breaks that the band inevitably flies, cutting loose with the proggy fireworks. It’s easy to picture the band waiting patiently behind the spotlight, dutifully deferring to the vocals until the break, and then exploding to the stage front at the first glimpse of blue sky in which to soar. “Watcher” is a great example of the formula at its most appealing, the title track is intractably addictive, and the power-punch of “21” is excellent, as well. The problem may be that these work so well that the songs that don’t trace the course end up feeling weak by comparison. “Marionette” is a fine little heavy ballad with a wonderful bluesy solo break, but it suffers nonetheless behind the more consistent tracks when bursts of twisty prog erupt for a mere four measures or so before being subjugated by the song’s predominant style.
Special note ought to be taken of the album’s bookend tracks (including the first track’s intro and the last’s outro). “Driven” and “Worlds Apart” both kick ass, taking full advantage of the latent energy of brimming guitars by giving them relatively free reign alongside those commanding vocals. And, as the boldest of the set, they leave open the tantalizing prospect of whether this is where Triosphere aims to go on future endeavors. The Road Less Travelled’s best moments work because they run within a natural flow, lacing the grace of emotive melody into the agile muscularity of heavy power prog. They’ve left themselves ample room to develop their take, but if they follow the path defined by those tracks there may be no limit to their ascent.