It’s really no secret that the current faction of Metal Review mostly ignores what stems from the “power” realm of heavy metal today. I suppose these sorts of things can be expected as genres fall in and out of the general metal publics’ graces. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it bums me out that we don’t keep a closer ear to the ground when it comes to good, heartfelt power metal in these parts.
It’s not entirely our fault, though. For every solid Cage, Jag Panzer or Hibria that eventually bubbles to the surface, there remains three times as many bullshit acts still overly concerned with the silkiness of their hair to contend with. In short, no other sub-genre has to fight harder to overcome the corniness that’s settled into its roots than good ol’ fashioned power metal.
Take Jacksonville, Florida’s Artizan, for example. An album like Curse of the Artizan hits the doorstep at MR and my first (admittedly rude) reaction is that their brand of progressive power metal might as well be Dan Fogelberg to the lionshare of our readers more concerned with having their metal boundaries pushed through grinding aggression or straight-jacketed insanity. Hell, even those with a penchant for the heavier end of the prog/power spectrum might find this material to be light, despite that sweetly aggressive cover artwork fitting for the Nevermores or Zero Hours in the house.
But Curse of the Artizan is a damned enjoyable record, plain and simple. It might be a fair stretch from the heaviest thing you’ll gobble down this year, but it’s a prime example of a hard-working underground US progressive metal act less concerned about current trends and more focused on delivering smartly crafted tunes tailor-made for those who like it m-e-l-o-d-i-c. For comparison’s sake, I’d point to bands like Tarot, Crimson Glory and the aforementioned Jag Panzer as primary influences. And just like those bands, Artizan‘s overall slant pushes a mid-paced gait that emphasizes catchiness achieved through dexterous songcrafting and shitloads of melodic guitar work, so those raised on a steady diet of shimmery leads will find plenty to grab hold of here.
All three songs from the band’s 2009 EP are presented again, but they’re integral to the album’s “struggling artisan” concept, so that’s hardly something I’d call outright unfavorable, especially considering the additional four cuts add a full 30-minutes to the cause. And while I’d say the entire undertaking is rewarding, highlights strike truest when tunes are at their catchiest and most melodic — the opening “Trade the World”, for example, and the album’s most epic offering, “Fire” — but no track skimps on those elements, giving the entire album a true sense of flow from start to finish.
Vocalist Tom Braden’s style brings to mind a cross-pollination of John Arch, Rain Irving (While Heaven Wept) and one-time Crimson Glory vocalist Midnight, so I’d imagine those more sensitive to a “lighter approach” will find this to be Curse of the Artizan‘s biggest point of contention. It’s a graceful, airy delivery, I’d certainly confirm, but it’s also quite good, as evidenced by his ability to lift the album’s more mellow measures, like the smooth opening of the aforementioned “Fire”.
Honestly, my only fuss with this record is that I do wonder what these dudes would sound like if they turned the corner and really bolstered the riffing element of the formula. As of now, apart from a few notably chunky break-outs, the bulk of Artizan‘s heft is delivered via founding member Ty Tammeus’ vigorous drumming, so I’d be psyched if future releases piggybacked his heavy hand with an even harder push into the more aggressive side of the spectrum. Still, even without the added hostility, I’d say Artizan‘s emphasis on infectious, exceedingly melodic songcrafting makes Curse of the Artizan one of the more satisfying progressive power metal records I’ve encountered this year.