Sacred Guardian’s debut album is a case study in the importance of managing listener expectations. Take a minute, if you will, and examine that cover art. Warrior standing atop a crumbling castle wall? Check. Fierce-looking dragon hovering in mid-air belching fire at said warrior? Check. Band logo in a font that might get the Tolkien estate a little hot-‘n-litigious? Check. Point being, I went into this album expecting wall-to-wall Euro power-cheese. Instead, Sacred Guardian presents a more muscular and generally more traditional type of power metal, and while the Puerto Rican band shows promise, one fears that as things currently stand, that warrior’s shield may soon buckle like the corsets of so many buxom lasses.
So, instead of super-charged, flowery power metal, Sacred Guardian offers a darker, sturdier, and more aggressive version of a rather trad-ish power metal, in the process calling to mind names like Nevermore or Helstar. (Sacred Guardian is never as progressive as the former nor quite as speedy as the latter, but they land in the same general area.) The songs are tightly constructed, and flow quite fluidly from one section to the next, but throughout the course of the album’s fifty minutes, they blend together quite sharply. Part of that might be on vocalist Gustavo Rodriguez: his voice generally operates on the lower end of the range typically associated with this style of music, and while that isn’t necessarily a problem, his vocal melodies are neither particularly interesting nor memorable. In short, the album is in desperate need of some catchy-as-hell choruses.
That said, Sacred Guardian has two factors working strongly in its favor. The bass playing of Raly Vega is fantastic, and highly prominent throughout the album. While I didn’t have any credits provided, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Vega plays a fretless bass, such is the movement and roundness his playing lends the album. Second, although Jose Blondet’s guitars occasionally seem tuned a bit low for the style, his soloing throughout the album is a real highlight. “Ancient Prophecy” is especially ripping on this count, with excellent solo spots, and some of the speedier riffing sections almost tipping over into Iced Earth territory. So, while Sacred Guardian is neither fleet and fanciful enough to scratch my cheesy power metal itch, nor quite memorable enough to fit a classic metal template, this is far from a laggard effort. The talent is there, and the tunes are more than halfway to where they need to be. And really, let’s be honest: who among us truly defeated the first dragon we encountered?