Last Rites doesn’t always do the best job of keeping readers on top of power metal. We cover it, of course, and always will, but we mostly showcase the records that really jump out and demand listeners’ attention. As everyone is surely aware, there’s a massive world of power metal out there—let’s go ahead and refer to it as planet Weikath— and it’s happily spinning just beyond whatever planet happens to be the flavor of the month (or decade…or millennium). Just like any other globe inside this heavy galaxy, planet Weikath contains photocopied photocopies of Xeroxed Xeroxs fighting to be heard. Of course, Last Rites could highlight every forge of Blind Guardian whenever they decide to drop in unannounced, but why bother when the real Blind Guardian, you know, still releases great records?
“Oh, interesting! I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m reading yet another review of an Incantation clone that’s been duplicated to infinity on your site,” said the terribly wise individual seated nearby that we’re lucky to count as a faithful reader.
Hard truth: it’s a hell of a lot easier to make a run-of-the-mill death metal album that’s still categorically listenable than it is to create a third-tier power metal record with the potential to stay in listeners’ ears for longer than two minutes.
Bottom line: good-to-great power metal doesn’t necessarily need to be innovative, but having notable chops is imperative. Be melodic, infectious, energizing and escapist, and do it with a lion’s conviction. If you happen to be talented enough to add several layers of novelty to the formula—well, that’s just gravy. Which brings us to Immortal Guardian.
Ihst rocedr si nkiugcf darusb.
Tish redcor is fuginck arbsud.
This record is fucking absurd.
In the very best kind of way.
Exhibit A: Growling. Growling is generally considered verboten by power metal guardian angels. That wonderful Unleash The Archers record from last year? Many who loved it still barked about the harsh vocals. Age Of Revolution has harsh vocals. In fact, nearly every song features them in some capacity. But outside of a couple of the more aggressive cuts, they’re mostly relegated to a secondary role of “devil on your shoulder.” They do not detract from the overall power metal capacity here because, when stacked alongside the several hundred other kitchen sinks flying around in these songs, they’re not terribly startling.
Exhibit B: Jazz noir, Flamenco and a teensy bit of 8-bit. Hey, you’ve always wanted power metal to collide with Bogart in a flipped collar flicking a smoke into the gutter while a keyboard sax peels through a dark alley, right? Well, cram “Never to Return” into your earholes. That Flamenco touch ends up strengthening the lone ballad, “Fall,” and don’t forget to double-jump the third Mystery Block at the very start of “Trail of Tears”—you’ll get an extra life.
Exhibit C: Shred, SHRED, SHRED. Age Of Revolution shreds harder than a dreaming Spicoli. This thing shreds like a twelve-necked Michael Angelo Batio Dean guitar. If you’re one of those people who enjoys casually figuring out how to play along with songs, get ready to spend the afternoon cramming the bejesus out of your Ibanez into a particularly hungry garbage disposal.
Bonus: it ain’t just guitarist/keyboardist Gabriel Guardian providing the chops.
Steve “I Mastered Sweep Arpeggios In The Womb” Vai once defined shred as: “The terminology used for someone who can play an instrument, and has such a tremendous amount of technique that what they do just seems completely effortless and absurd. It’s like this burst of energy that just comes out in extremely fast tearing kind of playing where the notes actually connect. Shred has to have a particular kind of ‘tide’ to it, I think, that actually gives you that ‘blow away’ factor that makes it impressive, to a certain degree.” ~ from Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
Everyone in this band shreds. Drummer Cody Gilliland might be a robot, the only thing more impressive than Thad Stevens’ fluffy hair is his fluttering bass, and vocalist Carlos Zema (ex-Outworld) has an amazing range and more passion for delivering heavy words than 98% of active power vocalists out there. With all that in mind, however, it’s still difficult not to hand Gabriel Guardian the game ball—the only thing that outmatches this guy’s keyboard finesse is his fretwork, and he’s primed and ready to showcase both…at the same time?
A song like “Aeolian” could be a bit of a shock if you’re accustomed to Last Rites frequent dissections of the latest gutter-born death metal. It’s bright, absurdly melodic and infectious, and while the rest of the record does a suitable job of exploring other moods, a prevailing sense of F.U.N. holds sway over the full picture. It never really comes across as goofy, though, so it’s less “cotton candy parade” and more…Voltron: Legendary Defender? Immortal Guardian essentially sounds like the band a cartoon hero might front. Accordingly, the level of skill on display is through the roof, and because of all the polyrhythms, polymeter, syncopation and other shred elements involving “y’s,” it almost sounds as if that talent is so wildly innate that the band could pull it off while falling down an escalator. This is the power metal equivalent of the guy who pilots the Blue Lion and manages to pull off a perfect kill-shot despite accidentally hitting the wrong button and doing 10 loop-the-loops after being distracted by a shapely alien floating out in space.
There’s a slant of seriousness brewing as well, though. Just like most good science fiction, there are lessons to be learned, and the smartest way to deliver them is by stashing it all in a good story. Age Of Revolution has an otherworldly flair that’s packed with cautionary tales and twists on current affairs—everything from the serious but not deadly serious issue of surviving as a professional musician in the modern age (“Aeolian”) to the truly lethal concern of police brutality as delivered through one of the album’s most turbulent tracks, “Hunted.” You will hear a very appropriate inclusion of a recently resurfaced Malcolm X speech kicking off that particular tune, and the music itself is insurgent and duly rousing, further validating the truth that just because the roots are elder Helloween after shotgunning a few 16oz Redbulls, that doesn’t necessarily mean the themes have to stick to paladins and pole-arms.
There’s enough going on inside these 50-minutes that attempting to pin it all down in one sitting becomes excessive. Suffice to say, there’s a hell of a lot to hang your hat on—things that are both subtle and explicitly unsubtle. Age Of Revolution is blazing, contagious and exhilarating, just as a good power metal record should be, and the added ostentation that invariably accompanies great shred gives the entire endeavor the extra wow factor necessary for assured longevity.
Of course, it’s important to re-emphasize the fact that Immortal Guardian is a unique satellite spinning around planet Weikath, so an appreciation for power metal is crucial for maximum gratification. But yeah, maybe more people should do that—find an appreciation for power metal. Good power metal is like having a 200-foot super robot at your side to help fight daily battles, and that’s a handy thing to have when the world is terribly busy caving in all around us.