[Artwork by Staffan Lindroth]
Approximately 20 years of personal fandom has cemented two primary conclusions with regard to the individual known as Daniel Heiman: 1) he has a remarkable voice and remains embedded within the top five «greatest power metal vocalists ever», and 2) he seems like… A bit of an enigma. Speaking to that second point, and putting aside the fact that he once went by the name “Ethereal Magnanimus,” he generally seems to enjoy unexpectedly popping up here and there as a guest with splendid results, but rarely commits to something beyond a single album or a track or two. This appears to be the result of an artist who simply prefers a more nomadic approach, and he’s made it clear in sporadic interviews that a wide interest in all types of music has lended itself to his want for “spreading the wealth.”
Let’s take a quick look back before moving forward.
It’s 2001; power metal is thriving. Most every corner of the globe now has champions in the ring, and Swedish powerhouses such as HammerFall, Narnia, Nocturnal Rites and Tad Morose represent that particular region’s crème de la crème.
All at once, on May 8th of that same year, a great disturbance in the natural balance of the realm shifts the overall power metal advantage in Sweden’s favor based on the strength of two releases landing on the very same day: Falconer’s self-titled debut (Metal Blade Records) and the launching of Lost Horizon at the hands of Awakening the World (Music for Nations). The former delivers the goods in a way that’s perhaps best described as “speedy minstrel power metal ripped from a Broadway stage,” and the latter does its part by taking everything power metal has delivered up to that point, dipping it into reactor-grade plutonium, and then detonating everything directly in the face of anyone who might become tempted by an album cover that depicts four supernatural souls descending on an Earth now ruled by suited CEOs sporting the heads of boars, buzzards, hyenas and other such beasts.
The greatness of the Lost Horizon unveiling owed its worth to a number of factors, a clear leader being the absurdly radiant voice of Ethereal Magnanimus. The band managed a follow-up record, 2003’s equally as resplendent (and perhaps slightly more progressive) A Flame to the Ground Beneath, and then…radio silence.
Daniel and fellow Lost Horizonan Fredrik Olsson march forward with the even shorter-lived Heed, and the years that followed found Heiman adopting a hired gun pattern that bestowed gold star status to releases such as Crystal Eyes’ Confessions of the Maker (Heavy Fidelity, April 1st, 2005), Harmony’s Theatre of Redemption (Ulterium, Dec 2nd, 2014) and the Remembrance EP (Ulterium, May 22nd, 2015), as well as a few songs (tracks 1, 9 and 11) on Part 2 of Marius Danielsen’s Legend of Valley Doom (Crime Records, Nov 30th, 2018).
Amidst all that action, and up until this very day, Lost Horizon’s status has remained “on hold,” keeping even the faintest glimmer of hope alive for fans who dream that whatever managed to sever those old bonds would eventually become forgiven or forgotten. As it happens, filling the shoes of Daniel Heiman has proven to be a very difficult mission.
Time to let the dream go, Rip Van Winkle—it’s been fifteen bloody years. That’s long enough to birth a child and watch it grow into the moody mop of a teen that’s currently eyeing your RAV4 keys and begging for a Learner’s Permit. RELEASE THE BURDEN.
The good news is this… Wait, let’s just go ahead and upgrade that status to “the brain-explodingly GREAT news.” The brain-explodingly GREAT news is Dimhav is here to ease our suffering.
Which brings us back to the present.
If you’re anything like me—a dental floss salesman from Montana who also has a strong affinity for great power metal—you use Daniel Heiman’s Facebook page as a source to keep up with his musical endeavors. More often than not, the news is rather sparse. But on Thursday of last week (Nov 7th), a post was suddenly shared revealing the fact that not only was Daniel was involved in a new project called Dimhav, but that the debut would be released the very next day.
Detailing the backstory reveals the following obstacle: this review is coming to you after having lived with The Boreal Flame for only one weekend. This is significant because it not only demonstrates the level of excitement felt for the record—which, incidentally, already crossed into “I’m Shitting My Pants!” level somewhere around 8pm on Friday—it also confirms the truth that I’m nowhere near finished absorbing the minutia.
Three significant points:
One, this is the first case in what feels like quite some time where the FFO actually hits the target dead center. “…It will appeal to fans of bands like Wintersun, Lost Horizon and Symphony X.” Right on. The smooth fluidity and jaw-dropping proficiency of the Wintersun debut; the proggy, epic and absorbing substance behind The Odyssey; and all the magnificent energy and bravado that made Lost Horizon crucial—this record is an ideal collision of all these things, with the added bonus of an atmosphere that very much fits that wonderfully luminous cover artwork.
Prior to Dimhav, Staffan dropped keys for one song on the Palantír debut, and both brothers are current members (keyboards and drums) for a fairly obscure band called Shadows Past with one album to their credit. That’s pretty much it. I mean, that’s more than I’ve accomplished, but the level of skill displayed on this record is indicative of a person or persons with years of acclaim in bands with large followings. That’s intended as a compliment, in case the point gets lost in the wording.
Just how confident are these brothers? The Boreal Flame—a debut from a band that features the renowned vocal talent of one Daniel Heiman—comes out of the gate with a 10-minute instrumental. “CRACK-OW,” said the lightning.
Point three, as indicated in the above song (hopefully you used decent speakers or headphones), the production on this album is gorgeous, and I reserve that word only for the rarest of occasions. All too often, the mix and overall sound on power metal records ends up hindering the full enjoyment, particularly if you prefer to, you know, actually hear the bass guitar. In the case of Dimhav, it doesn’t take very long at all to get bowled over by Staffan Lindroth’s bass play (1:45). This point is driven home all over the record, but it’s done so with a jackhammer in the song that follows the opener.
Track two, “Realms of a Vagrant King,” is simply stunning. Light shaman drum, atmospheric keys and exquisitely played acoustic guitar open the cut, then the shaman drum slowly intensifies. By the 1:30 mark, a notably urgent Rising Force groove knocks the listener into a contagious strut that’s bolstered to the stratosphere by Staffan’s bass around 3:30. A particularly proggy stretch follows, sustained by that rutting rhythm and oodles of bending leads, and then a bass solo (!!!) drops shortly after the 5:30 mark that snakes right into a noodling keyboard lead. The song eventually goes quiet, quickly followed by Heiman re-delivering the hook for the closing two minutes. Nine minutes and forty-one seconds of perfectly executed progressive power metal, and there’s still 35-minutes left on the record.
Those hoping for a little more aggression and a closer return to Lost Horizon-levels of bombast will flip their fricken lid for “The Flame Transcendent,” a song that proves quite handily that there’s no such thing as playing second fiddle when Daniel Heiman is involved, even when the musicianship that accompanies reaches next-level.
Three songs down and still 25-minutes and four cuts to go. Frankly, trying to put a pin on all the highlights that follow would be counterproductive and make an already fawning review reach the point of total irrationality. Suffice to say, the crushing swagger never diminishes, the brushes of elegance and frigid atmosphere persist, Daniel absolutely SOARS on “From Southern Shores,” and the closing “Star and Crescent” delivers the sort of finale that will leave listeners pleading to whatever gods might listen that this recording does not represent the last thing we hear from these three exact individuals again.
If Last Rites still lived in the scoring days, I would be extremely tempted to hand The Boreal Flame a 10/10. And yes, this is stated with full recognition of the fact that three days spent with an album is a very short honeymoon and one swallow does not a summer make. But I feel like I’ve been waiting for Dimhav and a power / prog record of this sort (and caliber) for over a decade, and now that it’s landed—blindsided, no less—I could not be more pleased with the result. Hell, even if this ends up being the only thing this trio manages to thrust into the aether, The Boreal Flame delivers enough ins and outs from start to finish to keep the engine purring for years to come. Sure, you’ll at least need an appreciation for progressive power metal in order to reap a similar reward, but that’s on you, not the band.
Unending hyperbole rarely results in anything other than its opposite intention, but sometimes the joy is just too great to keep things bottled in. Please do yourself a favor and enjoy The Boreal Flame.
For now, The Boreal Flame is available only as a digital download. Bandcamp has a lossless version, Google Play and Apple Music take care of the rest.