Friday, May 31, 2013

Kaledon - Altor: The King's Blacksmith (2013)

After being a dedicated student of metal for half a lifetime, I thought my knowledge of bands and styles stretched for miles. It wasn't until our first review of an Italian power metal band that I realized there were thousands of bands operating in the shadows around me; bands both great and awful, that had somehow gone unnoticed in my arrogance. Having unlocked the pandora's box of Italian metal, i stand ashamed that it had taken so long to arrive. So you ca understand my shame in knowing that Kaledon, a six piece from Rome, had evaded my ears for fifteen years. It was their "Legend Of The Forgotten Reign" saga that garnered so much attention from fans the world over. But with that journey now complete, the band must start anew. With the release of "Altor: The King's Blacksmith," they retrace the life of the man who crafted the legendary sword, the one used to banish the beast Mozul that terrorized the kingdom in the previous story arc. From birth, to the battles that followed, the band takes you on a journey as powerful and substantial as any they've told before.

While "Innocence" may only be a slim minute, the symphonic and operatic subtleties it brings to the table are far from inconsequential. They set the stage for the first rousing burst of energy, which comes in the form of "Childhood." The fusing of classic metal and power metal is never more apparent than here, with guitarists Tommy Nemesio and Alex Mele laying down a thick layer of melody and distortion. But as with most high tempo, high reward metal offerings, the drumming quickly becomes the star. The pinpoint accuracy of each thundering kick drum and roll of the toms is key to setting the tempo and the mood of the tracks to come. And with the injection of screaming keyboard work, you have a recipe for success being written in front of you. With a dynamic mix unfolding in the background, the onus is on vocalist Marco Palazzi to deliver an equally strong performance. And while he thrives in the soaring portions, his raspy voice could come to mixed results in the down tempo sections. But with the pumping beats on "Between The Hammer And The Anvil," he carries more than his share of the load. With the lyrical content following the forging of the sword, there is certainly an air of triumph woven into the vocal lines. That feeling doesn't end there; it permeates the guitars and keyboards, with the latter supplied by Daniele Fuligni.

Never have vocal harmonies and instrumental melodies been so crisp and clean as they are on "My Personal Hero." It sees the band at the top of their game, with Palazzi delivering what may be his best performance to date. The production work is also at it's best here, boasting the larger than life sound the bad so badly needs. And while this may not stray from basic power metal writing, it is executed beautifully. The most polarizing track on the album is sure to be "Lilibeth," the sappy ballad that sits squarely at the midway point. It creates a difficult dynamic to dissect; there is nothing inherently wrong with the song as it is written. In fact, as ballads go, it stands strongly on its own. However, it fails to utilize Palazzi's talents, instead leaving him to croon over limited backing. His voice, while strong in the majority of instances, doesn't lend itself well to the solo act. It serves the purpose, though, as a pallet cleanser and set up track for the second half. There is something familiar in the opening notes of "A New Beginning," with a distinct "Hotel California" riff permeating through the background. This is where the guitars and keyboards lock together as one booming unit, with the latter performing the sweeping orchestrations. Some of the more enjoyable guitar work can be found in the solo section, awakening a sleeping giant.

With things now back into full speed ahead mode, "Kephren" asserts itself as, arguably, the strongest track on the album. There are a lot of things at play here that make it stand out from the rest; The percussion, which has been the foundation for everything thus far, maintains its consistency and strength. The thunderous gallop of kick drums provides the canvas, where Nemesio, Mele and Fuligni paint their colorful soundscapes. Palazzi has also hit his stride, showing his range throughout the short, but wholly sweet, track. It does even more as a set up for the blisteringly fast "Screams In The Wind," which sees the band move into an entirely new stratosphere of speed and energy. With the tempo picked up for the last trio of songs, it would be even easier to stumble and fall. But as the band moves into the finale, which features a guest vocal appearance from Fabio Leone, they are at their level best. It stands to reason that this would be the longest track on the album, topping the six minute mark. But what impresses most is their ability to make the song fit the time frame without a barrage of filler. What you get is six minutes of shredding guitars, delicately played keys, and a vocal duel that is everything the album commands.

With fifteen years under the Kaledon moniker, this is a band who are showing no signs of slowing down, both literally and figuratively. They stand as one of the best kept secrets of Italian power metal, as unfair as that may be. This album might not convert any new fans, but it sure to please the growing fanbase they have served for almost two decades. You have an intense focus on storytelling, one that has become a signature, and an expertly delivered musical performance to back it up. It would be hard to find anything to be unhappy about, both from the band's perspective and the fans. But what the album lacks is that one element that makes it stand apart from all of the power metal pretenders that Italy churns out. It follows the basic structures too often, and leaves the album feeling generic at times. Granted, their talents are enough to rate the album a success. But if they are ever going to find their way into the world stage, "Altor: The King's Blacksmith" has to be the start of something bigger than before.


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