Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Drakkar - When Lightning Strikes (2012)

The world of power metal is a tricky one, divided into so many waves and styles. But one of the stalwarts of the genre has always been the storytelling ability to comes along with the most energetic subsect of metal. Italy's Drakkar have crafted an album that may be 15 songs in length, but the story that is unfolded in front of you is so much more than that. "When Lightning Strikes" tells the tale of fighter pilot Hal Gardner, and his face to face encounter with alien life forms that come to Earth. Call it science fiction, or call it fantasy. But tangled in the lyrics and musical backing is a tremendous story of fear, courage and hope.

Right from the onset, you are being assured that this isn't the recycled power metal that has flooded the market in recent years. "Hyperspace / The Arrival" is symphonic in the truest sense, full of orchestrated instruments and horns. Leading right into "Day Of The Gods," a song which is rich in story telling, launching the story into motion. Softly played acoustic guitar are layered in between keys and synths, allowing vocalist Davide Dell'Orto to spin his tale. Without warning, you are immersed in the pulsing drums and shredding riffs of the first full track, "The Armageddon Machine." The raspy, yet almost operatic vocals in the verse are complimented perfectly by the deep chanting in the chorus, backed throughout by triumphant keys. Double kicks are not in short supply, forming the backbone of the rhythm section. There are some monstrous riffs to be had, especially when playing tag with equally large keyboard melodies. Followed closely by a short but telling interlude, "In The Belly Of The Beast," the story begins to unfold.

Playing out like something akin to an Iced Earth song, "Revenge Is Done" is chock full of high speed guitars and drums. Dell'Orto shows great vocal prowess, keeping you wrapped up in not only his style, but the words themselves. Borrowing words from the powerful "V For Vendetta" protagonist, this becomes a rallying cry for future battles. The title track may be the most complete effort on the album, in both content and delivery. The bending of keyboard notes that accompanies the distorted chords is excellent, layered with multiple vocal tracks. The chorus reminds us of why power metal has been named as such. The music is empowering, cause for your fist to be lifted into the air, fuel for your fire. With efforts like this, and "Winter Soldiers," the band give us a taste of what power metal used to be, and what could be again. Operatic vocals take hold, and deliver words of victory, or words of fear. But tied to the ever growing rumble of the drums and the ever increasing speed of the guitars, this is an anthem for a new era of metal.

The Asian inspired intro to "Salvation" is quickly overcome with the shredding guitars of Dario Beretta. And while his work is sometimes drown out in the mix by keyboardist Corrado Solarino, both men have their say here. The song is successful in so many ways, both musically and lyrically. The same could be said for the two tracks that follow, as well. "At The Flaming Shores Of Heaven," oddly the more understated of the two, is the perfect blend of symphonics and metal aggressive. On the other hand, "We Ride" features a vocal hook that may bring to mind the work of Avantasia/Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet. Both tracks feature an excess of energy and craftsmanship, something that will not be lost in any mix. Following another short interlude, titled "The Awakening," the band launches into an even more guitar based attack with "My Endless Flight." The riffs are only growing in strength, whether they chug along with deep distortion, or while they fly above it all, screeching with harmonics. Returning to that traditional vocal pattern, Dell'Orto gives cause for hope, soaring over the top.

As the album follows its arc, two more interludes come into play. First, "Aftermath / The Departure," which is a reprise of the opening track. The march is over, and this is the summation of battles once fought. The storytelling aspect is so important here, which makes the lyrical delivery all the more surreal. The second burst comes in the form of "Engage!" which is exactly what you would imagine to be. Twirling guitars set you back into motion, building up speed and momentum for one last flight. Flowing seamlessly into "New Frontier," you are already at top speed when the tracks switch over. But Beretta doesn't stop there, he breaks the sound barrier with his finger wizardry, saying as much with his riffs as Dell'Orto can with his voice. This is the true triumph of the spirit, starting over with unity and power.

Much like some of the works of power metal godfathers Blind Guardian, "When Lightning Strikes" is heavily story based. This is not to say that story trumps style, but the focus is very clear. Through 15 tracks, you are treated to power metal standards in vocals, guitar work and drumming. And while Drakkar are certainly not yet in the upper echelon of the genre, they remind us that there are more than a handful of talented bands to be heard. If nothing else, you are almost certain to leave this album with a smile. And in power metal, that says a lot.


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