Friday, October 26, 2012

Seven Kingdoms - The Fire Is Mine (2012)

There is truth to the theory of evolution, and we have proof. Now, wait a second. Let's not get into a religious debate. Power metal has changed drastically over the years, and we are witnessing yet another shift happening before our eyes. The European dominance of the genre is slowly fading, and a new wave of young bands have big plans. Seven Kingdoms, a female fronted band from Florida, are architects of the new wave of power metal, infusing more thrash elements into the traditional soaring mix. It even impressed the legendary Blind Guardian, who hand picked them to open their 2010 North American tour. Now, with vocalist Sabrina Valentine at the helm, and a strong foothold to stand on, "The Fire Is Mine" could be the next big thing to hit power metal.

The howling wind that dominates "Beyond The Wall" may not seem like much, but it provides a fitting lead in to "After The Fall." Before Valentine has a chance to inject her dynamic vocal prowess, the band lays down a thick layer of punishing guitar riffs and explosive drums. Once her voice hits the mix, everything brightens, with each member and instrument playing off of one another. The instrumental has a heavier edge than traditional power metal tends to follow, but the same soaring vocal patterns remain. For a track like this to remain successful, production work has to be top notch, something that is clear in the massive bridge section. The lack of reprieve before launching in to "Forever Brave" seems an odd choice, based on the tempo of the album, but the band makes the most of it. The momentum builds to a rolling boil, with cymbals rattling throughout. Valentine has a way about her that commands a room, with her voice changing to fit the melodies of the song itself. The only downside here is that her voice has added effects, which seem wholly unnecessary. Break neck speeds on the drums continue to impress, as the accuracy mirrors the speed.

That same impressive musicianship extends well into "Flame Of Olympus" and beyond, with every snare, every guitar chord hitting just the right spot. And with that delicate balance comes the ability to change the tone at the drop of a hat, something they do repeatedly throughout, giving an added bit of darkness or light to the mix. Valentine fits perfectly here, leading the charge when the space allows, but letting the grinding guitars take over in the bridge and breakdown sections. A highlight in an of itself, "Symphony Of Stars" has some of the most creative and unique guitar work on the album. This is where the two layers of guitars provided by Camden Cruz and  Kevin Byrd come together as one entity, ducking and weaving in and out of each other. Valentine remains the constant, hitting the higher register with ease and grace whenever need, without ever overpowering her bandmates. And boasting a snare sound that would make even the miniature Lars Ulrich quake, drummer Keith Byrd is an ever present element. And with the title track, "The Fire Is Mine," giving you a memorable opening groove, the midway point of the album shines just as bright as the beginning, giving Valentine a suitable foundation to stand on. Even in the more down tempo moment, where her voice is layered in a soothing pattern, the cohesiveness between band and singer is remarkable.

The inevitable ballad comes in the form of "Kardia," but don't reach for the "next" button too soon. the early stages pairs Valentine with an acoustic guitar riff. But as the track progresses, a male voice emerges. First, he sounds out behind it all. But by tracks' end, they are in full duet mode, and the combination of their voices is one of the most dynamic power metal ballads since Avantasia's "What Kind Of Love." The reward comes in the form of the blistering "Fragile Minds Collide," which shows off so much of that thrash guitar work the band is built on. Darting, galloping riffs and pulsing drums are simply relentless, pushing the limits of the production work as far as they will go without breaking. The only misstep comes in the chorus, where those signature sounds are replaced with a more basic rock radio tempo. It is a short stumble, one that is corrected with a rattling bass line, courtesy of Aaron Sluss. What remains incredible is how many time signature changes and tempo shifts get packed into one flowing track without ever skipping a beat. And all of this couldn't be more evident than in the last minute of this track, rumbling, bumbling and stumbling through constant changes. Guitar solos lead into bass fret work, thundering drums, and back into the flow of the track.

Making the final push, "In The Twisted Twilight" sees the band trying something that hadn't been tested in the previously eight tracks. Valentine takes on a more soothing tone, an enchanting one that she executes to utter perfection. Continuing their mastery of the metal instrumental, Cruz and Byrd give you a healthy dose of shredding guitars, with some maneuvers that put them alongside some of the best in the business. The key is that they remain cohesive, furthering the track rather than just mindlessly playing. After the interlude conversation of "A Debt Paid In Steel," the album comes to a close with the epic "The King In The North." In the opening moments the guitars lock together in a dazzling display of skill and timing, one that may stand out with each passing listen. But what happens at the halfway mark is what will truly define the track, and perhaps the album. Things slow down, and the delicate structures the band has worked so hard to build come to fruition. Valentine lets her voice do the work, crooning in a profound way that heightens the entire experience. She sets the scene for a pair of solos, before the band erupts one last time.

The year 2012 is a great year to be a metalhead, as we witness not only the rise of new bands, but the evolution of the genre to new and exciting variations. Seven Kingdoms are not rewriting the Constitution for power metal, but they are certainly adding amendments. The boys club is over, thanks to efforts like this, as well as bands like Unleash the Archers. But even more than that, the American power metal movement is gaining strength, with a slew of new bands rising to meet the challenges of the ever changing tastes of their fans. I may not be able to find the missing link between apes and man, but if Darwin ever needed help finding the connection between the past and the future of metal, "The Fire Is Mine" might take you in the right direction.


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