Taking over the reins of this column has been an experience. As I dove deeper into the ever-evolving mass that is power metal and its many offshoots, I’ve begun to tap back into those things that made me fall in love with metal when I was a kid. The deeper narratives and mythologies, the technical prowess, all in favor to the all-mighty chorus – these were the things that shielded a troubled awkward kid growing up afraid and uncertain. And as my life as a 45-year old man takes another sharp turn to the afraid and uncertain I’ve been leaning hard into those things that provided comfort before. Since getting the promo for The Extraterrestrial Compendium, the debut full length from power metal super-duo Dire Peril, I’ve been struck with just how effective the album is at balancing grace and power, despite the pedigree behind. For that and so much more it was a no-brainer it would be the November Power Metal Album of the Month.
Birthed from the partnership of vocalist John Yelland from Judicator and multi-instrumentalist John Ashcraft from Helion Prime (two bands with the distinction of having PMAOTM entries this year) Dire Peril takes the strengths from both bands and creates a singularly heavy slice of progressive power metal that blends the punch and aggression of both bands with Yelland’s soaring penchant for a more European flavor of power metal, and it works gangbusters from front to back. Loosely constructed around the theme of classic science fiction films, songs run through Predator, The Thing, Enemy Mine, Total Recall, and others with abandon, Ashcroft ensuring the song structures are cohesive and powerful at every turn. There’s also a bevy of guest talent on hand, with Brittney Slayes (Unleash the Archers) killing it with Yelland on the Barberella-inspired “Queen of the Galaxy” and Arjen Anthony Luccassen from Ayreon, who lends his particular set of skill on epic closer “Journey Beyond the Stars”.
But it’s the non-guest spots that really bring me to the heart of what Dire Peril have accomplished. The Extraterrestrial Compendium never feels like a supergroup; in fact it feels more organic and natural than the latest Helion Prime – Ashcroft is on fire on this album. Front loaded with the barnburners “Yautja (Hunter Culture)” and “Planet Preservation” there’s a rough and tumble aggression that can’t help but compare to Iced Earth in their prime. But couple that with Yelland’s impassioned delivery and Ashcroft firing on all cylinders and you have something more, something that speaks to a primal part of my brain that yearns for the kind of fist-pumping, guitar histrionics that let you forget the pain of the day and revel in the majestic corners of the universe where a harmonized chorus can move the stars aside, if only for a moment.
November Quick Hits
Arrayan Path – Archegonoi: The Greek progressive power pack return a year after their powerhouse Dawn of Aquarius with a double album that reaches back to their past for a more epic, unabashed power metal opus about the mythologies and narratives of ancient Greece. Weaving folk melodies with a much more traditional slant on progressive power metal tracks like “Rod of Asclepius” and “Bellephron (Forged by the Blacksmith)” the band take some chances by reverting to an earlier sound, but it pays off across two discs of anthemic traditional metal.
Sinbreed – IV: Pretty decent Euro-style power metal, but when you’re sandwiched between so much great power metal, being adequate won’t suffice. There are some catchy moments, particularly on opening track “First Under the Sun” and the syncopated riffage of “Final Call,” but in the end there’s little to pull Sinbreed from the rest of the pack. New singer Nick Hollerman is okay, but having now listened to past albums (especially 2014’s Shadows) there’s a bit sorely missing from the new stuff.
Marius Danielsen – Legend of Valley Doom, Pt. 2: I think the best compliment I can pay to Danielsen is that upon finishing Pt 2 I immediately went in search of Pt 1. Legend of Valley Doom is some straight up medieval power metal that completely rips and obliterates pretty much everything I’ve heard in this vein recently. Only having a few short days with it, I can tell you it was a definite contender for AOTM based on tracks like “Rise of the Dark Empire” with its virtuoso classic rock solos and charging riff attacks and the massive Helloween-inspired (no surprise considering the guest vocals) “Angel of Light.” I can’t immediately tell you what the concept is, though it involves dragons and swords and battles…isn’t that enough?
Some killer stuff this month, and man if that Marius Danielsen album doesn’t warrant some repeated listens. As always, keep it heavy and let us know what we should be looking out for in December!