My tastes tend to to sway when it comes to power metal. Sometimes I want it to be aggressive, heavy and light on the histrionics. Sometimes I want full-blown, costume and role play drama on an operatic level. Back in 2018 when we were doing the Power Metal Album of the Month one of the biggest surprises was Immortal Guardian, who on their debut were more often than not able to successfully merge the two styles into a ridiculously fun outing. If anything, that balance solidifies on sophomore effort Psychosomatic, bringing sharper songs and a beefier production to highlight how in a short amount of time the band has become a force to reckon with in the genre.
Although boasting pair of EPs in 2013 and 2014, it wasn’t until 2018’s debt full-length Age of Revolution that the band hit my radar. Mixing over-the-top songwriting and technical chops it left me both laughing and in awe over its execution. When I wrote it up initially for my end of year list (it made #3), I had this to say:
Sometimes I listen to Age of Revolution and think to myself: this is what I wanted Dragonforce to be, but never were. The best power metal mixes technical prowess, bombast, and drama in a perfect blend, but there’s something about how everything is turned up to 11 on Age of Revolution I can’t get enough of. Do I wish the drums didn’t sound so tinny? Sure. But damn do I love the crazy mix of sounds these guys put together. When I’m in the mood this album is perfect. When I’m not it has the power to change my mind. Also: saxophone.
The crazy mix of sounds and influences are still present on Psychosomatic, but they’re pared back just enough to give more weight to the thematic content, which is the isolation, fear, and confusion that came from the (still present) COVID-19 pandemic and the world’s response. What comes out out is still vibrant and alive but also weightier, the riffs and anthemic choruses feeling a little more tangible and grounded that before. Some of this comes from the lyrics, but it’s helped by a fuller production that gives everything meow heft and presence in the mix – gone are the slightly tinny drums, replaced by a much more organic attack. Everything is thick and entwined and sounds like a band stuck too long in quarantine and ready to rip your head off with some righteous rock.
Power metal usually lives or dies on two things: the technical chops of the guitars and the octave range of its vocals. From the opening title track to the propulsive attack of single “Read Between the Lines” it’s readily apparent Immortal Guardian have all bases covered. Anyone who has seen founder/guitarist/keyboardist Gabriel Guardian play both instruments at the same time has born witness to the copious chops the man can wield, and on tracks like the syncopated frenzy of “Phobia” or later single “Clocks” he’s a marvel, even as he reins in some of the most flamboyant aspects in service to the tunes. Guardian is completely locked in with the rhythm section of Joshua Lopez and Justin Piedimonte on bass and drums, respectively, and their contribution can’t be undervalued.
That leaves the vocals of Carlos Zema, and unsurprisingly he’s the not-so secret weapon of Psychosomatic. It’s so easy to just blow out the drama with vocals that never leaves the clouds, and it’s taken more than a few power metal bands down in my opinion. Zema’s strength lies not only in his range, but in his complete control of his voice. He knows when to bring it to the heaven, and when to add the necessary grit and earth to convey a real sense of drama to the songs. When I hear a song like “Lockdown” it never feels like someone painting in the power metal palette; it feels like someone trying to convey the anger and frustration of the situation, and Zema absolutely nails it, as he down through the entire album.
2021 feels like it’s going to be a banner year for power metal. A lot of the bands I discovered during my tenure with 9C are putting out albums this year, but it’s going to be a hard mountain to climb since we have something as good as Psychosomatic right out of the gate. Immortal Guardian have thrown down a mighty gauntlet with their second album, and I’m excited to see how other albums compare to it.