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Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: Gloryhammer - Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards


When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Epic fantasy stories have been connected to the power metal genre ever since it was invented, so it’s not a surprise Gloryhammer’s new release relies heavily on such a story as well. No points for originality there, nor for the story itself, but I get the feeling that is not what they were after when working on this album anyway. A somewhat cheesy, yet epic story is essential for composing power metal as power metal was meant to be, and that right there is what they were after in my opinion. However you look at it, ‘1992…’ is a power metal album pur sang with a surprise or two to keep things interesting. Or different, whichever term you prefer. Gloryhammer, a five piece Swiss/Scottish outfit formed around keymaster Chris Bowes (Alestorm), approaches its music with a mixture of humor, sarcasm and exaggeration packed in a very bombastic piece of work. Almost the entire album is loaded with riffs, high speed solos, choirs, singalong choruses and large doses of keys. Responsible for this wall of power are these guys:

Thomas Winkler - Voice-Modulated Star Nucleus
Paul Templing - Dark Matter String Manipulation Interface
James Cartwright - Trans-Dimensional Subsonic Cluster
Christopher Bowes - Positronic Oscillator Command
Ben Turk - Percussive Phi-Quason Battery

If you can stomach power metal in any way, read on and make sure you get a copy, you’ll very much enjoy this. If you don’t, escape while you can!

Here’s what you get when Star Wars meets Lord Of The Rings. Being the sequel to their debut ‘Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife’, Gloryhammer’s ‘Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards’ continues the tale of Angus McFife who fought the evil sorcerer Zargothrax near the end of the first millennium. However, since ‘Space…’ is set a full thousand years later, the hero is of course no longer Angus McFife himself, but a descendant also named Angus McFife, the thirteenth this time. Zargothrax was actually defeated in ‘Tales…’, but instead of killing him, burning his body and scatter the ashes all over the world, Angus the first opted for imprisoning the wizard in a frozen prison of liquid ice, which must have been nothing short of a scientific miracle back in those days. This questionable decision was bound to provide Zargothrax with the opportunity to escape and pick up where he left off, wreaking havoc once more. And what do you know, he indeed does escape… No need to despair, though, help is on the way. Angus McFife the thirteenth and his trusted Astral Hammer are on a quest to stop the evil wizard and his intergalactic army, provided he gets his hands on the hammer in the first place of course. Wink, wink… And just like that ‘Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards’ is born.

The album kicks off with ‘Infernus Ad Astra’, the inevitable dramatic intro, complete with a Darth Vader soundalike warning us war has returned to the galaxy, followed by the equally inevitable introduction of the bad guy in ‘Rise Of The Chaos Wizard’. Right from the start of this first ‘real’ track though, you get the feeling there’s more to Gloryhammer than just five guys trying to musicalize a fantasy story with the use of power metal. Though predictable in its composition this song grabs your attention right away, distracting you from the not too interesting story. Ben’s double bass drums are a perfect fit for Chris’ at times nervously speeding keys and the ominous choirs. Try making your neck muscles keep up with that. Thomas Winkler’s vocals are strong in this song, where at times they can be a bit on the thin side elsewhere in the album. In the next three songs the story unfolds. They are equally solid songs, with surprising levels of variation, even though they never cross the borders of power metal land. Plenty of keys, up-tempo drums, clean vocals, the works.

Those borders do get crossed occasionally in the next three songs, with ‘Universe On Fire’ as the best example of that. It would do well in the charts, being as close to a pop song as you can get when you’re playing in a metal band. After this somewhat unexpected yet mildly amusing intermezzo it’s back to what Gloryhammer does best with two strong songs, ‘Heroes (of Dundee)’ and the ten-minute masterpiece ‘Apocalypse 1992’, in which the final battle takes place. I wouldn’t have minded had they ended the album here, but there’s one more (instrumental, well, keyboard-) song which is called ‘Dundax Aeternus’. I do get the symbolism of the song in light of the story, but for me it’s an unnecessary epilogue, spoiling a bit of the fun.

Either way, with ‘1992…’ Gloryhammer secure their place in the pecking order of power metal land, delivering a solid, well-produced album with enough in-genre variety and an occasional twist. The songs are well composed and equally executed. The vocals are a bit glaring every now and then, which can be a tad annoying, but overall that is not a serious issue. The poppy ‘Universe On Fire’ is acceptable, but I for one have no need for the out of place epilogue. To summarize, in a genre flooded with mediocrity, this is a great example of how a power metal album should sound. Calling it a revolution might be too much credit, but it definitely stands out.

Written by Henric van Essen

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