Airborn - Dark Future Rising - (8.5/10)
Published on January 5, 2016
Airborn is an outlier of sorts in the overall power metal scene of Italy, tending a good bit closer to the German side of gritty, harder-edged speed metal than the lighter, and arguably loftier symphonic and ultra-clean character of many acts that either Luca Turilli’s assorted projects or those associated with Labyrinth and Secret Sphere. They originally began as something extremely close to classic, turn of the millennium Iron Savior, which makes sense given that Piet Sielck produced their debut album Against The World in close proximity to working on his last collaboration with Kai Hansen in Dark Assault.
Following the sophomore album D-Generation, which took on a bit more of a sing-along, arena fanfare take on the Iron Savior mode of power metal, they took a lengthy hiatus and came back with a much more conservative sound and without Sielck’s assistance, resulting in something a bit rawer and, surprisingly enough, more technical. With the release of their fourth album Dark Future Rising, hailing in the return of Piet Sielck as a guest guitar soloist and mastering collaborator, as well as a move back to this band’s Sci-Fi subjects, it would seem that things have come full circle.
However, despite of the external signs of a return to earlier 2000s form, the end result is actually something more along the lines of a more cleaned up and polished version of what was accomplished on Legend Of Madog, namely something that is far closer to the Running Wild mode of older fashioned power metal, though there has been a slight uptick in Helloween elements, comparatively speaking. The active and heavily present bass work is a predominant feature of this turn, as it resembles the raunchy and occasionally funky character of Markus Grosskopf’s handiwork, and the drum work is also a bit more varied than a typical Iron Savior album.
Then again, while the vocal work continues down the road of greater high range gymnastics and grit, it’s a bit stronger and smoother here than the previous album, and the chorus sections are a bit more layered and geared towards that sort of arena-oriented feel that typified their second album, particularly in the cases of the NWOBHM leaning “Nitehawk” and the Gamma Ray inspired speeder “When They Arise”. Some keyboard and acoustic guitar work has also made its way into the arrangement, though not as heavily emphasized as the meaty riffs and rhythm section.
There is a lot of moving parts to deal with on this album that make it a bit difficult to fully nail down, as while it keeps really close to the Running Wild template, it occasionally moves over into comical territory. This is particularly the case with the funky breakdown section just before the guitar solo on “King Of Fear” and most of “Sword Of Justice”, which occasionally reminds of those fast, fun, but also a bit goofy songs like “Lost In The Future” and “Salvation’s Calling” out of Gamma Ray’s mid to late 90s catalog. It doesn’t quite get to the same level of overt silliness that pops up from time to time on Helloween’s efforts following The Dark Ride, but there are a few moments where one can’t help but wonder if Michael Weikath was using some astral projection abilities to influence the songwriting on here.
Although highly ambitious and very well realized, the lone downside with this album, which also haunted its immediate predecessor Legend Of Madog is that it’s just a tad too long for its own good. The songs themselves are compact and easy to get into, but after a while it feels a bit more like listening to a “best of” compilation than a proper full length album. It’s still a solid addition to any collection that includes classic Gamma Ray, middle era Helloween, Running Wild, Iron Fire and Iron Savior. I guess whether one is sailing the seas on earth or the sky, the music generally sounds pretty similar, which is a credit to a style where limits are few and possibilities are near endless.