Excalion - Emotions - (9/10)
Published on September 6, 2019
Back in 2017, Excalion’s Dream Alive was one of the best comebacks in power metal. A great album which showed that their 7-year coma was a necessary evil. Sure, it had minor issues here and there, but fans were finally satisfied. Being one of them, I was just happy that the Finnish melodic power metallers were back in the game and that we’d start receiving albums, every two years like clockwork, once more. Lo and behold, Excalion return to the fold in 2019 with Emotions; a 50-minute exercise in concise, yet flamboyant, power metal done the way only the Finns know how. Yep, this is more Stratovarius/Sonata Arctica-inspired, mid-tempo, keyboard-heavy stuff – but this time they cut the flab and trim the fat to make for a much more replayable listen. Simply put; this might objectively be their best work to date.
Titling the record as Emotions, but containing no title-track, implies this is to be a metaphysical journey through different states of human feelings, using power metal as a medium. Fucking pretentious as that might sound – by Jove, the lads pull it off! This LP deftly dips and peaks through a plethora of moods whilst remaining stylistically loyal to the music. It’s all done so organically; ebbing and flowing like a river of elegance and eloquence. Nothing better displays this characteristic than the trio of opening tracks. “Trust” manages to be simultaneously triumphant and vaguely tragic – kicking things off in the most ‘Excalion’ way possible – a definitive song from this band which would make a great gateway for newcomers. Following that, the synth-heavy “Sunshine Path” manages to lift my spirits with its jaunty keyboard melodies and lyrics about birdsong. Then the aggressive “Lost Control” knocks me on my ass with enough double-kick attacks and open E-string chugging to skin a giraffe. Only three songs in, and already a varied journey through different emotional states has been established.
At this point, it’s worth noting just how en pointe the players are this time around. Both original members (drummer Henri and keyboardist Jappe) are on top form. Despite being confined primarily to mid-paced tempos, Henri fills and grooves with as much flair as possible. Jappe’s keys are ever-present, hardly ever leading proceedings but always providing that celestial layer which is integral to the quintet’s sound. guitars and bass are laden with enough thickness to remind us that these guys are a metal band, first and foremost, with some admirable solos and impressively heavy chugging (especially on “Lost Control” and “The Golden Horde”). Of course, the master mic-wielder, Marcus Lang, is on fine form here. He may have hit his pinnacle on Force Majeure’s epic The Rise Of Starlit Fires, but he exudes silky smooth vibrato and effortless control over his upper range here. He’s far clearer here too, mainly because the mix on Emotions is definitely one step above Dream Alive. Listen to the guy utterly nail the emotional impact at the end of the dramatic “I Left My Heart At Home”: bra-fucking-vo!
The only minor flaw on this disc is the lack of true Euro-power velocity. “Deep Water” is consistently speedy, and the solo section of “Trust” picks it up, but otherwise this is firmly rooted in mid-tempo territory. The songwriting quality is generally excellent so this is really the complaint of a chihuahua clinging onto Godzilla’s ankle. This album is structured wonderfully in that respect. The two semi-ballads, “Solitude” and “I Left My Heart At Home”, break up the record with brief respite, despite containing peaks and valleys of their own. Between them, the vibrant numbers like “The Mercy Racers” and “Nightmariner” shine with youthful energy and progressive maturity. The latter song, especially, is a masterclass in texture-building around a verse/chorus framework. Every time those triplets appear in the double-bass towards the end, I get goosebumps. There are so many individual highlights like this littered throughout Emotions.
The jewel in the crown of this album is the bombastic 7-minute finale “Callsigns”. Nowhere near as bloated as the previous album’s equivalent, “Portrait On A Wall”, it successfully brings the LP to a cinematic conclusion with its proud yet melancholic chorus and big hulking grooves. I can’t get enough of the way the refrain fades away, to be replaced by the lavish sweeping strings, and finally the simple beauty of raindrops. In a word: gorgeous. Overall, this is a beautiful album which takes the listener on a voyage of varying vibes. The replay value is immense as each song grows on you with repeated listens. After the splendid comeback that was Dream Alive, the Finns have pulled off a victory lap and only look to be getting stronger. One of the top 10 power metal albums of 2019 for sure.