Hamka - Multiversal - (9/10)
Published on August 21, 2018
Welcome Back, Sky-Faring Heroes Of Old.
Arguably the most enigmatic character in France’s then small cast of power metal bands, Hamka left a puzzling impression after dropping arguably one of the stronger power/prog albums of 2005 and then all but immediately vanishing into thin air. This left some with the assumption that it was little more than a one-off kind of offshoot from Fairyland where said band’s singer Elisa Martin and drummer/co-founder Willdric Lievin cut ties over musical differences and then made their point with a single album, as this band’s Angra meets East Asian folk music debut LP Unearth didn’t really enjoy any kind of substantial touring support. Couple this with Elisa Martin’s severe slow down in studio output for a substantial time and the evaporation of her Dark Moor offshoot band Dreamaker, it seemed that the book had closed on this band before a second chapter could be penned. However, there was a renewed glimmer of hope with the 2013 release of the Earth’s Call single, not to mention an impressive number of subsequent guest/session performances out of Elisa in the next few years, including the astounding 2016 symphonic triumph Conquest Of The Seven Seas album she contributed lead vocals to via Peter Crowley’s Fantasy Dream.
Naturally with the passage of 12 years since this band fielded a full length album, it stands to reason that some changes would have occurred in Hamka’s sound with the unveiling of their sophomore effort Multiversal, but thankfully the changes have been noticeable yet non-drastic in nature. While previously they leaned pretty heavily on the Angra influences and came off as quite similar to the mixture of progressive and world music niche heard during the Andre Matos era of said band (save with East Asian influences instead of Brazilian tribal ones), now this outfit has hit a more impact-based, yet still multifaceted combination of that same sound with a driving symphonic power feel far closer to the Fairyland sound that Willdric seemed keen to avoid rehashing. Some of this may well be accredited to his and Elisa’s recent work with Kerion, and perhaps also the latter’s even more recent work with Peter Crowley, as the massive orchestral production and greater dose of speed rings fairly close to the Conquest Of The Seven Seas sound at times. Throw on top of all of it a recurring Sci-Fi lyrical concept to go with the eastern music mystique and Elisa’s soaring yet gritty pipes, and what emerges is an album that has just about everything going for it.
Pointing to highlight songs in this impressive array of stylistic eclecticism is kind of a daunting task, as much of it stands quite strongly on its own, but there are a handful of gems that slightly outshine the rest. Things certainly start off on a high note with the cinematic prelude “One Way Journey To The Unknown”, immediately followed by the Rhapsody Of Fire inspired speed banger “World War III”, painted with obligatory Asian flute and pluck-string accompaniment and a raucous vocal display out of Martin. The likewise speed-based “Inner Conviction” has a bit more rhythmic twists and plays it closer to Angra territory, but definitely brings home the goods with the best of them. Things take on something of an 80s power rock vibe with the keyboard-driven “Hope”, albeit with some death groans thrown in to spice things up. In what seems to be an all out nod to Elisa’s recent work with Peter Crowley, “Seaquest” follows the same sea shanty meets power metal scheme that dominated said collaboration, save with a bit more of a prog-like rhythmic vibe that gives things a slight Angra/Shaman twist. But things are truly thrown for a loop when things morph into full out symphonic prog brilliance with the Mid-East infused “The Path Of Pharaohs”, probably the most memorable vernacular stint in this grab-bag of world music infused metal works.
Twelve years to the day, and there is positively zero sign that this band has missed a single step. It’s a true testament to the songwriting abilities of Lieven and the iron voice of Elisa Martin that they could spend so long a time away and still rock as hard, to speak nothing for the latter sounding as strong as she did in early 30s as she enters her mid 40s. As best as can be explained, the AOR-influenced power metal that ended up dominating much of the latter half of the 2000s were probably not an ideal medium for musicians of this pedigree, though it is more likely a combination of personal obligations outside the music industry that halted this band’s activity than an inability to navigate the changing musical landscape of the day. But whether the year be 2005 or 2017, there is a timelessness to the originality factor that permeates through every moment ofMultiversal, it’s such an original offering that it can’t help but distinguish itself from everything else that is going on today or has been going on for the past decade. Here’s to the eventual successor of this album, may it be just as inventive and spellbinding if not more so, and may it come in less than 12 years time.