Heaven’s Guardian - Signs - (7/10)
Published on March 25, 2017
When the years between studio albums breaks into double digits, bouncing back becomes a very difficult prospect. Sometimes circumstances will necessitate such an eventuality, such as the loss of an arguably irreplaceable lead vocalist who all but defined the band’s sound. To those well initiated into the Brazilian metal scene of the early 2000s (which saw the rebirth of Angra following Andre Matos’ departure, among some other pivotal contributions to the then burgeoning power metal revival), the name Heaven’s Guardian represents a heavier, groove-happy and darker side of the power metal coin where the lines between itself and progressive end of the spectrum became a bit blurred, not all that far off from where Tad Morose and the long defunct Jester’s Funeral were at around the same time. Their second studio offering D.O.L.L. was a particularly aggressive and compelling affair, and if nothing else provided a logical explanation as to how former vocalist Carlos Zema went on a short stint as Kelly Carpenter’s replacement in the short-lived American power/progressive titan that was Outworld.
While by no means a significant stylistic departure from the darker, grittier side of the power metal sound, Signs finds itself struggling a bit in maintaining the level of distinctiveness and poise that gave them an edge years back. The band has opted for a duet vocal approach somewhat reminiscent of a beauty and the beast counterpoint, though the male voice is occasionally reminiscent of a present day Chris Boltendahl or Paul Di’anno and generally playing second fiddle to the Floor Jansen-like croons of Olivia Bayer, herself a newcomer to the metal scene in general. The clash between the greenness of both vocalists and the highly advanced musicianship supporting them, particularly the flashy guitar solo work, is difficult to miss on each of these peculiarly single-word titled songs, though perhaps most so on the longest number “Change”, which listens a bit more like the handiwork of Vanden Plas than that of a power metal act. Truth be told, the voices of both singers actually work well if one sees this as a progressive metal album, as the generally syllabic and streamlined vocal melodies tend to defer to the skill of the instrumentalists.
Even when discounting the generally by the numbers job done in the vocal department, there is a general sense of coasting along with little sense of peak or valley that lingers over the entire album’s duration. Though still a generally heavy and punchy affair by the standards of the band’s professed sub-genre, much of the dangerous side of where this band was with Zema at the helm has left with him, leaving behind a band that still dabbles with the Fates Warning and Dream Theater influences of before, but downplaying the thrashing grooves and occasional bursts of speed and fury that put D.O.L.L. in fairly similar territory to Outworld’s eponymous LP. Easy going numbers like “War” showcase a strong affinity for the Dream Theater mode of balladry, while “Journey” sees a somewhat up-tempo answer to the question the same progressive icons posed on Awake while keeping up the heavy end, but it is more the exception than the rule that this band hits a point of full out climax, which tends to owe a lot to the lack of a brilliant front person with the right mixture of range and grit to make things truly riveting.
This is the sort of album that tends to work fairly well in smaller doses but tends to drag a bit when heard at its full duration. The instrumental performances are highly impressive, but the general ambiguity of cadence points, the largely mid-paced feel that defines about 90% of the whole, and the somewhat mundane vocal work leaves this band wanting on this particular outing. If a few more symphonic elements were added into the mix, this could probably pass for something along the lines of where Kamelot was on Ghost Opera and a more subdued version of the first Sons Of Seasons album. The bearded wizard may have had all of his gold talismans in order, but the efficiency by which he drew his magic from them here could have stood for a greater degree of power in slightly shorter and more concise bursts.