Labyrinth - Architecture of a God - (9.5/10)
Published on June 30, 2017
Engineering a Divine Musical Construct
If one were to attempt to sum up Labyrinth’s now more than two decades long career in a single word, enigmatic would be the obvious choice. This isn’t so much a conclusion that one comes to based on the band venturing into the most puzzling realms of progressive genre bending, as they’ve tended towards a style that is relatively close in proximity to the melodically tinged power metal sound that came to typify the Italian sound of the late 1990s. The curiosity of it all stems more so from a shifting focus within an otherwise straightforward formula, showcasing that even the slightest of changes to the outer periphery of one’s sound can have massive consequences. This approach of development came with mixed results, particularly after the exodus of songwriter and guitarist Olaf Thorsen where a marginal decline in memorable songwriting gave way to a highly confused merger of catchy hooks and sloppy timbres that could only be described as modernism gone awry. Since Olaf’s return, one couldn’t help but notice the shift towards a past-conscious conservatism that would yield Return To Heaven Denied Pt. II – “A Midnight Autumn’s Dream”, a powerful yet also tried and true affair that sat well with fans, but also marked a break from the constant progression in the band’s sound.
Following continued lineup instability that led to the departure of longtime keyboardist Andrea de Paoli and a temporary stint with former Malmsteen vocalist Mark Boals at the helm, the uncertain future of this band came to clarity with the release of Architecture Of A God. In some ways, this is an album that makes an even closer stride to Labyrinth’s iconic late 90s sound, particularly in how well produced and crisp the sound of all the instruments, and particularly the drums. While American born kit master John Macaluso isn’t quite as fancy on here as Frank Andiver was on the first two albums, there is a definite commonality in how powerful and up front the drum work is on this album, providing a perfect impact base to a mode of power metal that can often come up short in said department. However, the overall picture of this album is one of a greater degree of innovation in sound, one in which atmosphere plays an even bigger role than it has on any previous album, particularly as the keyboard work takes on a more centralized role and reminisces a bit more to classic Dream Theater than the typical Jens Johansson fair of yesteryear.
This is one of those albums where a principle figure, in this case Olaf Thorsen, ultimately steals the show, while everyone else does an auspicious job at making him work for it. Intermittent segments of virtuoso musicianship can be heard throughout most of these songs, as a typical back and forth dueling guitar solo is usually complimented with a passing section of keyboard noodling, an unexpected miniature drum solo of sorts, or even a fancy bass passage out of relative newcomer Nik Mazzucconi, who reminds a bit of John Myung with maybe a hint of Steve DiGorgio at times. The nice little bass solo that works its way into the middle section of speeder “Stardust And Ashes” is of particular note, though only one of several places where the bass shines in an even more impressive fashion than has been the case back when this band’s formative lineup was still in place. One would also be remiss to neglect mentioning Roberto Tiranti’s soaring vocals on this album. His knack for both smoothly crooning during a ballad in a manner reminiscent of Ray Adler and shattering glass with notes that even Daniel Heiman would struggle with have always been a staple of his work with Labyrinth and his frequent guest slots on various other albums, and he pulls no punches in either department on here.
Through all of the various intricacies that paint this album, it is still a Labyrinth album in the classic sense, and thus loaded with riveting fits of Helloween-tinged speed metal elements that do make occasion to punch through all of the keyboard noodling and balladry. Of particularly note are the driving anthems of majesty and romance “Bullets”, “Take On My Legacy”, and the aforementioned “Stardust And Ashes”, which see a stronger degree of synthesized sounds that makes things a bit spacey in demeanor, but cook with about the same vengeance that classics like “Save Me” and “Thunder” did back during the heyday of the power metal revival. Things take a bit more of an “I Want Out” meets Stratovarius vibe on “Someone Says”, which is definitely the catchiest number on here, but also loaded to the brim with majestic guitar solos and sports a nice piano section that channels Jordan Ruddess something fierce. But even when things veer off into more of a techno/keyboard steeped direction like the instrumental “Children” or goes into full out progressive mode like the long-winded title song “Architecture Of A God”, the heaviness factor is maintained sufficiently and coherence is well maintained.
There are no dull moments here, no unnecessary filler songs to speak of, but a full fledged epic composition in 12 parts that reminisces on this band’s strongest era without dwelling upon it. It underscores the curious world that power metal has occupied since it came back into prominence at the turn of the millennium, being able to incorporate the technological advances of the day while still keeping an eye to that rawer, old school heavy metal sound that is generally lost on much of the present generation. Architecture Of A God is the sort of album that will likely never achieve the sort of classic status that lesser albums tend to enjoy in the broader musical community, a status that was hard fought even for less technically oriented bands that have enjoyed some degree of success after decades of toil. Perhaps time will prove this observation to be incorrect, but regardless of whatever size of audience that this album enjoys, the musical accomplishments made here speak from Labyrinth’s lips to God’s ears.