Signum Regis - Decennium Primum - (9/10)
Published on April 14, 2017
One of metal’s greatest strengths has been the total lyrical freedom that it affords its bands, as just about any subject will fit the music provided that it is heavy (and sometimes even if it isn’t). Few subjects can rival the heaviness of the early Christian church, which seems the implicit concept behind the album title Decennium Primum, which is Latin for The First Decade. A persecuted minority fighting against the odds in the name of changing the world, up against the most powerful and tyrannical world power of the day (Rome) is perfect fodder for an epic album, and that was clearly on Signum Regis’ radar when this album was put together. Granted, this isn’t a proper concept album after the same mold as Exodus and often finds itself veering into other time periods such as the Old Testament account of David And Goliath, but this Slovakian power metal outfit has a very clear picture of what works and throws in all the right elements to repeat the success of their four previous albums.
For the uninitiated, the musical game going on here is fairly comparable to that of Christian Liljegren’s various projects, particularly that of Narnia and Golden Resurrection, drawing upon a lot of ideas that originally surfaced on Ynwgie Malmsteen’s albums between 1986 and 1998. It’s definitely a fitting direction given the band’s former vocalist was Goran Edman, who has a brief run with Malmsteen in the early 90s and his successor Michael Vescera also appeared on their magnum opus (pun intended) Exodus, along with who would now come to be their current vocalist Marián Petranin. In contrast to the former two, Petranin brings a rougher and more gravely swagger to the equation a bit more in line with Jorn Lande and Rick Altzi, resulting in one of those what if moments where one wonders what could have been had Jorn been in Yngwie’s ever-shifting entourage long enough to record an LP.
Naturally this isn’t a full out copy of the Narnia approach to power metal, though it does occasionally remind heavily of the late 80s orthodoxy that permeated said band’s first two albums. Hints and traces of the subtle progressive elements of Theocracy wheel in and out of some of these songs, particularly when focusing on bassist and founder Ronnie König, who goes a fair bit beyond the barely present support role and provides a lot of intricate detailing that makes the shred happy guitars fight for their leadership role, and a particular highlight point is right smack in the middle of the opening full length song “Unfold The Mystery”, which is also among the most memorable speeders to grace this album. Essentially take the fastest and most intense elements of Narnia’s Long Live The King and increase the heaviness factor by about half and inject a Helloween inspired triumphant choral refrain and the whole thing will come into focus.
Another point of contrast is a slightly tendency towards more of a traditional heavy metal vibe at times that cuts against the otherwise consistent Neo-classical tendencies of this album. The first hint of this is the more grooving and minimalist “Damnatio Ad Bestias”, which could almost pass for a heavier answer to Krokus if it wasn’t about Christians being thrown to the lions. Similarly, the upper mid-paced rocker “The Future King” has a fair bit of Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes To Midnight” going on in the main riff that provides a nice counterpoint to the prototypical Stratovarius tendencies in the verse and chorus sections. The best song on here proves to be the massive closer “A Psalm Of Life”, which also comes with some gallop-happy Iron Maiden tendencies in the guitar and bass work at times, though the general atmosphere created by the keyboards brings it close to Sonata Arctica territory and the music’s demeanor is a bit more solemn than outright triumphant.
This is another fine outing in a virtually spotless career on the part of Signum Regis, not to mention another notch in the belt of Ronnie König, who’s bass work on Symphonity’s last album proved to be an invaluable asset. Anyone who took to said album, along with the recent outings of Theocracy, Narnia and Reinxeed will find a definite winner here, not to mention a somewhat more aggressive middle ground between said bands and the darker and heavier character of recent Magic Kingdom and Iron Mask albums. It hearkens back to the days prior to 1998 in Malmsteen’s career where the production was not as noise-driven and there was a greater concentration of power metal anthems relative to the instrumental works, and while the original Swedish maestro has still be putting out respectable work, many are surely missing the days reminisced upon by many of these newer bands.