Symphonity - King Of Persia - (8.5/10)
Published on March 23, 2017
Unpredictability is the outcome of taking an extended leave of absence from the recording studio, if for no other reason than that the ever-changing musical scene will cause some degree of forgetfulness in a witness to a previous endeavor. To be fair, the membership of Symphonity are no stranger to taking their time putting out new material, given the sizable gap between their lone album under the Nemesis name and the debut under their current brand, so an eight year gap between said second debut and their sophomore effort King Of Persia was not totally unexpected. Still, what would be the eventual musical outcome for this band, given the many substantial developments between 2008 and the present? Would they elect to play it safe and stick to what made Voice From The Silence a respectable affair, or go a different route altogether? Either road would come as a surprise at this juncture, and ultimately Symphonity opted to do a bit of both with impressive results.
The adage that doing what is expected is the first ingredient of surprise certainly applies here, though the order has been reversed, as this album begins things on a highly unexpected note. The massive epic of a title song “King Of Persia” has all the makings of a new classic, taking on a symphonic and Mid-Eastern tinged film score character and merging it with a much heavier feel than what would have been expected from a band that leans in the Stratovarius direction, though perhaps not too far from the sort of high impact symphonic work that Epica deals out every couple years. It also kicks off what can be best described as a new chapter in the concept of the heavy metal duet, featuring the dramatic yet very clean brilliance of Olaf Hayer and the slightly raspier yet still quite powerful character of Herbie Langhans, which is a running theme throughout the album. Perhaps most auspicious of all is that when cutting away all the musical intricacies, the lyrical content of this song finds the band taking a page from the Iron Maiden book and delving into dramatizing historic events, in this case either the Sasanian or Achaemenid Persian reigns over Egypt.
Interestingly enough, while the opening number proves to be the most atypical of the individual songs found on here, the entire direction of this album is a fair bit different, though not radically so from past endeavors by these musicians. If anything, the presence of Herbie Langhans in a more regular capacity here (he had a brief cameo on the last album for one song) has ushered in a more speed metal infused character similar to Sinbreed at times. This is perhaps best displayed in full out cookers like “The Choice”, though a fair helping of it emerges in longer songs with a bit more of a Stratovarius flavor in “Children Of The Light” and “Unwelcome”, where fastness and a somewhat heavier edge adorns the technical noodling of the guitars and keyboards in a typical Timo Tolkki or Dushan Petrossi fashion. Even when things sort of drift off into short ballad and instrumental territory as on the acoustic guitar noodling and Malmsteen emultation of “Siren Call” or the somewhat jazzy nod to Joe Satriani in “Out Of This World”, things are definitely a bit different relative to the distant past of 2008.
Perhaps the only charge that can be laid against this album in the quality front is that they got a little overambitious and threw a few too many different ideas into the mix, though the stylistic outliers stand quite well on their own. In what can be best described as a jolting foray into a very distant connection that these musicians have with the 80s heavy metal scene via original Nemesis vocalist Vilém Majtner, “Flying” and “Live To Tell The Tale” have all the makings of a classic mid-80s keyboard driven pair of anthems. Unsurprisingly, Herbie Langhans takes the vocal reins for the entirety of these songs given his iconic, moderately gravely snarl tends to gel a bit better with this period compared to Olaf’s almost bardic storyteller’s voice. Both of these songs would probably have found a comfortable home on Malmsteen’s Odyssey or Tygers Of Pan Tang’s The Wreck-Age, but here they are a tad bit out of place.
Though it will likely prove to be an exercise in hoping against hope, it would be nice to see another album like this come out of these guys before the turn of the next decade. It’s a respectable offering in the midst of arguably one of the better years for power metal for this decade, and stands as a superior alternative to a number of disappointing recent offerings out of the likes of Edguy and Sonata Arctica. It’s a pretty impressive bridge between the somewhat more massive and symphonic character of much of metal’s recent offerings in its various melodic strains, and the now more archaic character that defined power metal during the late 1990s. If nothing else, the song the bears this album’s name will probably endure as a staple of the sub-genre’s versatility for years to come.