Zandelle - Perseverance - (8.5/10)
Published on October 30, 2015
When considering the resurgence of power metal in the late 1990s after a period of supposed stagnation following the ascendancy of grunge, it’s important to take note that often times hyperbole will lead to a misleading read of the situation. Power metal, nay the entire 80s paradigm of heavy metal in its various melodic offshoots never died so much that it went underground for a time, and this was true in what was the hub of the anti-metal reaction of said time period, the United States. When considering the ongoing existence of bands such as Kamelot and and Iced Earth, both of whom had their origins prior to the Singles craze that took over the scene in 1992, greater credence is lent to the idea that the 80s paradigm did endure in the U.S., though admittedly both of the aforementioned bands saw greater success on the other side of the Atlantic. Zandelle, a band that could have initially been dubbed an outright offshoot of Gothic Knights (a band that goes at least back to 1990), is another band that fits into the picture of a generation that saw the crest and the trough of 80s sound that carried into the early 90s, and weathered the eventual storm. As such, 19 years after putting together their first independent EP, an album title like Perseverance is appropriate.
Given the six year studio silence follow their previous album and some noteworthy line-up changes, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to state that some degree of evolution in Zandelle’s sound will have taken place. However, the actual results that are revealed on this album betray a rather unique and auspicious blend of progression and conservatism that most would not have foreseen. To dispense with the obvious, vocalist George Tsalikis has continued to embody the iconic 80s metal front man shtick, largely hanging out in his higher range and resembling a vintage Leatherwolf or Iron Maiden timbre, but slightly cleaner and closer to how Hammerfall’s Joacim Cans comes across. Similarly the band’s overall production quality still resembles an album that could have been put out between 1988 and 1991, complete with the concert hall reverb affect and large sounding drum sound that typified a number of latter day 80s metal classics. The area where things diverge a bit is in the technical side of the equation, which brings forth an interesting element of progressive and neo-classical tendencies, most due to recently recruited keyboardist Josh Tuckman, who could very easily pass for a Jordan Rudess with his wild synthesizer leads and off-the-cuff jazz and romantic era piano additives.
The best way to describe these songs is as an old fashioned, Iron Maiden informed USPM album with some Helloween and Dream Theater elements mixed in, altering the flavor but not the actual cuisine itself. The opening prelude “Resurgence” is a bit deceptive and points all but exclusively to something progressive, flailing wildly with flashy lead guitar passages and flowing piano lines, contrasting with the largely simpler heavy metal character that follows. At differing points the band’s style shifts a bit between a vintage NWOBHM sound and a more blistering and ambitious speed metal character, but overall the formula remains oddly consistent. A few songs bend the rules a bit such as the Maiden inspired ballad “Innocence Lost” which almost sounds like a mix of something off Fear Of The Dark and something off Leatherwolf’s Street Ready, but has these random jazzy piano parts thrown in that somehow manage to be fitting. “Midnight Reign” and “Lyacnthrope” are other interesting examples of galloping Iron Maiden riff work being blended with quirky synthesizer leads that could maybe seem out of place if they were to have occurred on one of the 80s albums that influenced this. The consistency makes it difficult to choose a clear highlight point that stands above the rest, but “End Game” manages to be the most catchy, whereas the epic closer “Revengeance (From The Ashes)” is the most ambitious.
Despite its fairly safe overall stylistic approach, this is probably one of the more surprising releases to come out of the power metal style this year, if only because several parts of this come off as extremely out of character for their more traditional sound. It’s maybe one step removed from hearing a band like Hammerfall or Iron Savior employ a keyboardist that plays wild leads like he’s either trading blows with Malmsteen or Petrucci. Perhaps the only thing that truly works against this album is that the distant sounding 80s production character does seem to clash a tiny bit with the more European power metal influences that work their way in and out of here, but it’s only really a big sticking point for someone who would come to this album expecting either pure heavy metal or pure melodic power metal with keyboards blazing the whole way through. It’s probably best compared to some of the middle era albums put out by Firewind, but even then the production character is still a massive point of divergence. Whether they intended it or not, Zandelle may have actually stumbled upon a niche within heavy metal with Perseverance that truly has never been done before.