For a relatively unknown five years are a very long time to come up with a second album, because most people probably already forgot their previous effort “Fire, Walk With Me”, which had combined traditional Heavy Metal with Hard Rock of the RAINBOW ilk and I had thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Well, Halmstad’s VII GATES are back with their second strike “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (Latin for “In This Sign You Win”) and I had been looking forward to hear, where they were at anno 2008 and I am afraid that they could not really live up to the expectations that I’ve had.
The intro “When Gates Are Opening” could have been seen as a bad omen, with a parody of a comic TV show introducing the band as “possible the best band in the world”, surely there is lots irony in there, but while other bands pull off stuff like that fairly well, VII GATES’ version sounds somewhat, hm, forced. But intros are just that, intros and in most cases are getting ignored anyways, so let’s move on into the album itself. The Swedes have not really changed the path they’ve been walking on, still taking traditional Heavy Metal and crossing it with old 80s Hard Rock and a few more bombastic elements, so they still refuse to just go one-dimensionally retro, which is a good thing. Also the vocals of Criss Blackburn have nice grit and while he is not an outstanding vocal acrobat, he manages to bring a little crunch into the sometimes pretty slick songs.
So where does “In Hoc Signo Vinces” fail, as things have not dramatically changed and I had liked the debut? It’s mostly in the song writing, which doesn’t seem to have the same conviction anymore and doesn’t grab me like it did five years ago. Surely that might also partially due to my tastes maybe having changed a little (not that I’ve really been aware of that), but in the end the thing that matters is what I think about the album at the time of review and there is light, but also quite a bit of shadow to be detected. If you discount the ridiculous intro, “The Skyrider” is a great opener, with energy, catchiness and a chorus that you’ll be able to shout along almost immediately, before the band showcases a bit more of its varied side on “Dreams They Haunt Me”, which at times almost takes on a progressive hue by amalgamating Euro Metal with the older Hard Rock, different, but definitely not bad.
With the 24 second long “March Of The Amazones” I once more am not sure, if they are trying to do a little joke by playing the Wedding March in combination with the song title or not, but if so, doesn’t work again. Another track that stands out (positively thankfully) is the almost 9-minute epos “Immortal (Hymn To The Prison Guard)”, which once more shows the variety that VII GATES can cover, but other than that the majority of the other songs, while not being bad songs, just don’t manage to really impress me anymore, they are well played and catchy and all, but hardly anything that would make me want to hit the “back” button to listen to it again right away.
There are no real faults that I could attribute to either of them, which makes everything even more frustrating, but no matter which way you look at it, VII GATES will have a hard time to stand out in the sea of other releases, if you are a big fan of this style, definitely check it out, because as said, it’s anything but bad, but in the end I just can’t rate it any higher...
(Online January 14, 2009)