I can’t say that I was terribly impressed by this album when it came back in ’05 and, truth be told, I’ve never been a big fanboy of this long-running Swedish Power Metal outfit either. Still, I held out hope that “Grand Materia” will (eventually) grow on me, and after letting it collect dust in the ‘ol collection for the better part of a year I popped it in again the other night for another go-around.
Thankfully it turned out a much more enjoyable experience than last time and even though I still think this album (and the band for that matter) is quite flawed in some respects I began to appreciate the music in spite of it, and in some way because of it. The main gripe that I have with this album is the fact that, unlike many similar bands, it is not really catchy at all and perhaps a tad too long. Now, I certainly don’t need all my Power Metal to be of the traditionally overly pompous and saccharine kind (see HAMMERFALL, FREEDOM CALL) but it must have at least a modicum of anthem-like qualities to it. MORGANA LEFAY opted to not follow this customary route, opting instead for a more Thrash-based and kinda rough-around-the-edges approach that recalls early acts like SAVATAGE and JAG PANZER. Nothing wrong with that – quite the contrary – but where those bands had a strong grasp of understated melody and powerful choruses this band simply doesn’t, at least not as it relates to this album.
So, “Grand Materia” is not a terribly melodic or catchy album but what it lacks in ‘instant appeal’ it more than makes up in sheer crunch and a truly great vocal performance. Keyboard and/or orchestral embellishments are nowhere to be found here, the guitars doing the talking (screaming?) instead, topped off by George Rytkönen’s powerful vocals. His delivery is somewhat angst-ridden and occasionally off-key, very much in the Jon Oliva vein, but just like the former SAVATAGE mainman it gives the songs a very honest and expressive edge. He sticks mostly to a throaty approach but he does dabble in a more clean, somewhat Goth sounding, sound on “Emotional Sanctuary”, with kick-ass results. The lack of any overt catchiness causes much of the album to bleed into one but some songs definitely deserve special mention; the title track has some delicious bass-reverb at the beginning that segues effortlessly into a solid mid-paced groove of a riff, “On The Other Side” has a great set of free-flowing harmonic solos (as well as one of the better choruses), while “I Roam” combines the best elements of pre-shit METALLICA, SAVATAGE, and DOCTOR BUTCHER all into one. These are certainly great songs and all incidentally appear smack dab in the middle of the album, causing the beginning and end of the disc to pale a bit in comparison and disrupting the overall flow of proceedings. It’s a minor gripe but I do feel that the pacing of the album is a bit off. The same could be said of the production job.
Not really a crap album then, but definitely not the kind of thing you should dive into headfirst if you’re new to this style. Those who cut their teeth on this style long ago should find something of worth in here though, as “Grand Materia” is a solid (if at times dragging) exercise in raw Power Metal that will take you back to 1985.
(Online May 12, 2010)