Many have been quick to point out a trend in Power Metal towards a so-called Modern sound. While there is a lot of ambiguity in this terminology, the actual character of the sound is noted by a processed yet very primitive character. Indeed, the more modern a band tends to be in its approach, the more oversimplified everything tends to be. A better label would probably be mainstream or radio-friendly Metal, but the “Modern” label does tend to demonstrate a cold and passionless character that is fitting for this music as well.
SYMPHORCE (who I have occasionally referred to jokingly as “Sympharce”) is among the more blatant and longstanding examples of this sectarian sub-style within Power Metal, and in fact being a precursor to it as they’ve sounded this way for the lion’s share of the 2000s. They could be described as more metallic than the utterly horrid misfires that occurred on HUMAN FORTRESS’ “Eternal Empire” and a number of other Metalcore-infused albums. But the looming presence of 90s Alternative Rock and Groove Metal tendencies are all there, in spite of the clearly 80s influenced melodic material and somewhat more consonant vocal sound.
For all of the valleys and peaks which have maybe only gone a few inches above, “Unrestricted” could be considered a career high point since the moderately enjoyable and lukewarm debut “Truth To Promises,” but it’s still well within the clutches of mediocrity. It’s heavy enough, but so utterly predictable and stagnant that what's only really separating it from the average ATREYU or DEFTONES album is Andy Franck’s slightly cleaner yet still gritty renditions of early 90s Warrel Dane and the guitar solos. A few individual songs here and there might raise an ear for a few minutes, but hearing a whole album of straight-lined, overproduced, mid-tempo musical dithering is difficult for your average Power Metal maniac to get through without falling asleep.
In case that there be any doubt as to the lack of priority in songwriting in this format, a quick analysis of a few of the better songs can quickly reveal a band that wins over its hype by recording single-oriented albums while not actually releasing singles. “Visions” is the typical radio favorite that is not far from the Industrial influenced drivel heard out of IN FLAMES a few years prior, but with more lead breaks and a slightly manlier vocal job. “The Eternal” sounds like a more keyboard heavy reject from a MASTERPLAN album without the fun changeups and Coverdale-inspired vocal gymnastics. “The Mindless” functions as something of a hybrid of the other two, and is made unnecessarily long with a bunch of randomly placed audio clips from the news following the 9/11 attacks.
Beyond these three songs, each of which don’t really qualify as being consistent, it’s all a mixture of differing Groove/Modern infused songs that have few ideas and are redeemable only in that they are fairly short, though not short enough. Even the occasional bright spots on here are not memorable and easily mistaken for other bands that do this style better and with more focus. 11 years to the day of this band’s debut, I can still safely say that apart from “Truth To Promises,” that SYMPHORCE is a very skip-worthy name.
(Online March 11, 2011)