About two years ago I had all but written the obituary from the once great Italian, progressively informed Power Metal band LABYRINTH. What was once a colossal fold of virtuoso musicians with a brilliant songwriter in Olaf Thorsten keeping their songs accessible and triumphant sounding became a disjointed mess of modern influences after said driving force left the fold to concentrate on his other equally formidable project VISION DIVINE. As is the case with many great bands, the sum is usually not more, or less than its parts, and Thorsten’s influence on the band’s songwriting made all the difference in that uniquely memorable and spellbinding marriage of easy to follow songs with a strong helping of fancy detailing.
It is my great pleasure to say that the moribund state of this band has been fully, utterly, completely reversed. Even with the absence of long time bassist Chris Breeze and the fill happy speed tech, Mattia Stancioiu, the old order has been fully reformed and with it the glorious former sound that made this band a pinnacle force in shaping the character of late 90s Italian Power Metal. Bucking the trend of failed attempts at procreating sequels to old classics, this continuation of “Return To Heaven Denied” that is “A Midnight Autumn’s Dream” rides the metal winds with almost the same level of majestic brilliance as the original. This is not merely a solid batch of what made the late 90s and early 2000s so great, but a full out celebration of that entire era.
Naturally, there is no stepping on the same piece of river twice, and this album is not a full, exact recreation of its namesake. The guitar tone has remembered that slightly smoother, overdriven feel that was present on the band’s self-titled album, which was not as crunchy and metallic as their work before Olaf departed, but is still a thankful far cry from the decrepit mess that took over the rhythm guitar tracks on “Freeman.” With the absence of Breeze and Stancioiu the rhythm section has become more of a support section than prior, where drum fills were frequent and the bass was occasionally employed as a solo instrument. This is an album where keyboards, guitars, and vocals are the staple, and in this regard, the band has gone completely back to their roots, even to the point that the lead guitar tracking almost sounds like it was directly lifted off of their 1998-2001 master tapes.
In some respects, this could be seen as a streamlined version of its predecessor, in others an extended one. The blazing opener of the ’98 classic “Moonlight” and it’s more epic closer “Die For Freedom” have reemerged here in a composite form in “Shooting Star,” an impressive eight minute plus exercise in consonant atmosphere, princely vocals and mean speed riffing. Perhaps the biggest glaring flaw in this album is the fact that this song is the best one on here, in essence climaxing right at the beginning, in spite of amazing music continuing on throughout. Similarly, the lone instrumental from part one has been turned into another full length fit of melodic speed and glory in “The Morning’s Call,” containing a similar combination of keyboard themes and echoing guitar effects. Actually, if you listen to this album from start to finish, there are obvious parallels from one song to the next with that of the original “Return To Heaven Denied” that leap right out of the speakers.
One could go point by point down the line of great moments to be found on here, but generally speaking, this is an album that speaks for itself. The familiar mixture of German Speed Metal influences ala HELLOWEEN, early USPM/Progressive tendencies of FATES WARNING with Ray Adler at the helm, and keyboard-drenched shred of MALMSTEEN and STRATOVARIUS is back with a vengeance here, perhaps underscored by the great remake of YNGWIE’S 80s classic “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget.” For anyone who felt disenfranchised by either the lackluster production of “Sons Of Thunder,” the hit or miss tendencies of “Labyrinth,” or the horrors that followed, this is the band’s musical redemption. Provided that something doesn’t come along to send Thorsten packing yet again, the future is bright for this band, not to mention for anyone who plans on picking up this album.
(Online March 28, 2011)