Among the pinnacles of consistency in the Power Metal genre is DARK MOOR, one of the few examples of a band that can actually navigate the troubled waters of reinvention without smashing into an oversized ice berg or coral reef. While some tend to dismiss the post-Elise Martin material, this is merely because she is not present in said era, and not due to any substantial change in the band’s quality of sound. They’ve been viewed as something of a Spanish answer to NIGHTWISH, but actually the musical content is more in line with earlier RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) albums, and they’ve differed from said symphonic pioneers in that they haven’t really engaged in any odd production quirks or heavily narrated conceptual interludes to try and elaborate things.
For the casual observer, the latest offering in “Ancestral Romance” is not really all that different from “Autumnal." But a closer look reveals an album that is a bit more humble in its presentation, indulging a bit less in the operatic and symphonic extremities that this genre tends to get trapped in at the expense of guitar presence. There is naturally a good amount of both of these dominant characteristics on all of the songs, particularly “Love From A Stone” with its flamboyant operatic soprano intro and ending, but the general rule is a catchy, straight up approach to songwriting that has always typified this band, rather than the elaborate compositional style that HELLOWEEN occasionally dabbles in. But there is a healthy amount of fancy bass work courtesy of newly recruited master Mario Gonzales, who all but shows up Markus Grosskopf with his fast, almost guitar-like sweeps.
There’s plenty to like and very little that is skip worthy, as this band knows how to stick to a working formula. For any fans of high-flying Neo-classical sound speed and intrigue, there’s plenty to go around on “Alaric De Marnac” and “Cancion Del Pirata." There’s also some down tempo work with a slight gothic tinge to be enjoyed in “Tilt At Windmills” and the catchy yet longwinded “A Music In My Soul." In fact, apart from a rather odd instrumental in “Ritual Fire Dance” (which sounds more akin to a swarm of angry bees hovering over what sounds like an outtake from a Tchaikovsky work) and the somewhat corny sounding Hard Rock-infused anthem “Just Rock," there’s no duds to speak of here. The entire arrangement is tight, the lead work is tasteful (albeit the bass soloing outclasses the guitar work), and Romero’s blustering tenor is as triumphant sounding as ever.
In some respects, this album could be likened to the second EQUILIBRIUM album “Sagas” in that a few out of place elements have intermingled in what is otherwise a consistent theme of archaic glory, albeit the DARK MOOR variant is a bit more poignant and poetic. Nevertheless, this is largely a good album, though it definitely takes a backseat to all of Elise’s work with the band and also a few of the latter day albums. “Autumnal” is actually a slightly better representation of this band’s recent works, but both that album and this one work quite well and provide a good alternative to EPICA for those who don’t want any harsh vocals intermingling with clean singing. And this band has done quite well to dispel the notion that they’ve gone the way that NIGHTWISH went since dumping Tarja.
(Online August 14, 2011)