LABYRINTH is everything that I’ve come to identify as being musically superb, balancing out the consonant melodic tendencies of 70s Progressive Rock, the unconventional song structures of FATES WARNING, the speed and aggressiveness of “Painkiller” era JUDAS PRIEST, and the musical flair of MALMSTEEN. At the time, fielding a 6 person metal band was considered unheard of, especially having two accomplished lead guitarists along with a keyboardist with a highly commanding presence. But where some would see this as an overcrowded line-up, it came to be the combination needed to put them over the top.
The guitar soloing approach to this band is a slightly more technically oriented version of the MAIDEN/PRIEST approach to dueling guitar solos. Olaf Thorsen is a rather interesting hybrid of a MALMSTEEN oriented shredder and a Dave Gilmour oriented expression player. A glowing example of his latter trait can be observed on the memorable solo to “Die for Freedom”, while his technician solos can be observed on pretty much every fast track on here. Anders Rain has his share of sweep picking moments, but the overall tone of his guitar is a bit high ended and tends to rely on simpler motives.
Rob Tyrant’s has an exceptional range, although his true strength is in his upper tenor register, where he essentially sounds like Ray Adler’s long lost identical twin. His interpretation of the various melodies is high reminiscent of what can be heard on both “No Exit” and “Perfect Symmetry”. Chris Breeze’s bass playing is probably the most subdued element on here, but he showcases his own abilities as a soloist just before Olaf kicks off his brilliant display on “Die for Freedom”. Frank Andiver’s (Mat Stancioiu is photographed but didn’t play on this album) is extremely fast and precise, outdoing his impressive feats on this band’s debut “No Limits”. Andrea de Paoli utilizes his keys to create a wide variety of atmospheric textures, although one shouldn’t discount his abilities as a technician either.
Although the album itself is lyrically quite abstract, musically it flows like a concept album, opening and closing with the same idea and flowing like a vivid dream sequence. “Moonlight” and “Lady Lost in Time” are among the most memorable for their choruses and speed. “The Night of Dreams” and “State of Grace” are a bit slower and draw heavily from early 90s FATES WARNING, the latter sounding almost close enough to be interchangeable with some tracks on “Inside Out”. “Heaven Denied” and “New Horizons” are probably the most original and progressive songs on here, meshing a lot of PINK FLOYD influences in the keyboard department with some amazing drum and guitar work. “Falling Rain” is the lone ballad of the bunch, but makes exceptional use of Rob’s powerful yet squeaky clean voice. “Time after Time” has some erratic changes in it, starting off like a fast rock song, then jumping back and forth from a Speed Metal song and a mid-tempo rocker.
The highlights of this album draw upon all of the strengths of the band. Technical flair and speed come into play heavily on “Thunder”, which wins hands down for the best dueling guitar solo section, definitely a crowd pleaser. “Feel” utilizes the bands affection for keyboard and guitar effects that would be unheard of in the metal genre were it not for bands such as QUEENSRYCHE and DREAM THEATER. “Die for Freedom” showcases the band at its longest and most intricate moment in terms of composing. The song brings back several themes from earlier tracks, but its own identity is well established in a series of new sections, the pinnacle of which is the hyper fast and melodically driven chorus.
LABYRINTH’S “Return to Heaven Denied” showcases a finely tuned machine that gives attention to all elements involved. It is a sound that can find a home with Traditional Metal and Prog. Metal fans whom are disillusioned with the new direction FATES WARNING took in the later 90s, as well as with Power and Speed Metal fans. It is melodic, light sounding, and will probably not appeal to people who like their music harsh and morose. I am proud to recommend this album, the pinnacle of LABYRINTH’S career thus far. It stands tall as one of the finest achievements of the Power/Prog. genre of Metal, a genre that marries speed and technical excellence to a defiance of conventions in songwriting.
(Online August 7, 2013)