|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Dave Mikeal & Absolon|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 16||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 56:41|
My idea of a good time? Discovering a talented new band in which I had not been previously aware, listening to that highly anticipated CD for the first time and writing reviews of music I cannot help but be excited. All of the aforementioned apply equally to my experience with Orlando, Florida based Absolon and its January of 2013 full length debut Darkness Rising: The Tale Of Derek Blackheart. Absolon represents one of the better up-and-coming acts to arrive in recent years, delivering on Darkness Rising both a high level of creativity (to draw you in at once) and substance (to keep your attention with repeat play).
Absolon is also the new project of vocalist Ken Pike, who gained notoriety for fronting the melodic metal band Malachia at the time of its 1986 debut EP Under The Blade and full length follow-up effort, Red Sunrise, from a year later. Comparison between the two groups, however, proves problematic in that Absolon takes things to the next level in terms of both musical (heavier and more powerful in scope) and lyrical (Darkness Rising is a dramatic concept album) direction.
Musically, you will find a lot going on with Absolon. Initial impression is of a group centering itself upon a European power metal sound (with the keyboards and orchestration that goes along with it) but with the necessary darker undercurrents to reflect some symphonic Gothic aspects. Closer listen reveals the twists and turns of a decidedly progressive slant while also garnering the heaviness to reflect a classic metal edge.
The groups press material, as a result, lists a wide array of bands as comparison: Judas Priest, Queensryche, Kamelot, Nightwish, Epica, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater and Symphony X. Yes, all very relevant, but there are several every bit as deserving acts that I would like to add: Sacred Warrior, mid-period Deliverance, InnerSiege, Saint, Rob Rock, Jacobs Dream and Majestic Vanguard.
Darkness Rising breaks down evenly between heavier material, ballads and shorter instrumentals.
“Nail Head” (galloping and sweeping in capacity), “Screaming In The Dark” (preeminent but compelling) and “Devastation Suffocation” (spirited milieu mixed with a stately edge) capture that European power metal sound to perfection. The same holds true of the progressive time signatures to “Pretender” (with its Dream Theater-like undercurrents) and “Darkness Rising” (an intricate joining of the swarthy and symphonic). When Absolon takes a heavier stance it approaches classic metal territory, as it does on muscle laden pieces “The Escape Part II” and “Deaths Frozen Sting”.
Ballads do not present with a drop in quality. My favorite is “Even Heroes Fall”, underscoring a poignant, big melody emphasis, but “The Escape Part I”, highlighting an orchestral approach, and “Eulogy”, a sterner, Gothic flavored piece, hold up all the same.
Instrumentals include two on the heavier side of things, “The Master Calls” and “The Master Calls Reprise”, and one acoustic based, “State Of Mind”.
Lyrically, Darkness Rising revolves around the storyline of a young man, Derek Blackheart, who sells his soul to “the Dark Master” in order to achieve his dream of fronting the biggest heavy metal band in the world, Blackheart. Once Blackheart reaches its height of popularity Derek takes his life in order to escape the clutches of the Dark Master only to later discover even in death there is no escape. The moral of the story is summed up in the groups press material: “The ultimate fate of someone who decides to go down a road of darkness to achieve fame and fortune and, at the end of the day, has to ask himself . . . what is it worth to have reached the pinnacle of success, fame and fortune only to lose your soul in doing it?”
Now do not confuse Darkness Rising with being a Christian album or Absolon a Christian band. Pike, who wrote all the music and lyrics, offers further insight (from Christian Hard Music): “Are we a Christian band? Let me be totally honest… no, we are not. We are a group of people trying to write smart, melodic and interesting heavy metal music. I want to make people think and reflect with my music”. As for the storyline: “It is a morality play in music. I wrote it in such a way that each listener would take away from it what they felt was being said. That is what a good story is supposed to do.”
My thoughts? Darkness Rising does a good job capturing the spirit of classic concepts albums such as Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime and Judas Priest’s Nostradamus. It achieves this by (mercifully) not resorting to cheesy narration but rather employs interlude pieces and the shorter instrumentals to tie the storyline together and make the full length songs flow together overall.
I cannot think of a better vehicle to get the albums concept across than Pike’s soaring vocal abilities. The artist, if anything, has matured over the years in continuing to bring a smooth but commanding presence with range similar to that of Geoff Tate (Queensyrche). The main different is how Pike sings in a slightly lower register, which serves to better complement the darker nature to the material here.
Accompanying Pike are some very talented musicians. Most noteworthy is lead guitarist Ed Dumas, who adorns the album with his flashy soloing abilities (check out “The Escape Part II” and “Deaths Frozen Sting” for examples of his best work). Otherwise, he combines with Pike for some stunning harmonies, such as on “Darkness Rising”, and riff action running the gamut from the melodic to traditional metal in feel. Keyboardist Dave Mikeal stands out as well with his tasteful work, helping to define the group’s big European sound without coming across overriding in the process.
Production shines in capturing the needed polish in allowing for the near perfect mix of guitars and keyboards. Of particular note are the perfectly placed guitar leads (reminding me of Saint’s Too Late For Living in this capacity). Give Absolon credit for sparing no expense in this area.
Darkness Rising amazes with its consistency in bringing sixteen tracks that all hold up under repeat play. Yes, some songs are shorter than others (the interlude pieces and instrumentals) but all prove essential in getting the albums storyline across. The upshot is sixty minutes of multifaceted metal that comes across refreshing from front to back.
Track By Track
Multi-pronged opener “What Have I Done/The Beginning” serves to introduce the main character and storyline. The song starts with a knock on the door of Derek Blackheart’s dressing room followed by stilly done voice with placid guitars and piano in the backdrop
When I was young, not yet a man
I dreamed of fame and fortune
I set my site on bigger things
I had to be a star
A segue is made to short instrumental “The Master Calls” as lush keyboards give way to tight guitar harmonies that gradually build in tempo.
“Nail Head”, the first full length vocal piece, drives its length to weighty guitars in upholding impetus of a momentous capacity. Some ominous overtones rise to the surface as well, particularly during a galloping chorus in which some sweeping aspects come into play. Instrumentally, things decelerate for a run of slicing guitar leads. Lyric snippet:
Give me lights and thunder
Give me screaming crowds
Give me pyrotechnics
Let me play it loud!
I’m the god of metal
I possess the stage
You’re my congregation
Young hearts filled with rage
The thunderstorm at the start of “Darkness Rising Interlude” segues to ringing bells and the quietly played guitar that stands in support of its two short verses.
“Darkness Is Rising” proves a guitar harmony driven masterpiece. The song comes across scintillatingly smooth, playing up a exquisite melody in drifting through softer to heavier time signatures prior to peaking for a near mesmerizing chorus in which keyboards play a highlighting role. This one captures that stately Sacred Warrior vibe to perfection. Lyric snippet:
Was it worth the money?
Was it worth the fame?
Just to be somebody,
Willing to play the game
When you stand before him
Will it have been worth the price?
You turned away from his sacrifice
A heavier direction is taken on “Pretender”. The song opens its first minute and a half instrumentally, as guitars and keyboards slowly build to a forthright crescendo. Impetus temporarily waivers to a calmer standstill prior to hard charging guitars kicking in, more back and forth tempo changes made until the procurement of a smoothly flowing chorus in which the sublime is approached. Lead guitar takes a shorter but majestically done tone. Lyric snippet:
Is there nothing left to give?
Have you surrendered?
No more reasons left to live
You’ve given in
Has your world come crashing down,
All around you?
No more tears, bring in the clowns
To sounds of laughter
Ballad “Even Heroes Fall” highlights the albums strongest melody. The song starts quietly - almost sublime - as slowly played guitars and keyboards hold sway. A minute and a half in, however, the rhythm guitar steps in and adds a stronger edge to the poignantly done scene. Lyric snippet:
Time moves on
And fades away
There’s nothing you can say
We spend our lives
In the game
To only kiss the grave
Winners take it all
While others miss the call
Another page is turned
And even hero’s fall
The keyboard solo at the start of “Devastation Suffocation” gives way to crunch edged rhythm guitars. The song proves a heavy duty rocker the rest of the way, with tempo upbeat, environs stately and chorus of the melodically driven variety. Of note is the screaming organ solo that drives the instrumental section. Lyric snippet:
Just to go back and start again
Oh I would do things differently now
I’d lead a life without this sin
I’d never let the dark master in
I’ve lived a lie, don’t’ ask me why
I sold my soul, for rock n roll
And now I’ll pay forever
Piano and orchestration carry the short (2:45) distance of exquisite ballad “The Escape Part I”.
“The Escape Part II” rates with the albums heavier pieces. The song, contrastingly with its more relaxed namesake, powers its length to guitar riffs that have a classic metal feel to them while establishing a setting on the romping side of things in the process. Fittingly, Dumas shines with a spirited run of lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
It’s time to end this game
Before I go insane
I’ve got nothing more to give
I’ll end the masters reign
End this relentless pain
This is just no way to live
I’ve played this game to long
Dark control thru my song
I’ve brought young souls for him to burn
But now the time has come
“Eulogy”, the most ethereal of the albums ballads, starts to ghastly voices and flames in the backdrop prior to moving ahead to gently done guitars. Despite the tranquil setting, the firmer (almost stern in the form of a warning) stance is conveyed overall.
Forty-two second “Breaking News” announces the main characters death (from suicide) in the form of a radio newscast
The aptly entitled “Screaming In The Dark” ensues. What we have here is another heavy set piece, playing up the sterner feel of “Eulogy” but in the weightier and greater bottom heavy driven package. Momentum decelerates to the mid-paced flavorings that are its staunchly done chorus. Soloing takes on a bluesy tone. Lyric snippet:
Even in death I can’t escape
Now I find it’s much too late
I sealed my fate the night I met you
I was your chosen one
I brought death to everyone
I should have turned away
When I gave you my soul that day
I’ll scream in the dark forever
Instrumental “State Of Mind” moves its brief (1:31) distance to acoustic guitar.
“The Master Calls Reprise”, also instrumental, showcases some symphonic elements (in the keyboards and backing choirs) that almost give rise to a Saviour Machine-like Gothic metal feel. Quite catchy, I wish this one had been carried out an extra minute or two.
“Deaths Frozen Sting” hearkens back to “The Escape Part II” with its classic metal riffs. Driven, unremitting and hitting like a ton of bricks, the song plays the perfect role in bringing things to their fitting close. The apocalyptic vibe that prevails, as a matter of fact, cannot help but remind of Saint. Interestingly, tempo descends into some beautiful harmonies instrumental wise followed by a flowing run of lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
Now there’s no tomorrow
Only pain and sorrow
For eternity I’ll scream
The silence deafening
I felt deaths frozen sting
I would give anything
To start again
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “What Have I Done/The Beginning” (2:19), “The Master Calls” (1:59), “Nail Head” (5:39), “Darkness Rising Interlude” (2:02), “Darkness Is Rising” (5:47), “Pretender” (6:38), “Even Heroes Fall” (3:29), “Devastation Suffocation” (3:42), “The Escape Part I” (2:45), “The Escape Part II” (4:57), “Eulogy” (2:50), “Breaking News” (:42), “Screaming In The Dark” (3:50), “State Of Mind” (1:31), “The Master Calls Reprise” (2:38), “Deaths Frozen Sting” (5:56)
Ken Pike - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Ed Dumas - Guitars
Dave Mikeal - Keyboards
Will Cochran - Bass
Axel - Drums