|Musical Style: Symphonic Metal||Produced By: Jani Stevanovic & Divinefire|
|Record Label: Liljegren||Country Of Origin: Sweden & Finland|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website: Divinefire|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 54:16|
It’s called Eye Of The Storm, the fifth full length album from Divinefire, the symphonic power metal band renown for combining aspects of both the melodic and the extreme. Released in the spring of 2011, Eye Of The Storm follows on the heals of the groups two albums from 2005, Glory Thy Name and Hero, and its third and fourth ensuing in 2006 and 2008 respectively, A New Dimension and Farewell. Farewell, as its name might indicate, was supposed to be the bands swan-song effort, but Divinefire regrouped in 2011 with founding member’s vocalist Christian Liljegren (Golden Resurrection, ex-Narnia) and multi-instrumentalist Jani Stevanovic (Mehida) joining forces with new vocalists German Pascual (ex-Narnia).
Divinefire continues to showcase a symphonic power metal sound characterized by double bass galore, heavy duty riffing, neo-classical soloing, orchestral keyboards and all around bombast. You will also still find an emphasis on (mostly) clean vocals mixed with (occasional) extreme vocals. So if you like the group’s previous efforts then the chances are that Eye Of The Storm will also appeal to you.
Eye Of The Storm features 7 new Divinefire vocal pieces but also includes 2 others that were only previously available as Japan bonus tracks (“Masquerade” from Hero and “Masters & Slaves” from Into A New Dimension), “re-recorded” versions of 2 songs that originally appeared on Glory Thy Name (“The Worlds On Fire” & “Never Surrender”) and a throwaway instrumental (“Close To The Fire”). Following is how things break down:
The 7 new songs stay true to the Divinefire formula for merging melodic and extreme elements. From a “melodic” standpoint “Time For Salvation”, “Hold On” and “Bright Morning Star” rise to the occasion while a more “extreme” side to the band can be found in the thrash heavy “Unchain My Soul” and speed metal influences of “Even At My Lowest Point” and “Send Me Out”. “To Love And Forgive” highlights a progressive element, something found on past Divinefire tracks such as “Never Surrender” and “Heal Me” (off Farewell).
“Masters & Slaves” and “Masquerade” are two quality numbers that stay true to the Divinefire sound. Credit the band for making them available when previously they could only be found on pricey and hard to find imports.
“The Worlds On Fire” and “Never Surrender” are listed as “new recordings for 2011”, but when listened to side by side with the original versions, I cannot tell either apart: Sound levels, mix and mastering sound exactly the same (at least to my ears). Still, we’re going to give the band the benefit of the doubt and say the two were actually re-recorded because this is not the point at hand.
Rather, this reviewer is disappointed in that despite a three year hiatus Divinefire could only come up with 7 new songs. Now, do not get me wrong in that the 7 are right up there with the best the group has to offer. That being said, I cannot help but think Eye Of The Storm would have flowed better overall - and brought more continuity in the process - if Divinefire had come up with at least 2 more original songs. Because as things now stand Eye Of The Storm more closes resembles an EP with a bunch of bonus material as opposed to a true full length offering
And then there is the vocal issue…
Give Divinefire credit for bringing into the fold the talented German Pascual, who adds another dimension to the band with his smooth (almost Dio-ish) vocal flavorings. If I were to invite comparison, he brings a bit more range than Liljegren, but that does not necessarily mean he is the better vocalist just different. Liljegren, in turn, complements things with an abundant vocal style characterized by heart, guts and passion. The two make an excellent team as they trade off throughout the project (each handles lead vocals on three songs while they share vocal duties on one other).
The problem, however, is that things can get a bit cluttered when factoring in Divinefire’s continued use of extreme vocals (appearing on 2 of the 7 original songs). I have always supported the group’s use of extreme vocals, but with two other vocalists already present they can get in the way. It kind of reminds me of the old saying how “two is company, three’s a crowd”. And such is the case here. Further muddying the landscape is that two other vocalists appear as well: Katja Stefanovic (on “To Love And Forgive”) and Jani Stefanovic (“Hold On”).
My recommendation would be that on any project it records in the future Divinefire plays to the strengths of Liljegren and Pascual while keeping the extreme vocals and guest vocal appearances to a minimum (if not eliminating them altogether).
Jani Stefanovic continues to shine with his multi-instrumental abilities in handling guitars, bass, drums and orchestration. One cannot help but appreciate his versatility. You will find your share of guest appearances here as well, including lead guitarists Plec (“Unchain My Soul”), Markus Sigfridsson (“Masquerade”) and Patrik Gardberg (“Masters & Slaves”), pianist Katja Stefanovic and extreme vocalist Toni Kaikkonen.
Production is full and lush in being up to the standards of past Divinefire releases.
Track By Track
The album gets underway to one of its more melodic pieces, “Time For Salvation”. With Pascual’s soaring vocals leading the way, the song flows its length to an exquisite joining of symphonic keyboards and stalwart rhythm guitar- all the while a pronounced melody makes its presence felt. This would fit right in on any album from Narnia. Lyric snippet:
There is still time
We have to change our lives
Still time for salvation
Only Jesus can wash our sins away
Still there is time
The stage is yours, the spotlights on
Time to deliver the breaking news
I know it’s hard to hear the truth
When Jesus comes it’s far too late
“Hold On” delivers the more forthright tempo. Yes, the song highlights some unremitting riff action but can also smooth out for more tempered moments allowing Liljegren’s heartfelt vocals to stand out. Similar to “Time For Salvation”, Narnia cannot help but come to mind. Lyric snippet:
See the lonely people
Hearts are bleeding
What’s the meaning?
See the lonely people
Hold on to what you believe in
Hold on, God cares for everyone
Hold on, we’re the new generation
Hold on and don’t lose your heart.
“Unchain My Soul” represents one of the more heavier hitting tracks here, approaching thrash metal with its relentless tempo and copious use of extreme vocals. Contrastingly, some more melodic moments can be found as well, particularly when the song tapers for its evenly flowing chorus and sweeping instrumental excursions. Lyric snippet:
Better think once, better think twice
Something inside says stay away
I was blind, but now I see
He gave me love
He gave me strength
To unchain my soul
I know the Spirit’s leading
My eyes are closed, I am not afraid
Hold on, hold on
We have the power of the cross
“Bright Morning Star” starts to a galloping instrumental opening only to decelerate for the acoustic lacings of its verses. Regaining the initiative, the song evenly moves on to a spirited chorus backed by a staunch low end. Things taper just past the halfway point for a quieter passage featuring narration from John 3:16:
For God so loved the world
That He gave His only begotten Son
That whoever believes in Him
Shall not perish but have eternal life
“To Love And Forgive”, the albums longest at seven minutes, begins to a lengthy instrumental opening with a medieval folk rock feel. The song abruptly picks up pace in moving ahead, giving rise to some epic elements - chorus is over the top - and occasional time and tempo changes. Lyric snippet:
To love and forgive
When something goes wrong
Tell me why is it so hard and
We are all blinded and can’t see beyond
The ego is strong, our pride is our jail
I bow my head (I bow my head)
I bow my heart (before your throne)
Your presence fills me
You amaze me with Your love
“Even At My Lowest Point” jumps out of the gate to rapid fire double bass. The penchant for the spirited is upheld as the song plows forward, rushing through its abundant verses and chorus bordering on the palatial side of things. Instrumentally, we are treated to a joining of orchestration and neo-classical soloing. Lyric snippet:
Even at my lowest point
There’s one way to go
I will survive
Even at my lowest point
There’s hope to find
Your Word strengthens me
I made my mistake
But I never lost my faith in You
Another unrelenting barn burner, “Send Me Out” proves a hook driven monster highlighting a perfect front to back upbeat tempo. Pascual brings out the best in the high velocity setting with his towering vocal presence while the driving riffs border on the machine-like in precision. Lyric snippet:
Lord, here I am
I will work for You
And follow Your Kingdom
Show me how to love
Send me out
I’m not afraid, I’ll go Your way
Finally I got the strength
I am Your messenger
Nothing in this world can stop me now
Finally Lord, send me out!
“Masters And Slaves” and “Masquerade” are two choice examples of Divinefire symphonic metal. The former brings an unyielding impetus and joins it with cinematic keyboards, periodic screams and neo-classical soloing. The latter proves incessant, with its non-stop double bass assaults and lightning-like guitar riffs. Both are worthy pieces better than their “bonus track” status might indicate.
Closing things is the filler instrumental “Close To The Fire”. The problem is not that the song is bad (it isn’t) but rather it is difficult to identify with Divinfire, already having three vocalists in the fold, as an instrumental band. Again, why not put together another quality vocal piece instead?
The 7 new Eye Of The Storm songs are up to the standards of past Divinefire albums. The quality in question makes me wish the group had come up with a couple more songs to turn the albums into a full length effort (and if they had I would add another 10 to 15 percentage points to the final score). Even so, I enjoy the two Japan bonus tracks while gaining Pascual was nothing less than a coup. I hope to hear more from Divinefire in the future.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Time For Salvation” (4:34), “Hold On” (4:00), “Unchain My Soul” (4:02), “Bright Morning Star” (4:44), “To Love And Forgive” (6:56), “Even At My Lowest Point” (4:18), “Send Me Out” (3:25), “Masters & Slaves” (3:57), “The Worlds On Fire” (4:15), “Never Surrender” (6:08), “Masquerade” (4:06), “Close To The Fire” (3:46)
Christian Liljegren – Lead Vocals
German Pascual – Lead Vocals
Jani Stefanovic – Guitars, Bass, Drums & Orchestration
Katja Stevanovic – Lead Vocals & Piano
Toni Kaikkonen – Extreme Vocals
Humbertus Lilljegren – Extreme Vocals
Barry Haldan – Extreme Vocals
Plec – Lead Guitar
Markus Sigfridsson – Lead Guitar
Carl Johan Grimmark – Lead Guitar
Pontus Norgren – Lead Guitar
Patrik Gardberg – Lead Guitar
Andreas Passmark - Bass