|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Slovakia|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 75%|
Steps Of Truth, the winter of 2012 full length debut from Poprad, Slovakia based Nona, was a tough nut to crack. At face value, it leaves the impression of a European power metal album, but despite similarities in terms of double bass drum kick, sweeping keyboards and soaring vocals, repeated play revealed several key differences. It starts with how Nona are not afraid to branch out and also embrace symphonic, epic and thrash metal while mixing in occasional progressive and neo-classical overtones. Yes, a multiform approach, but the group proves successful as a result of sidestepping style limitations to create a sound uniquely its own. Nona, in other words, is without a doubt power metal but much more than that!
Specifically, Nona trends towards a riff driven metal direction as opposed to one that is melody based. This is mirrored in how the group did not necessarily make it a top priority to add a lot of immediately catchy choruses and accessible hooks when composing its material. You will find both bad and good as a result. Bad from the standpoint that several songs here, most notably those based around a basic verse-chorus-verse structure, suffer due to their lack of engaging qualities. The main offenders are opening tracks “Bridge”, Shadow” and “Loneliness”, which fall a bit flat from the lackluster nature of their choruses. It was almost as if Nona were “playing it safe” or “following a script or formula” when putting the three together- at least in comparison to the quality material that follows.
Good in terms of how the albums six remaining pieces are interwoven with a high volume of complex and technical (if not progressive) intricacies, which - based upon my listening experience - preclude the need for melody in abundance. Hence, the six in question hold up remarkably well despite not having many of the more memorable attributes of contemporaries within the power metal genre (and by that I am referring to Theocracy, Golden Resurrection, Lance King and Halcyon Way).
Progressive based pieces “Steps Of Truth” (with its profound instrumental emphasis) and “It Is Time” (running the gamut from the doom influenced to the thrash-like) might not be leading candidates for radio play but otherwise find Nona hitting its creative stride. The same applies for “Thorn In Heart” (blending piano with neo-classical elements) and “Wisdom” (high energy symphonic based sound).
When Nona mixes it up and structures a song around a basis of melody it proves a refreshing change of pace. “In The Name Of God” (stressing up-tempo proclivity and catchy hooks) shines in this capacity as does “Self-Seeker” (epic metal feel with a majestic chorus).
The previously referenced “riff driven metal direction” can be attributed to the talented guitar team of Matúš Jarkovský and Peter Ignácz, whom combine for some of the most technically catchy riffs this side of Fires Of Babylon and Deliverance. “Thorn In Heart” and “It Is Time”, for instance, are riff driven slugfests while moments to “In The Name Of God” are every bit as trenchant.
The two also prove responsible for the manner in which Nona takes every opportunity to explore its instrumental sound. Significant portions of several tracks here - most notably “Steps Of Truth”, “In The Name Of God” and “Thorn In Heart” - are instrumental while allowing the duo to showcase some VERY skillfully done lead guitar work that has a neo-classical edge to it.
Musicianship, as a matter of fact, is a legitimate strength here, as also evident in the deft keyboard work of Martin Ignácz and more than above average ability of rhythm section Ondrej Ujčík (drums) and Peter Horník (bass). There is not a weakness here musicianship wise.
Vocalist Martina Funketová rounds out the Nona line-up. No, it is not often you hear a power metal band with a female vocalist (it is Gothic and symphonic metal that is most commonly female fronted), but she brings a solid voice characterized by energy and focus. She reminds me somewhat of Johanna of HB, albeit singing in a lower register and with not quite the range (which fits the heavier music of Nona just fine). The only complaint is that she can strain somewhat when going for a high note (see the chorus to “Bridge”). In the end, I like her vocal abilities but at times wonder how the material here would sound if fronted by someone along the lines of Lance King or Matt Smith (Theocracy).
At this point it must be noted that lyrics are in the groups native Slovakian.
Production is a near flawless thing of beauty.
The 75% grade is not reflective of the groups overall ability or its stronger material (the final six tracks are in the 80% to 85% range), but when deciding on a final score the first three must also be factored. Again, you will not always find the most melody here, but the better songs do not necessarily require it as a result of being so well constructed and ably performed. That being said, I would still like to encourage the group to imbue its material with some Theocracy and Halcyon Way like melody structures in order to add more accessibility to its sound and expand upon its fan base.
Track By Track
“Bridge” proves mid-paced and driven but with some ethereal elements. The song slowly plods through its verses - keyboards reflect some airy overtones - while breaking out for a chorus heading in the more energy laden and forthright direction. No, not a bad effort, keeping in mind things would have stood out further if imbued with a bit more melody.
“Shadow” maintains the mid-paced proclivity but in the all around weightier and guitar driven format. The same pattern taken on “Bridge” found here, with staunchly done verses ensued by a chorus, contrastingly, on the more high strung side of things. The bands instrumental focus begins to take shape as a run of fusion based soloing can be found. The only drawback, also similar to “Bridge”, is the continued need for added melody.
A bit more life can be found in “Loneliness” as a result of its swifter tempo. Some hard charging riff action can be found here along with a technical emphasis (you will notice an underpinning of staunch double bass) that helps push things towards the more progressive direction of the material that ensues. A mercurial keyboard solo drives the songs instrumental moments.
Nona hits its stride on “In The Name Of God”. The song starts at a furious tempo - almost bringing to mind Seventh Avenue as a result - in storming through its verses but can decelerate for the more ominous and swarthy undertones representative of its chorus (quite catchy and one of the albums better conceived). Some awesome dogged riffs stand out during the instrumental moments here.
An emphasis on the progressive can be found on “Steps Of Truth”. This one allows Nona to highlight its musicianship, with a lengthy instrumental opening driven by pummeling riffs and aggressive drums while an every bit as extended instrumental run at the halfway point features a riveting shred guitar solo. The song, otherwise, runs the gamut of slowly moving passages upheld by quietly done guitars to others in which a heavy set guitar makes its present felt.
The piano at the start of “Thorn In Heart” is soon overshadowed by a hammering rhythm guitar. The song is a riff driven cruncher the rest of the way, with a churning low-end playing a prevailing role and piano continuing to merge with more aggressive guitars. Things evenly flow into an instrumental interlude carried by some unremitting riff action while a final instrumental run (this one with a neo-classical influenced guitar solo) closes out the final minute.
“It Is Time” showcases the darker and more somber sound. Crunchy and mid-paced, the song continues the catchy riff driven emphasis - heavy hitting and almost thrash-like in capacity - in powering through its verses staunch and relentless only to gain further initiative for its muscle-laden chorus. Lead guitar work, backed by the same riff in question, is on the ripping side of things.
Up-tempo from the get-go, “Wisdom” charges at a merciless tempo its length in upholding even more thrash-like riffs while melding in keyboards highlighting a symphonic edge. When further factoring in the songs positive and uplifting feel and strength of the chorus we are left with one of the albums finer pieces. Keyboard and guitar solos that give way to some tight guitar harmony carry the instrumental section that closes things out.
“Self-Seeker” takes a straight on musical heading similar to the first three but much better. The song immediately starts to a quickly moving verse only to dive into a blazing run of lead guitar, a bouncing rhythm guitar pushing things ahead until things culminate for an epic flavored chorus interwoven with ringing bells. An aggressive focus returns as “Self-Seeker” ventures into its instrumental moments.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Bridge” (4:41), “Shadow” (5:20), “Loneliness” (4:51), “In The Name of God” (5:28), “Steps of Truth” (6:07), “Thorn In Heart” (6:33), “It Is Time” (4:43), “Wisdom” (5:36), “Self-Seeker” (3:58)
Martina Funketová - Lead Vocals
Matúš Jarkovský - Lead Guitar
Peter Ignácz - Rhythm Guitar
Martin Ignácz - Keyboards
Peter Horník - Bass Guitar
Ondrej Ujčík - Drums