|Musical Style: Symphonic Metal||Produced By: David Michael|
|Record Label: XNilo||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Promise Land|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 75%|
When approached about reviewing Harmony In Ruins, the summer of 2014 full length debut of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Promise Land, I had some reservations. The album was released in follow up to the groups four-song debut EP from 2005, appropriately entitled ‘Demo’, which I graded at 50% in describing as “(straying) towards the flat and disjointed side of things” while featuring “above-average to good (songwriting) at best” and “watered down production”. No, not a good start for any bands career. Hence, I am sure you can understand the doubts I had in regards to the bands aptitude to create quality music. Boy, was I mistaken.
A look back at Christian metal history reveals several bands that got off to inauspicious starts only to come into their own as they grew and seasoned musically. The initial offerings of Saint (Warriors Of The Son), Bride (Show No Mercy) and Barren Cross (Rock For The King), for instance, had a few rough edges, which were polished over on said groups sophomore efforts Time’s End, Live To Die and Atomic Arena, respectively. Give Promise Land credit for making the same significant steps and strides musically between its initial demo EP and Harmony In Ruins.
The constant with Promise Land is musical direction, which falls under the classically influenced symphonic metal heading. The group, in its own words, performs “orchestral cinematic metal” that is “modern, heavy, melodic, aggressive and orchestral/cinematic” at the same time. What I hear is a band perfectly in step with the symphonic genre, reflected in its use of atmospheric keyboards, choir vocals, classical overtures and orchestral arrangements. Yet, Promise Land stays true to the metal side of things with an intrinsic guitar emphasis that plays every much the defined role.
Where Promise Land breaks the mold within the symphonic genre is through its use of male lead vocals as opposed to female. Yes, symphonic metal is rife with female vocalists, as can be found in well-known acts Nightwish, Epica, Therion and HB, but how many can you name that are male fronted? Credit the group in this capacity for both taking a different approach and pulling it off in the process. It starts with co-lead vocalists Rod Kozikowski and David Michael, who share a similar gruff and earthy lower register delivery (the pair split vocal duties 50/50) that reminds of Chris Boltendahl (Grave Digger), Ron Poggione (Testify) and Billy Blax (Spittin Jonah). The two help further set Promise Land apart in that the group could have recruited an all too typical high-end style vocalist and nobody would have thought twice.
Promise Land sidesteps such predictability with its unique aligning of low-key vocals and symphonic music, with the gist that ‘orchestral/cinematic metal’ effect in question. This manifests itself on “C.I.U.” (standing for Christ In Us) with its interplay between piano, keyboards and guitars in a weighty and plodding package. “The Piper Illusion” further plays up the dramatic milieu, bombastic and grandiose in giving prominence to a majestic refrain and meticulous bass line literally breathing in the backdrop. Also poignant is swarthy ballad “Before The Dawn” from starting ominously to keyboards and piano prior to the onset of uplifting guitars over the final half.
Taking a heavier stance is “Hiding Place”, a furious assault of knife-edge guitars and audacious drumming that approaches power metal territory. The lesson at hand is that you can be aggressive and symphonic at the same time. Every bit tenacious, “Her Name” proves a straight on metal barnburner yielding a catchy chorus and low-end of a churning variety. The darker edges at hand bring to mind Sacred Warrior. “Holy” lends a worshipful aspect to the symphonic genre, not forthright as the previous two but flexing its muscles all the same in the more sublime and inspirational package. Adding a lighter touch are choir vocals and female backing vocals.
Guitarist David Michael reinforces the classical edge to the Promise Land sound. Fittingly, his playing reminds of Tommy ReinXeed or early Carl Johan Grimmark (those into a big European metal sound along the lines of ReinXeed, Narnia, Absolon and Kamelot will find a lot to like in Promise Land). His flashy soloing stands out best on “The Piper Illusion” and “Hiding Place”, albeit “Her Name” finds bestowing a riff driven propensity and instrumental “Harmony In Ruins” a tight as it gets melody penchant.
Lone complaint is that Harmony In Ruins is a bit instrumental heavy (6 out of its 12 tracks are instrumental). Of those six, five are shorter ‘interludes’ in the one to three minute range. Yes, it is acceptable to open an album to an interlude piece and perhaps close to one as well (Divinefire has done this successfully). Outside of that, you do not want more than two interludes with the exception of concept album, which often employ numerous interludes to help tie whatever storyline together (Pilgrimsprog and Absolon have made effective use of interludes in this regard).
Harmony In Ruins, as a result, comes across as an extended EP in which short instrumentals are employed to fill it out to full-length territory (the lone full length instrumental is an instrumental version to “Hiding Place”). I find this disappointing in light of the albums quality vocal material (the six vocal tracks easily grade within the 80% to 90% range- they are that good!). The optical scenario would have been for the group to record 2 to 3 additional vocal tracks and round things out with a couple of the better short instrumentals such as the already noted “Harmony In Ruins” and theatrically keyboard driven “Leviathans Voyage”.
Standing out is the eye catching artwork, which tells “the story of the title and lyrical theme of Harmony In Ruins. The ‘Tree of Life’ (which now appears dead or dying) is coming out of the scroll/scripture- it reveals the result of ‘the fall’ in the Garden of Eden into modern times, which is depicted by the city in ruins across the water”. The professional packaging features an inner sleeve with lyrics and detailed liner notes, all of which are includes as part of the download files.
Production has not been overlooked either in giving rise to a clean and polished feel (I appreciate the transparent separation between the instrumentation).
Lyrics leave little doubt as to the bands faith. “Holy” takes a worshipful tone, while “The Piper Illusion” deals with resisting the adversary. The focus of “C.I.U.” is on taking advantage of our opportunities to share the faith. The group is also not afraid to address social issues such as teenage suicide (“Before The Dawn”) and human trafficking (“Her Name”) in addition to historical themes (“Hiding Place” is about the true story of Corrie Ten-Boom).
I also appreciate how the group has its head on straight theologically. The biography of David Michael from the Promise Land website sums things up best: “You see, walking with God is not just some random salvation prayer that you say once, or some Sunday event you attend. It’s a life-time commitment that involves growth and learning, ups and downs and sacrifice. Sacrifice? Yes, it means dying to our old self so that our new self in Christ can take over and that can, at times, be easier said than done. Real Christianity means ‘picking up our cross daily’ and following the Lord. It means, commitment and it means applying God’s Word into our lives.”
Promise Land showcases great potential on its full-length debut Harmony In Ruins- the six vocal pieces are fantastic in reflecting said promise in question. The presence of gritty male vocals lends a dimension not always seen within the symphonic metal genre and helps set Promise Land further apart as a result. I hope it is sooner rather than later that we again hear from the group; there is more than enough talent at hand to make any follow up release highly anticipated. That said, I also a greater priority placed on vocal tracks and less on instrumentals, or at the very least a better balance between the two. Fans of symphonic metal and power/progressive metal - particularly that with a European slant - would do themselves a favor by checking Promise Land out.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “In the Beginning” (1:02), “Harmony In Ruins” (3:20), “C.I.U.” (6:06), “The Piper Illusion” (4:13), “Leviathan’s Voyage” (2:32), “Before The Dawn” (5:12), “Hiding Place” (5:45), “Her Name” (3:16), “Holy” (4:09), “Eclipse” (2:00), “Harmony In Ruins” (orchestration bonus track) (3:19), “Hiding Place” (instrumental bonus track) (5:45)
Rod Kozikowski - Lead Vocals
David Michael - Guitars, Bass, Keyboards & Lead Vocals
Eric Bowser - Drums
Jannette Ralston - Backing Vocals