|Musical Style: Epic Metal||Produced By: Matt Smith|
|Record Label: Ulterium||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website: Theocracy|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 68:00|
The Christian metal scene has gained renown for producing its share of quality sophomore releases. The eighties and early nineties saw Stryper (Soldiers Under Command), Bloodgood (Detonation), Barren Cross (Atomic Arena), Deliverance (Weapons Of Our Warfare) and Holy Soldier (Last Train) escape the “sophomore jinx” while the same can be said for mid-to-late-nineties entries from Veni Domine (Material Sanctuary) and Narnia (Long Live The King). The turn of the century found Rob Rock (Eyes Of Eternity), Jacobs Dream (Theater Of War) and Destra (Joe’s Rhapsody) producing quality follow up efforts as well. Continuing the trend is Athens, Georgia based Theocracy and its fall of 2008 sophomore outing Mirror Of Souls.
Theocracy got started in 2003 with its self-titled and full length debut released on Metal Ages Records. More of a project in that founding member Matt Smith handled, well, just about all aspects of the recording process (including lead and choir vocals, rhythm, lead, acoustic and bass guitar, keyboards, orchestration and drum programming), Theocracy headed in what it described as “epic melodic power metal with progressive tendencies”. Mirror Of Souls finds Theocracy treading the same musical waters but now a full piece band in that Smith has recruited a drummer (Shawn Benson) and second guitarist (Jon Hinds).
Those who enjoy the self-titled debut will find a lot to like in Mirror Of Souls. The same catchy choruses and huge melodies, abundant backing vocals, epic arrangements and progressive elements make their presence felt: If anything, the music here is on the more progressive side of things in comparison to Theocracy. This is best represented on the technical metal of “Tower Of Ashes” and “Martyr” along with the nine minute epic “Laying The Demon To Rest” and the albums twenty-two minute mage-epic title track. A more melodic based direction is taken on “On Eagles Wings” and “The Writings In The Sand” while the energetic “Absolution Day” represents an up-tempo piece and “Bethlehem” a well crafted ballad with a touch of the acoustic.
Matt Smith remains in top form as a frontman with his clean and mid-ranged vocal sensibilities. Mirror Of Souls finds him exhibiting even more range to his delivery (as is demonstrated on “On Eagles Wings”) while still exuding his trademark emotional flavorings (check out “Laying The Demon To Rest”). The addition of a second guitarist helps lend to an all around heavier sound (at least in comparison to the debut), a particular standing out best on “Martyr” and “Laying The Demon To Rest”). Quite the technical showing is put forth by timekeeper Shawn Benson as well. His performance on the albums title track is unparalleled. (I wonder if he did the entire twenty-two minutes in a single take?)
Production values, a step up in comparison to the debut, feature a crisper and edgier rhythm guitar sound with the drums and lead guitar receiving the cleaner mix.
Lyrical themes range from faith in times of trial, how salvation is gained through faith (and not works), the nativity of Christ, temptation and spiritual warfare and the artists spiritual journey in words (and music).
The instrumental opening to “A Tower Of Ashes” begins to a joining of keyboards and acoustic guitar that give way to a rousing rhythm guitar. Things soon pick up in pace in a double bass driven manner, the frenetic scene upheld until the rhythm guitar drops from the mix as the song reaches its first verse. “A Tower Of Ashes” moves ahead to a forward bass line only to regain the lost momentum as the rhythm guitar returns fast and furious, quickly leading the way to a stately chorus as periodic outbursts of pounding drums highlight the backdrop.
“On Eagles’ Wings” proves an inspiration piece with its up-tempo – almost worshipful – flavorings. The bands trademark “Theocracy style” backing vocals make their presence felt throughout the song, particularly during its majestic chorus- the hook here is all encompassing and will stay with you for some time. Nice display by Matt Smith of the full range to his voice as well. Also, give Shawn Benson credit for quite the technical performance on drums (he always knows when to add just the right touch on double bass).
“Laying The Demon To Rest” ranks with the greatest songs in the history of Christian metal. Now that I have your complete attention, what we have here is a monster of a track combining the best elements of the all out aggressive with the overwhelmingly melodic.
The song starts to an instrumental introduction in which a joining of hard hitting riffs and pummeling drums stand in support of a scream from Smith. The raucous scene abruptly stops dead in its tracks as ominous keyboards take over, the ethereal scene maintained as “Laying The Demon To Rest” slowly plods through its first verse until the rhythm guitar rebounds in forceful fashion. The song proceeds to build and gain initiative only to decelerate for an engaging chorus in which abundant backing vocals play a prevailing role. An extensive instrumental section, in contrast, is driven its extent by an aggressive rhythm guitar.
“Bethlehem” comes across in the form of a semi-ballad, the first move by Theocracy in such a direction in its short career. And the attempt works. The song opens its first two minutes acoustically but with an interesting medieval flair. Once the rhythm guitar steps forward, “Bethlehem” picks up in pace dramatically as it procures a choir-like chorus in which the nativity of Christ is detailed:
Oh, Bethlehem your star burns bright
For my eyes have seen the glory of salvations holy light
As this little child has come to redeem us all
To save us from the fall
Redemption is in sight
Behold the star shines bright
In Bethlehem tonight
A short but complementary instrumental section ensues before “Bethlehem” returns to an acoustic based direction. All in all, this one reflects the versatility of the artist’s songwriting skills.
A seamless transition is made to the fast paced “Absolution Day”. Immediately taking off in up-tempo fashion, the song charges ahead relentlessly – an environs bordering on speed metal prevails – as Benson rollicks away on drums throughout its charging verse portions. The fleet but inviting chorus that ensues finds Smith trading off with the bands flowing backing vocals. After briefly slowing to an acoustic based passage, “Absolution Day” moves on to a stretch of riveting work on lead guitar.
“The Writing In The Sand” slows the pace down a bit but proves no less able. Mid-tempo in demeanor but reinforcing a huge melody, the song takes an emotional atmosphere and combines it with just the right amount of edgy rhythm guitar, highlighting keyboards and occasional acoustic guitar to turn into one of the albums finer listening experiences. Chorus wise, the infectiousness of the hook will draw you in and refuse to let go- it brings to mind “On Eagles Wings” in this capacity. Rounding things out is more adeptly played lead guitar.
“Martyr” ranks with the heavier pieces here. Technical metal might be the best way to describe the song, bringing plenty of time changes – some forceful and driving and others heading in a more melodic direction – along with occasional touches of assertive drums and accenting backing vocals (varying from smooth sounding in feel to shouted). Quite the notable chorus hook as well. A creative instrumental section finds a flamenco guitar giving way to a snarling rhythm guitar. This is Theocracy at its best.
The albums twenty-two minute progressively driven title track is a stunner. Now, songs that extend well into double digit territory can (and often do) try my patience- but not here. The main reason being is that “Mirror Of Souls”, so well thought out and constructed, always provides for that perfect change in tempo, catchy chorus or dive into instrumental territory that – despite its length – fails to turn into a trite listen. That said, it did take four or five listens for the song to fully grow on me but it proved well worth the time and effort.
As you could imagine, I do not have the time or space to go into all the minute details about the song but what I can tell you is that it breaks down into two different parts.
The first – the faster and heavier of the two – opens to a haunting acoustic guitar before it picks up in tempo as a determined rhythm guitar kicks in. Momentum slowly and gradually builds until things reach a crescendo of hard hitting riffs and drums as the bottom drops out of the robust scene at just past the ten minute mark.
A more melodic direction is taken on the second with its catchy choruses and atmosphere of a more poignant nature. A quieter, acoustic based passage gets things going prior to impetus gaining as a blend of rhythm guitar and lush vocal harmonies take over and carry things to their close. Some nice runs of lead guitar characterize the second as well.
The best way to close would be to state that Mirror Of Souls builds upon the strengths characteristic to the self-titled debut: gripping choruses and melodies, abundant backing vocals, epic arrangements and a proliferation of progressive elements. If you enjoy Theocracy then you are certain to find a lot to like in Mirror Of Souls. Production values are a step forward while the addition of drummer Shawn Benson and guitarist Jon Hinds help round out the project. Highly recommended.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “A Tower Of Ashes” (4:44), “On Eagles Wings” (4:11), “Laying The Demon To Rest” (9:37), “Bethlehem” (5:51), “Absolution Day” (6:46), “The Writing In The Sand” (6:43), “Martyr” (7:39), “Mirror Of Souls” (22:26)
Matt Smith – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Jon Hinds – Guitars
Shawn Benson – Drums
Also Reviewed: Theocracy - Theocracy