|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Joel Wanasek & Zephaniah|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 50%|
|Running Time: 54:08|
When discussing the topic of the Midwest, the first things that come to mind usually include “endless plains” and “great lakes”, the St. Louis Arch, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers and the classic rock band Kansas- but not necessarily power metal. That, however, has changed with the emergence of Fort Wayne, Indiana based Zephaniah. A group that got its start in 2005 but did not debut until three years later with the full length release Stories From The Book Of Metal, Zephaniah has made quite the impact on the Midwest metal scene with its energetic but technical approach to the genre.
While fitting the definition of power metal in the truest sense of the word, this group of Christians also mixes in the occasional element of progressive metal and thrash with the end result being a sound certain to appeal to fans of Dragonforce, Symphony X, Hammerfall, Rhapsody, Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian, Jacobs Dream, Seventh Avenue and Dream Quest.
Stories From The Book Of Metal finds Zephaniah putting its best foot forward but ultimately falling a bit short. The main problem is not necessarily a lack of musical ability but rather lack of focus – or perhaps I should say execution – in the songwriting department. Much of the material here trends towards the bland in that the likes of “Avenger Of Souls”, “Sword Of The King” and “Lone Warrior” fall flat in failing to deliver the notable melodies that will keep me returning time and again. Others such as “Blackbeard’s Revenge”, for a lack of better words, are just plain awful. But even the albums better compositions - “Antietam”, “Deep Breath” and “Flame Of The Dragon” – I would only rate as above-average to good at best. Only one track, the melodic metal masterpiece “Fight For Love”, stands out as exceptional.
Another problem with Stories From The Book Of Metal is the "cheese factor". To understand my point check out the tiresome narration on “Metal Prayer”, overbearing backing vocals at end of “Fight For Love”, “Blackbeard’s Revenge” (entire song) or lyrics throughout the project. Song titles like “Sword Of The King”, “Flame Of The Dragon” and “The Metal Prayer”, at the same time, are riddled with clichés.
Speaking of lyrics, the majority of the tracks here seem to be based around themes of warfare, battle, dragons, magic swords, evil kings, etc. When it works, such as the (US) Civil War based piece “Antietam”, it is great but otherwise the lyrics here have all the substance of an adolescent daydream (or Dungeons & Dragons campaign).
Zephaniah is a brilliant band in terms of its instrumental sound. Credit, first and foremost, goes to the incredible guitar team of Justin Zych and Tyson Miller. A duo that ranks with the genres finest, Justin and Tyson showcase their blinding soloing abilities on “Antietam”, “Sword Of The King” and “Flame Of The Dragon” along with some beautiful guitar harmonies throughout “Avenger Of Souls” and “Deep Breath”. “The Lone Warrior” even makes a brief transition into jazz-fusion territory while “Antietam” and “Avenger Of Souls” are both over half instrumental.
Drummer Ian Bender proves equally able with his machine-like precision. Double bass there is in abundance here, bringing out the best in “Sword Of The King”, “Avenger Of Souls”, “Flame Of The Dragon” and “The Metal Prayer”.
Vocalist Logan Detwiler, while competent, does not always stand out as he should. Bringing a mostly smooth mid-ranged vocal presence (he occasionally adds an element of grit to his delivery), Logan lacks the range of Lance King (Avian), muscle of Joacim Cans (Hammerfall) or versatility of Chaz Bond (Jacobs Dream). Again, while certainly not lacking in competence, he potentially prevents the band from reaching greater acclaim. To understand my point, imagine how much better the material would be with Ski (Faith Factor) or Rey Parra (Sacred Warrior) on lead vocals.
Production values, particularly in the areas of rhythm and lead guitar and drums, are very sound for an independent release.
Introductory piece “The Metal Prayer” starts in instrumental fashion to a joining of grandiose keyboards, crunchy guitars and rapid fire double bass. Things settle down, however, after several minutes to narration in the form of a “metallized” version of the Lord’s Prayer:
Give us this day our shields and swords
And forgive our lack of mercy
As we forgive those
Who are merciful towards us
And lead us not
Into the land of the peaceful
But deliver us into battle
For the power, the glory, the honor are yours
Now and forever
The end result is a cheesy atmosphere that comes across way too overdone. “Metal Prayer” would have been a fine album opener if Zephaniah had excluded the narration- otherwise it falls short of the mark.
“Antietam” ranks with the albums better tracks. One of the main reasons being is that it brings creditability in terms of its lyrical direction, focusing on the well known (US) Civil War battle in question:
A devastating assault
Cast upon their left flank
Confederates at fault
Dispiriting their vast ranks
On a bridge they rode
Stampeding with full power
The Union army showed
Who stood tall that final hour
Shoot each other
For your country
For your own life
We are Dying
Stop your crying
This bloody day
Musically, it proves a solid but unremarkable piece with its harshly driven chorus – backed by heavy duty backing vocals – and the group’s trademark instrumental propensity (over half the song is instrumental). Put this on Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden and it would sound right at home.
I might describe “Avenger Of Souls” as quintessential power metal. Quintessential in how it races its verse portions at near frenetic speed – Ian Bender gets quite the workout on double bass – prior to obtaining a chorus bordering on over the top in its propensity. The band, again, kicks it into high gear instrumental wise (Zych and Miller deliver some amazing guitar harmonies). But beyond that the song does not always stay with you musically: the gripping chorus hook needed to draw you in is missing- leaving one with the overall feeling of prosaic. I tend to pass. Lyrically, “Avenger Of Souls” focuses on warfare themes (but without saying much):
When you’re the only one
Left in battle
You will stand and fight
Or perish like the others
If you try to run
They will catch you
If you try to hide
They will surely find you
Think of what’s become
Of your brothers
Avenge their restless souls
Attack with all your fury
“Deep Breath” is a pretty good ballad. The song starts quietly as a piano slowly leads the way through its first verse and chorus until the rhythm guitar cuts in hard and heavy. “Deep Breath” proceeds to move forward at the more determined tempo, establishing an emotional environs that trends towards the bluesy (real pronounced feel to the low end here). More abundant guitar harmonies and melodic soloing upholds another extended instrumental section. Very fine effort. Once more, we have a subject matter based upon warfare:
When armor breaks
And warriors cry
When bodies bake
And soldiers die
When tigers fight
And lions roar
Into the night
The blood will pour
We will fight on
Our enemies will crawl
Fight until dawn
We will not fall
The cliché entitled “Sword Of The King” follows. The song actually opens calmly to a piano before taking off in frenetic fashion as an edgy rhythm guitar steps forward. Rollicking ahead to a plethora of double bass, “Sword Of The King” does not even out until acquiring a decisive chorus that goes into further detail about the “sword” in questions:
Oh! Sword of Rubies
In your sapphire sheath
Won’t you come out to fight
And kill our enemies
Instrumentally, the guys pull out all the stops with several runs of blistering soloing and mega-melodic guitar harmony. But in the end, however, my overall opinion is that this one brings to mind “Avenger Of Souls” in that we are wowed by the bands instrumental strength but that standout hook or melody ends up missing. “Sword Of The King” ultimately talks about overthrowing an evil king:
Riding on the battlefield
The sword is cracking every shield
Coming to the castle-hold
Where inside lies the king of old
His wickedness and tyranny
Will be his undoing indeed
The evil king will be cast down
The rightful heir will take the crown
“Fight For Love” brings an old school melodic metal vibe. This is by far the albums finest track, with the main reason being its catchy hook – the chorus here is huge – and unrelenting up-tempo impetus. Another joining of blazing lead guitar and smooth guitar harmonies carries an extended instrumental section. The only complaint: the “gang style” backing vocals repeating the words “fight” at the songs end (it sounds like something Sons Of Thunder might come up with. And no that is not a compliment).
“Blackbeard’s Revenge” ranks with the worst compositions in the history of metal. One of the main problems is Detwiler’s vocal approach, which finds him singing in a lower (harsher) register with the goal, as far as I can tell, to mimic the voice of a pirate. Needless to say, it does not work and comes across downright cheesy. Speaking of cheese, the chanted vocal harmonies during its chorus (one of the worst conceived I have heard in some time) are next to laughable. As are the lyrics:
The Captain sighs and breathes anew
As he looks upon the ocean blue
Fly to the decks, we must prepare
The shouts of battle in the air
The water rises higher and higher
Our bones break and our muscles tire
The captain sings like a choir
"Man the cannons boys, its time to fire!"
The detonating cannons at the end are icing on the (cheese) cake. If every song on the album were like this I’d goose egg the thing.
“The Lone Warrior” does not stand out for the strength of its music (which is not bad but not great either) but rather the lengthy instrumental section covering four of its seven minutes. Zephaniah gives us some interesting variety here, ranging from its trademark guitar harmony and shell shocking double bass, but the best part is the dive it makes into jazz fusion territory just after the four minute mark. Brilliant. When was the last time you heard a power metal band make a changeover to jazz at the drop of a hat? No, not me either. But it serves to put what otherwise is an unremarkable song over the top.
“Flame Of The Dragon”, by far the albums heaviest piece, has a guitar riff that just won’t quit. It kind of reminds me of Barren Cross in this capacity. Musically, the song kicks up quite the storm during its verse portions, smashing ahead unrelentingly only to slightly taper prior to a symphonic based chorus backed by a plethora of fleet double bass. The lead guitar almost has an Impellitteri-like feel to it. I do not think I need to let you know what this one is about:
His breath will show no mercy
His eyes will show no fear
Fly the dragon into the night
Feel his fire in the sky
Fly the dragon swords held high
Burn them as they die
The best way to sum up would be to state that Zephaniah has great potential to make great music. That said, I would like to encourage the group to focus on its songwriting in order to come up with stronger and more memorable material. I expect great things from Zephaniah once it brings its songwriting up to the level of its musicianship. Lyrics are another area of improvement worth noting. If the guys can stay away from the high-fantasy-dungeons-and-dragons themes they will be fine. If they want to focus on battles and warfare, then perhaps a historical based approached along the lines of “Antietam” would work best- or an entire album based around a similar concept.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Metal Prayer” (4:00), “Antietam” (5:38), “Avenger Of Souls” (6:34), “Deep Breath” (5:06), “Sword Of The King” (7:06), “Fight For Love” (5:49), “Blackbeard’s Revenge” (7:55), “The Lone Warrior” (6:56), “Flame Of The Dragon” (5:04)
Logan Detwiler – Lead Vocals
Justin Zych - Guitars
Tyson Miller – Guitars
Tyler Sumwait - Bass
Ian Bender – Drums
Adam Guingrich - Piano