|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Zephaniah|
|Record Label: Divebomb||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Zephaniah|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 52:28|
Power metal fans will be happy to know the significant steps and strides made by Zephaniah between its independently released 2008 debut full length Stories From The Book Of Metal and Divebomb Records sophomore effort Reforged from 2016. Described by Angelic Warlord (50% review) as a work in which Zephaniah ‘(puts) its best foot forward but ultimately (falls) short’, SFTBOM disappointed due to ‘not necessarily a lack of musical ability (on the bands part) but rather a lack of focus - or perhaps I should say execution - in the songwriting department.’ Much of the albums material, for instance, ‘trends towards the bland (side of things)’ and ‘(falls) flat in failing to deliver the notable melodies that will keep you returning time and again’. Lyrics could be improved upon as well due to ‘(having) all the substance of an adolescent daydream (or Dungeons & Dragons campaign for that matter)’.
I certainly hope the above referenced paragraph does not deter you because on Reforged, Zephaniah has improved upon all facets of its game, including songwriting, lyrics, production, and lead vocals. Let’s take a close look at each area before moving on to the track by track:
Repeat listen to Reforged reveals the upgrades Zephaniah has made in terms of the maturity and depth to its songwriting. It begins with how the group does away with what I referred to in my SFTBOM review as the ‘cheese factor’, referencing the corny pirate metal track “Blackbeard’s Revenge” and clichéd song titles such as “Sword Of The King” and “Flame Of The Dragon”. But it also encompasses how on Reforged Zephaniah makes its material that much more compelling from the use of immediately recognizable melodies that - while not of a Theocracy like capacity - are discernable nonetheless. Whereas on SFTBOM I hit the skip button on a frequent basis, Reforged proves the more consistent and refined release overall- or at the very least, I am not tempted to skip over multiple tracks.
Because music is better, I am willing to accept lyrics, which come across more believable despite the group still focusing on topics inherent to other European influenced power metal bands: swords, battles, adventures, high fantasy, etc. Lone SFTBOM track that diverged was one of my favorites, Civil War themed piece “Antietam”. No, Reforged might not include any history based tracks (I direction I hoped Zephaniah might again pursue), but it does step outside the Dungeons & Dragons box with a three-song suite based around the first three Mad Max movies: “Mad Max”, “Road Warrior” and “Thunderdome”.
Please note that Zephaniah is not a Christian band. Rather the group (in an online interview) describes the Zephaniah name as meaning ‘spirit of the wind and (how) that particular book (in the Bible) is about judgement’. Or more specifically, it is about judgement AND deliverance in ‘(following) a pattern of judgment on all people for their sin followed by the restoration of God’s chosen people’. While there is a spiritual meaning behind the bands name, the Reforged lyrics (and take this as a neutral observation) do not include any such connotation. Hence, what I have said in past reviews of mainstream releases still holds true: approach with a certain amount of prudence and discernment in mind (noting how Zephaniah might not be for all Angelic Warlord readers, but it is for some).
Production receives an upgrade as well. SFTBOM might have been tracked in a week, but Reforged was self-produced by the group over a one-year period. The upshot is a production job that ranks alongside Theocracy’s Ghost Ship and Oblivion Myth’s Inside The Mirror as the best I have heard this year.
Logan Detwiler returns on lead vocals and makes a similar type of performance upgrade often attributed to a typical NFL quarterback between his rookie and sophomore seasons. He helps take Zephaniah to that next level in question as a result, continuing to bring a mid-ranged vocal style characteristic to hints of grit and periodic forays into high-end falsettos but delivered with that much more confidence in the process. It is obvious he worked incredibly hard to improve upon his range and delivery, with said results speaking for themselves.
Zephaniah continues to wield a first rate guitar team, with SFTBOM holdover Justin Zych and newcomer Tony Rudny possessing more than enough ability to give a serious run for their money Herman Li and Sam Totman of Dragonforce, a group in which Zephaniah often receives comparison. Opener “Reforged” provides a good indicator to the abilities of the two, whom decorate the songs swift seven minutes with riffs of a brazen capacity placed over a foundation of furious double kick drum and jazzy bass lines. The two further exhibit their dual soloing abilities throughout the extensive instrumental section at the mid-point.
The groups newfound sense of melody plays a lead role on “Destiny”, a catchy slugger carried by engaging guitar harmonies interwoven with periodic rollicking double bass and lighter passages in which lucent bass holds sway. Best part, however, is the epic flavored refrain in which distant backing vocals decorate the backdrop. Am I out of line to suggest this one brings to mind a slightly heavier Theocracy?
“Mad Max”, the first of the three-song Mad Max suite, delivers a bottom heavy sound rooted in thrash riffs and a chugging low end. The song echoes the chaotic, almost touching upon the all out aggression to “Reforged” but lending an equal dramatic appeal as Detwiler adorns the turbid scene with his laudatory falsettos. Rounding things out is another extended lead guitar run that walks a fine line between the fleet and distorted.
“Road Warrior” brings another seven minutes of discordant power metal. This time it is of a darker capacity, lending an old school Sacred Warrior vibe as a result with its foreboding low end and momentous feel that, similar to “Mad Max”, reaches for the histrionic. One of the albums lengthier instrumental excursions revels in fusion based jamming as larger than life bass simmers underneath. Also of note is how “Road Warrior” starts to a cool bass solo that soon transitions to a crescendo of classical flavored riffs.
Closing out the suite is “Thunderdome”, which, as one might imagine (or at least those familiar with the movie), continually chants the phrase ‘two men enter one man leaves’ throughout its length. Musically, it takes a dominant mid-paced heading - slower than some tracks here - but with a slight classical aura to the guitar tones. Narration presents itself as well, as found in the ‘who runs Barter Town, Master Blaster runs Barter Town’ voiceover several minutes in.
“Quest For The Royal Crown” is the albums epic at just over nine minutes. Significant portions to the song are instrumental, including the first three and a half minutes encompassing some of the most intense soloing you will hear and extended break halfway through in which Zych and Rudny again contest (the technical aptitude of Zephaniah is nothing short of jaw dropping). In between, “Quest For The Royal Crown” takes an epic metal tone, with verses reflecting a medieval flair and refrain highlighting the fanciful in bringing to mind Warlord at its best.
“Judgement” starts to a drum solo prior to launching into a speed metal romp. With abounding guitar harmonies leading the way, the song races over another jazzy bass line as Detwiler shines with his smooth vocal flavorings and more dual soloing sets the contesting tone. Interestingly, at the five minute mark tempo slows to a near crawl for a passage that reflects a reggae flair (I know, off the wall but it works). In the end, this is another choice example of the Zephaniah propensity for combining technical leanings with subtle but persuasive melodies.
Metal warrior anthem “Battle Hymn Of The Victorious” closes things out. I like to think of this one as albums most medieval tinctured, starting to a still joining of acoustic guitar and keyboards before classically influenced guitars crash in and set the momentous tone. One of the highlights is the over the top ‘into the battle we shall ride / with mace and chain held high / but first we steal the night / and raise our pints’ refrain. Imagine a beer-drinking anthem performed in a medieval tavern setting but with lute, lyre and mandolin replaced with metal guitars. Yes, it is a bit overdone - and almost corny in a sense - but you cannot say that it does not work.
This also leads to my lone complaint in that while lyrics represent an improvement alongside songwriting and I am willing to accept the high fantasy themes, I wish there was some type of Tolkien-ish storyline drawing them together (in similar fashion as Pyramaze’s Legend Of The Bonecarver). Rather, what we have - outside the Mad Max series tracks - is a set of random songs about adventures, warriors and swords that work but would come across more cohesive if there was a common theme tying them together. That is why I encourage Zephaniah to create an epic fantasy based concept album or at the very least base an entire album around a historical theme (in the same manner as Italian power metal act Thy Majestie did with its magnum opus Hastings 1066).
I have enjoyed putting together the Reforged review, not the least of which is how the music is so enjoyable in taking the next step in comparison to SFTBOM. Musicianship and technical aptitude remain Zephaniah staples accordingly in helping to build upon said songwriting improvements. The group, as a result, receives my vote for most improved metal act of the year. If into any form of power metal laced with forays into the thrash and classical side of things then Reforged comes highly recommended. When putting together my SFTBOM review, I knew Zephaniah had a great album in them and Reforged proves this in no uncertain terms!
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Reforged” (6:57), “Destiny” (3:54), “Mad Max” (7:01), “Road Warrior” (7:18), “Thunderdome” (4:50),”Quest For The Royal Crown” (9:3), “Judgement” (6:33), “Battle Hymn Of The Victorious” (6:50)
Logan Detwiler - Lead Vocals
Justin Zych - Guitars & Keyboards
Tony Rudny - Guitars
Ian Bender - Bass
Cody Johns - Drums