Review Summary: A face-melting album from the land where monsters are born.
Let's get one thing straight. Australia is god damn terrifying. Great white sharks, dingos, blue ringed octopi, cone snails, orb spiders... if it can't poison you or eat you, it can still ruin your shi
t. And if it can't kill you, it will make you wish it did. Even the damn platypus can destroy you. The aborigines don't even believe that it's possible to die of old age. People who do were cursed by sorcerers. Otherwise, one of the local fauna murders you, probably out of boredom. So it stands to reason that in this continent vomited forth from the depths of Hell itself, they still raise real men there. And what do real men listen to? Metal.
With that in mind, we come to Dungeon and their penultimate album One Step Beyond
. The first thing you notice about Dungeon is the dichotomy of the riffing, alternating between the driving rhythms such as in the title track and The Hunger
, and more melodic finger twisting passages as seen in The Power Within
and Tarrano del Mar
. It's almost like a fine wine in metal form, rolling around, blending and switching around influences of rhythm and melody, combining elements of Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Manowar, and Megadeth. And to balance out the incredibly gay vibes coming off of that metaphor, please enjoy the following: p0rn, beef jerky, power tools, sex, pizza, sex... Joanna Krupa and sex.
It's the diversity that makes One Step Beyond
such a strong album in the first place. And the differences aren't just sonic but emotional as well. Compare the Quixotic anthem The Power Within
with the savage oaths of The Art of War
. The rebelliousness and disillusionment in One Step Beyond
with the long-suffering stoicism of Against the Wind
. Dungeon are very adept at creating powerful moods and high energy.
This is partly aided by the dense production. While we're not looking at anything as mind-blowingly complex as Blind Guardian's A Night at the Opera
(or Queen's for that matter), it still averages a large number of instrumental and vocal tracks without overwhelming the listener. It manages to avoid that squeaky clean overproduced sound so many modern bands fall victim to, instead evoking memories of Led Zeppelin in their prime when Jimmy Page turned the studio itself into an instrument to create the sound of an army of musicians.
Looking at the album credits as well as the back catalog, it's apparent that Lord Tim is the driving force behind the band. The main contributor to the lyrics and music besides Tim is Stu Marshall. Steve Moore played on drums, his last album with the group, and his main contribution in the rhythm department is the archetypal power metal intensity. His use of rapid fire double bass and straight eighth assaults on the snare aren't exactly original in this genre, and makes his role on the album something of a one-trick pony. Of course he does his trick very well, which makes it tough to complain.
To complete the rhythm section, Tim played bass himself for the album as they had recently lost Pete Peric and it would be later in the year when they picked up Glenn Williams. Tim's bass lines are much like his guitar work in that he favors riffs that seem almost specifically designed to make you sprain your fingers. He does offer some slower passages of course, and the bass melody leading up to the solo in The Hunger
is really beautiful. The only downside is that the basslines often follow the guitar and can get lost in the aforementioned production. This is less of a problem in places like the solo in One Step Beyond
, but I still take points off for it.
As an aside, I have to give Tim credit as a vocalist. On The Art of War
, One Step Beyond
, and Surface Tension
we hear him also using harsh vocals. His tone is in a similar vein to Byron Roberts of Bal-Sagoth and Petri Lindroos of Norther/Ensiferum. While a vocalist who can do both clean and harsh vox isn't exactly a rarity or novelty anymore, pulling it off well isn't easy. The songwriting in Dungeon endeavors to use the harsh vocals with restraint. They don't dominate the song, and are only used in harmonies or to create dramatic punctuation to a lyrical stanza. Again, not an usual tactic, but difficult to do well. For example, although I certainly enjoyed DragonForce's Inhuman Rampage
, the addition of harsh vocals in their songs only served to increase the cheese factor. The Art of War
uses them the most extensively, but they're mixed in a way as to prevent the effect from being overwhelming or ridiculous.
If you haven't guessed already, Dungeon is power metal through and through. One Step Beyond
is not a genre-defining masterpiece or something that will tear down the conventions of the genre. But it is pure power metal that still manages to stand out amidst their contemporaries. The sing-along choruses are as infectious and catchy as you please. The riffing is prime fodder for brain-damage-inducing headbanging. The melodies soar and scream at all the places you want them to. And the Blind Guardian-esque production creates that epic feeling that is the Number 1 Rule of Power Metal. They follow convention, but manage to avoid falling into the trap of cliché. Even the lone instrumental track on the album, Epilogue
provides an actual guitar melody with a surprise ending instead of just being two minutes of ambient synths that slowly fade out.
I would argue that the one thing Dungeon do extremely well over all else is drama. They make you pay attention. The highlights on the album for this factor are Tarrano del Mar
, Against the Wind
, and Under the Cross
. And I would be remiss if I did not point out the great opening track The Power Within
, which delivers a Quixotic kick in the nuts with the best of Lost Horizon's songs. Any fan of power metal owes it to himself to at least give this album a once-over. If nothing else, it gives you a little slice of Aussie adventure... without the risk of being either crippled, envenomed, or eaten.