Review Summary: Masterpiece or Monstrosity?
In 2010 from seemingly out of nowhere came the release of the debut album from Polish symphonic power metal outfit Pathfinder, Beyond the Space, Beyond the Time. Opinions of the album have been polarizing, ranging from the best release in the genre within the last half-decade, to a mess on par with the worst of Dragonforce. I stand with those in the former category.
Even calling this album a debut is not really accurate in the sense that you would typically think of a debut album as not being a polished effort. Sure, it is the first release from the band, but this album had been a long time in the making; 4 years since the band formed to be exact. Furthermore, all of the musicians in the band are way beyond technically competent, capable of putting any of their contemporaries to shame. The blistering guitar and keyboard solos throughout the album are endlessly impressive, and the use of classical inspired melodies only enhances the songs. The vocalist Szymon Kostro does not carry a unique voice but is probably the best ‘generic’ sounding power metal vocalist possible. He demonstrates a range from Daniel Heiman-esque highs to extreme metal growls. The production on the album is crystal clear as well. But all of this would be for naught if the songwriting was terrible, if the sound was clichéd, and the talent not implemented in a tasteful and catchy manner that knows when to use restraint. Fortunately I feel Pathfinder was able to balance all of this to create a power metal classic.
Now this is not necessarily something we’ve never heard before; Pathfinder take heavy influence from past power metal greats and this is something listeners may hold against them. Their sound is essentially a stew of Rhapsody, Dragonforce, and to a lesser extent Lost Horizon and Blind Guardian, sprinkled with some classical influences on top. Pathfinder takes these influences, push it to the logical extreme, and somehow make it work while toeing the line between masterpiece and monstrosity. Furthermore, their sound is more of an homage to those who paved the way rather than a rip-off. You can tell they have great respect for their ancestors as they even gave a guest vocal spot to Roberto Tiranti, the vocalist for Italian power metal legends Labyrinth.
Some highlights of the album are as follows: Whisper of the Ancient Rocks featuring a chorus that will be stuck in your head for months. Lord of the Wolves and Pathway to the Moon possess so much power and energy in their respective sound and pace. The Demon Awakens which showcases the perfect battle between positivity and the forces of evil. The self-titled song Beyond the Space, Beyond the Time will blow your mind with all of the stops it brings out to reach the apex of what one would call epic. Yet what really makes this album great is that every song, interlude, and moment is worthwhile, and never tips the scale to become too cheesy or mindlessly flashy enough to detract from the album as a whole.
In their next release The Fifth Element we see more of the overbearing and bloated side of Pathfinder without the liberty of 4 years to create an album. But with Beyond the Space, Beyond the Time we are lucky to have such a fine album that shows the potential of the band and of the future of power metal.