are refreshing for Power Metal: their heavier and rougher take on the genre gives the music the Metal aesthetic that's sometimes lacking with other bands of the genre. Yet even though their basic sound will always sound unique and refreshing, I can't help but feel The Fiction Maze
doesn't fulfil the band's potential. The songwriting is a bit too simplistic, especially considering the more adventurous directions they were going in on their last album, 2006's When Eden Burns
The issue of innovation and progression in terms of songwriting is important. Not only is this their fourth album, it took literally eight
years to make this. Listen to 2004's Evolution Purgatory
, their second album: I don't think there's much difference (or progression) between them, other than that this has far better production (ie 'Sent to the Grave', could have come straight from Evolution...
). Tracks like 'One Lifetime', 'War', and 'InSect' are all pretty standard for the band and are straight-forward songwriting wise. These are 3 of the first 5 tracks - the first half of the album - so they shouldn't feel like filler, but I get that feeling listening to them. Even 'Deep in the Dark', which is a bit more adventurous, still has a drum beat and general rhythm that repeats itself for minutes on end, making the song feel like it just drones on and on.
While the production is very crisp and the drumming is borderline excellent (lots of big and intricate fills), I think there was a missed opportunity with the vocals. This is important because they're the centrepiece of the band. On a demo for 'Son of Sodom', which the band posted a few years ago (N.B. you can find it on their old studio blog on their website, called 'Behemoth'), the vocals are amazing, with Jens having clearly improved his melodic singing and higher range. But on the version of the song on this album, he chose his standard harsher voice, even for the higher notes, which doesn't sound nearly as powerful or epic. I don't know why he chose this: maybe to avoid being accused of copying Blind Guardian
, although the band don't really sound like them overall. Maybe to make it easier to play the songs live, although most of their fans probably will never see them live. At any rate, without much progression in the songwriting, Jen's standard, somewhat macho, harsher voice just isn't enough to take the music to the heights it could reach. In other words, in a context of songwriting that's somewhat simple, the vocals are too simple and need to be more interesting, intense, etc, to sustain the band's style of music. Jens still shines at points however: his high notes, in his melodic and harsh voices, sound so brilliantly urgent and intense, i.e. in the "Another bridge by the river shore!" line in 'Son of Sodom', one of the best moments of the album.
It's not all doom and gloom. There are lots of parts where the songwriting fulfils the band's potential and shows their fascinating style of Power Metal within a darker and heavier aesthetic. The problems listed above are absent from 'Son of Sodom', which has an amazing second verse that goes through various intense passages building to the song's great double-chorus thing. The title track also has an interesting chorus, in contrast to lots of the others (again, this is Power Metal, so the choruses do need to be really good and somewhat innovative). Persuader's style of choruses are less obviously 'epic' sounding than most Power Metal (i.e. less grandiose melodies), which is probably why they sound so unique and exciting when they pull them off. Even though 'Sent to the Grave' and 'Falling Faster' are somewhat simple, their choruses are just so good that it's difficult not to feel positive about the songs overall.
This is a 3.5 because it's certainly better than most Power Metal albums. That said, the songwriting could be more innovative and the vocals could reflect Jens' potential more.