Review Summary: All your base.
Officially formed in 1993, Spanish power metallers Dark Moor have been consistently releasing material since their moderately successful 1999 debut. They gained a good deal of traction in the power metal scene after the release of 2 more generally well-received LPs in the early 2000s, but flamed out in 2003 after popular vocalist Elisa Martin left the band due to artistic differences of some sort. Despite picking up new frontman Alfred Romero and further recording and touring, Dark Moor generally fell out of favor with the power metal scene after Martin’s departure, and haven’t released anything of notable critical or commercial relevance in a decade or so. Consequently, Dark Moor was just about the last band I expected to release material of any interest this year, but the Spaniards have proved me wrong in just about the most bizarre way possible.
The first noteworthy change of pace is that Project X
is not really a power metal album at all; in fact, it bears very little resemblance to the genre whatsoever. With that being said, pinpointing a singular genre in which this record resides would be near impossible, but the best comparison I can make would be that it sounds a bit like Kansas
decided to release an egregiously cheesy symphonic prog rock opera following the plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
What would make a mediocre, aging power metal act attempt to release an album like Project X
is a mystery to me, although this is far from the most surprising aspect of the whole ordeal; no, the most mind-boggling thing about Project X
is not that it exists, but that it works. Incredibly, almost impossibly, Dark Moor stick the landing almost perfectly.
Despite the utter pretentiousness and borderline absurdity that oozes from its every pore, much of Project X
just sounds damn good.
From the phenomenal crescendo of “Beyond the Stars” to the bizarre Broadway-esque opening to “There’s Something in the Skies,” Dark Moor pulls off just about everything they attempt, which is especially noteworthy due to the sheer number of risks the band takes. With that being said, many will have trouble stomaching the record’s less adventurous moments, such as the 5-minute ballad “I Want to Believe,” where Romero’s vocals are almost painfully earnest, therefore leading the track to border on cringe-worthy at times.
Project X’s most bizarre moment, however, is the outro to “Imperial Earth,” where some sort of spoken-word conversation takes place (in broken English, of course) between the “all your base are belong to us” guy and a gentleman with a thick Spanish accent. The exchange, lasting a ridiculous 30 seconds, quite literally sounds more like the introduction to the aforementioned Internet meme than a professionally recorded and released piece of music. For just about any other album, such an absurd decision would be absolutely unforgivable, but the unending oddity that permeates from Project X makes those fateful 30 seconds a little
less jarring. Hell, I can almost understand what the band was going for, but the execution could not possibly have been any worse.
Aliens: Don't attack, please.
We accept all conditions with deferential respect.
The Earth: Not enough. Too late. New conditions.
And we're afraid you couldn't accomplish them.
Aliens: Why? What's the matter?
The Earth: Now, we need... your planet's core
Aliens: Caution! Caution!
Aliens: Nuclear launch detected!*
Thankfully, Dark Moor recover immediately with “Gabriel,” Project X's
most upbeat and accessible track, easily a highlight of the album. Following Gabriel, closing track “There’s Something in the Skies,” which I previously mentioned in passing due to its surprisingly well-executed Broadway introduction, is an 8-minute behemoth of a track that, while accomplishing its purpose as a climactic resolution, would have benefited substantially from having some fat trimmed around the edges. In fact, on my first listen, I was starting to get a bit miffed with the same lines and chords being repeated ad nauseam; however, with about 2 minutes remaining, a gritty, shredding guitar solo comes out of nowhere to save the day and end the album with one of its best moments. Again, though the solo is a bit of an odd touch, this is an album that survives and thrives on the odd. If Project X
was any more conventional, it would be a spectacular failure; its unrelenting, shameless unconventionality is what keeps it afloat.
The downside to this, however, is that Project X
will be of little use to those who have no interest in adding a potentially lethal helping of cheese to their diets. Hell, it’s a concept album about aliens; not everyone will be able to even stomach such a ludicrous conception, much less take it seriously. With that being said, those who do embrace Dark Moor’s latest offering will find a lot to like, from sweeping crescendos to expertly implemented orchestration to a surprisingly superb vocal performance. As far as prog rock goes, Dark Moor aren’t going to dethrone the greats any time soon, but the band as a whole have conceived a record that’s not only a ton of fun, but easily their best in over a decade.
*Lyrics courtesy of flashlyrics.com