Review Summary: Deep down we strive to be more than we are.
Seventh Wonder haven’t had the easiest time breaking into the spotlight. From a debut that did little to reward curious listeners, to three stellar albums released within two years of each other, to an eight-year LP hiatus--likely due to singer Tommy Karevik joining the more established Kamelot in 2012, it would seem that timing (outside of music) hasn’t been one of the band’s strong points. As such, 2018’s Tiara
has been a long time coming. 2010 was the last time Seventh Wonder graced us with a new collection of tracks, and if the breadcrumb singles “Inner Enemy” and “The Promise” released between then and now were any indication, then whatever followed would undoubtedly bring the goods. And while there are certainly goods to enjoy, they’re less savory and fulfilling than what fans may expect.
is hardly a departure from previous Seventh Wonder outputs, with “The Everones” coming into the fray a la “Wiseman” from The Great Escape, right down to the opening guitar/synth rhythm. It instills an immediate sense of deja vu, which is less than ideal when attempting to be as objective as possible. This is compounded by the track’s slower tempo and less dynamic production when compared against its spiritual predecessor. Once we move past this distracting intro, Tiara
quickly unfurls into what could be described as somewhat middling. Put more simply: “The Everones” leaves an appropriate first impression. When the allure of listening to new music wears off, what we’re left with during Tiara
’s first act is something that represents Seventh Wonder without doing them justice.
The good news is that this representation has a mostly sound foundation, mixing an accessible blend of progressive and power metal together with an extremely talented group of players. Even at its most extravagant, Tiara
remains collected and only indulges during the occasional climax. This results in a sound that strikes a nice balance between fun and intrigue, with just enough layers and experimentation to lure listeners in without coming across as overbearing. Yet Seventh Wonder already took a similar approach on their last album, with Tiara
taking the overall simplified strides even further. Subsequently, Tommy is the real star of the show this time, putting out a positively rousing performance that demonstrates his vocal chops in all the right ways, be it his high-pitch belt at the end of “Dream Machines” or impending cries which initiate “Exhale.” Yet simply calling Tommy the highlight highlights one of the album’s surprising shortcomings: production.
The issue isn’t that Tiara
sounds bad--it doesn’t, but that it comes across as stilted and bizarrely impotent. None of the instruments feel particularly lively in the mix, not even the synths and keys, which have a tendency to fog things up when they take over (see “Victorious”). Curiously, the kick drums are more pronounced than the bass guitar, which exists for the sake of a backbone rather than being a key player in the show. This is where the conflict of relativism versus objectivism once again comes to mind; should Tiara
be considered on its own merits, or held against its predecessors, which “broke the mold” so to speak with their mixes? Even the guitars, which often assume one or both roles in the bread and butter act of metal, come across as muffled. It may seem strange to put such an emphasis on how Tiara
’s production can get in the way of the music itself, especially since the album goes for a glossy veneer, but if the music isn’t allowed to shine in a way that it otherwise could or should, then it ends up feeling far less satisfying.
So let’s say the production was better, how then would Tiara
hold up? In all honesty, it’d still be a bit of a mess. Most of the best moments are individual stretches or sections, instead of entire tracks; “Dream Machines” and “Tiara’s Song” mix enjoyable verses with blase choruses, “Damnation Below” only gets interesting during its throwback-featuring climax, you get the idea. The closest Seventh Wonder come to complete standouts are “By the Light of Funeral Pyres,” with its frenzied pace being just right for its length (3:55) and the aforementioned “Exhale,” which closes the album on a high, prog-heavy note. What really bogs the album down when listened to in its entirety is the second act, comprised by the “Farewell” tracks and “The Truth,” because apparently having two ballads in a three-part suite simply doesn’t provide enough saccharine to go around. To be fair, ballads can and do have their place, but not back-to-back like poor to mediocre installments in a horror movie franchise. Best-case scenario the album gets a nice break; worst-case scenario things are bogged down so much that listeners may skip a few tracks due to annoyance and bored. Tiara
leans on the latter. Heavily so.
By the time Tiara
liberates us of its sloppy second act, we begin to get a glimpse of an album that could have truly been excellent. And while these last 20 minutes are enough to leave a positive final impression, they don’t exactly nullify the at-times confounding nature of the preceding 50 minutes. If Seventh Wonder had toned back the aforementioned ballad overdose and injected more vitality into the production, then Tiara
may have felt like a justified continuation after eight long years. Instead, the jump feels like going from an older, fully featured car to a newer base model; inviting and exciting, but neutered and fleeting.