Thursday, April 28, 2011

InnerWish - No Turning Back (2010)

There's something to be said for reliability and consistency.  As much change as we experience in life, and as averse to that change as we often become, having something or someone you can rely on is not only important, but also offers a sense of security.  Regardless of the circumstances, there are some things that never change.  As the adage goes, the two constant things in life are death and taxes.  I'd posit a third constant: the existence, henceforth, of melodic power metal.  This style, now well into it's 3rd full decade of existence, has proven to be a stalwart of metal music.  While some lament this style for it's overly "happy" or "positive" sound, I would say to those detractors that another adage applies - "it takes all kinds".  Thankfully, the detractors haven't killed off the movement, because some truly excellent music has been released under this banner over the last 20-25 years, much specifically in the last 15.  As the years have passed, bands waving the power metal flag have either become increasingly talented and stand out from the rather large contingent of artists in this genre, or they retread territory so completely that they make themselves completely irrelevant in the process.  The former is true of Greece's InnerWish.

Where many bands adopt an "also ran" approach of interpreting their influences to the point of nearly plagiarism, InnerWish takes pages from the volumes written by the greats of the genre and injects enough of their own personality and style to where it becomes much more their own affair, solidifying themselves as a legitimate force in the scene, versus just another "me too" outfit.  While they occasionally wear their influences a bit too proudly on their sleeves, they also prove that they have enough tricks up said sleeves to make their music their own.  This brings us to the band's 4th overall studio album, "No Turning Back".  Having not heard the band's previous material, I can only speculate that this is an improvement over what's come before, but instead must compare this to other bands of the same ilk.

Musically, this album packs a major punch.  Guitars crunch with authority (thanks for axe-slingers  Thimios Krikos and Manolis Tsigos)and cut a clear path through each song as strong riffs are abundant in nearly every track.  As mentioned before, while some power metal is accused of being too light, this stuff is sufficiently heavy and driving to avoid that pitfall.  In addition, the guitar solos scream and move effectively in each track they are employed, sometimes played at full speed, other times utilizing much melody and feeling instead, striking a nice contrast between the two soloing styles.  Bass guitar (provided by Antonis Mazarakis), the usual casualty of metal, is audible here, though still not totally discernible in the mix.  However, the thumping bass lines work with the material and don't detract from the rest of the instrumentation.  Drumming is excellent as well, adding the right combination of driving beats, flashy rolls and breaks, and double bass driven fast rhythms.  While Fragkiskos Samoilis' drumming could be accused of being somewhat rote for this style, it's still executed well and does exactly what it needs to do in context with the material at hand.  Vocally, Babis Alexandropoulos does a great job.  He is gritty when it makes sense, ultra-melodic when needed, and flows nicely between the two.  He also harmonizes well with himself, with multi-layered harmonies recording in various chorus sections in several tracks.  Atmospherics and keyboards by George Georgiou are used tastefully and don't dominate the record, ala Sonata Arctica.  Instead, keyboards become an atmospheric element, occasionally adding a piano or background choral flourish that just gives the songs that extra element.  While keyboards could have been employed a bit more, such as with bands like Wingdom or Mehida, they competently add a nice element to the mix.

Of course, InnerWish trudge through all the typical power metal cliche's, but at least approach some of the material with a slightly fresh perspective, so not all the songs come across as complete retreads of past power metal themes.  Instead, songs like the lead-off single "Burning Desires" offer a perspective on the "be careful what you wish for" type of mentality.  However, the majority of songs on the album don't stray far from the power metal lyrical path, as evidenced by songs like "Sirens", "Lawmaker", "Welcome To My World" and "Kingdom of Our Prime".  The thing to note, however, is that the lyrics are mostly well-written within that context, so you won't feel like you're listening to a 3rd or 4th rate power metal band going through the motions.  No, it's not Rhapsody, but it's not Hammerfall either.

So are there any downsides to this album?  Just a couple minor quibbles, really.  A couple of songs wear the bands' influences perhaps a bit too comfortably on their sleeves.  Namely that "Save Us" reminded me a bit too much of Keepers-era Helloween, and "Last Breath" would have fit comfortably on Hammerfall's "Legacy of Kings" album alongside the other anthemic tracks on that release.  In addition, "Live For My Own" (the ballad at the end) has a bit too much of the patented Hammerfall ballad cheese that seems to be prevalent on a lot of albums of this type.  It's not a bad song, by any means - actually it's quite strong - it's just that this kind of overwrought, emotional ballad has become as much a staple of the genre in the way that the power ballad became a near-requirement on every "hair metal" album in the late 80's and early 90's.  My only other complaint is that the album's title is so cliche, and I don't feel as though "No Turning Back" is as encompasingly representative of the band's sound and capabilities as, say, "Lawmaker" or "Welcome To My World" (admittedly as cliche).  Again, that's a small complaint in the grand scheme of things.

I must make special mention of the packaging and the booklet - Ulterium Records has gone the extra mile with a beautifully laid out booklet with easy to read lyrics, nice artwork, and just a really professional package.  In these times of cheap downloads and budget-priced titles, it's the effort put into something like this that truly makes purchasing the physical CD still worthwhile to more than just collectors and audiophiles like myself.  That, and the fact that this CD is so immaculately produced that owning the CD (or the picture-disc vinyl, which I have yet to nab as of this writing) is worth the price.  I spun this disc for weeks on end during my original preparation for the review, and having put it away and come back to it several times, it still sounds fresh.  This is the hallmark of a great album, and one that will have staying power.  I hope that InnerWish can break free from the droves of power metal bands vying for your hard-earned dollar, because this is power metal done right, plain and simple.  Highly recommended.


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