Friday, October 4, 2013
Signum Regis - Exodus (2013)
Whether you believe in the Bible or not, or put any stock in the historical accounts it contains, it's an interesting book filled with many stories that have captivated people for centuries. Among the more famous and interesting is the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, with the familiar story of people in slavery to Pharaoh Ramses, and the various miracles performed by God via Moses, the humble Hebrew who grew up in the lap of luxury with the Egyptian Pharaoh, having been found by Pharaoh's wife and raised as his own son. Upon receiving a revelation from God, however, Moses rejects his life with Egypt to go back to his Hebrew people and culture. God then calls Moses to the task of forcing Pharaoh's hand to free the Israelites from slavery, only to confront his former "brother" Ramses and continue to beg for freedom as God ravaged the Egyptian land and people with several plagues designed to coerce Ramses into relenting, and allowing the Israelites to come out of bondage.
Various parts of the Exodus have been fodder for metal lyrics in the past, most notably Metallica's "Creeping Death", an interpretation of the final of the 10 plagues; the plague involving painting the door frames of each house with lamb's blood to avoid the angel of death claiming the life of the firstborn son of each household. Their excellent one-off track notwithstanding, the only other example of a full concept album involving the Israelite Exodus I'm familiar with is the debut of Amaseffer, a band actually from Israel and steeped in the stories of the Exodus from a cultural perspective. Their album, "Exodus - Slaves For Life" is purportedly the first in a trilogy of albums about Moses' life, the Exodus of the Israelites, and their entry into the Promised Land. Having released the album in 2008, however, there has been no follow-up, and I'm beginning to wonder if chapter 2 (currently titled "When the Lions Leave Their Den") is ever coming out.
In the meantime, bass guitarist and band leader Ronnie König (also of heavy/prog metallers Vindex and power metal band Symphonity) has put together the 3rd album under the Signum Regis moniker and has decided to employ several guest vocalists to give the album range and breadth for telling the tale of Moses and the Exodus. Given the scope of Moses' story that Amaseffer is tackling with their trilogy, it was wise of Ronnie to focus more specifically on the key parts of the story - Moses' call from God and subsequent mission, the struggle for freedom from slavery, the demand to Pharaoh, the exodus and escape from Egypt, and the resulting freedom and life outside of the clutches of Egyptian tyranny. What is evident from the opening guitar chords of "Enslaved" is that this will be a much different journey than what Amaseffer presents. Namely, rather than a lengthy progressive metal epic told with a lot of Hebrew language and cultural reference, this will be a succinct power/progressive metal album with a more straightforward retelling of the story.
I'm not familiar with Signum Regis' material prior to this release, but if this album's quality is any indication, it may well be worth looking into. The use of multiple vocalists is always a gamble, as sometimes it works brilliantly, and sometimes it falls flat. Here, I'm happy to report that the tactic works pretty well, for the most part. The songs all have a bit of a different feel, and each vocalist brings a certain tone and feel to their respective track(s), which helps give the album a lot more diversity and makes for an interesting listen. Had the album been full of more high-profile vocalists, I think the focus would have been too much on those voices, and not on the whole package, so drafting the talent he did was a smart move from Ronnie. It also means that the sound varies a bit from track to track, with some tracks asserting a more aggressive, heavy style, while some have a bit more sheen and come off as purposefully more epic in sound. As for the selection of vocalists themselves, they all add something to the album and all fit well within the framework.
As mentioned before, the guitar sound varies somewhat on the album, from the heavier, chunky riffing in "Let Us Go!" to the slightly more restrained tone in a track like "Song of Deliverance". Guitar work by Filip Koluš and Ado Kaláber is generally excellent throughout, with a handful of solos really shining (like the bendy, effects-laden solo in "Wrath of Pharaoh"). The riffing is more interesting here than in your typical substandard power metal fare, with some interesting riff work that twists about in places, and is more than just power chords strummed fast and furiously. If you hadn't already heard their work in Vindex, there's no doubt these gents have chops and technique to spare. Keyboards are provided by Ján Tupý, also of Vindex, and for the most part, they're quite subtle, content to keep the background to provide atmospherics, though he occasionally gets to break free from the scenery and add flourishes here and there that make them more than just wallflowers. Bass guitar is, of course, handled by Ronnie, and he does a good job propelling the tunes, with his bass in the mix where it's audible and able to be part of the proceedings. Ronnie doesn't show off too much, and often keeps time with the guitar lines, but occasionally (like in "Last Days of Egypt") he gets to provide the bulk of the rhythm while the guitars go off into whiz-bang mode. Drumming is courtesy of fellow Vindex alum Jaro Jančula, and is handled solidly. As with his work in Vindex, he does a good job of providing what the song needs and not getting in the way. He keeps time well and blends nicely with the group. His drum sound here is good as well, having a nice combination of well produced, yet still sounding organic. The drums have some oomph to them as well, so they don't sound overly "clicky" or hollow.
Vocally, the album is quite strong with all the various singers on here. In the list of vocalists that lend their talents are existing Signum Regis vocalist Göran Edman, Matt Smith of Theocracy, Michael Vescera (Obsession), Lance King (you name it, he's sung for them), Daisa Muhnoz (Vandroya & Soulspell), along with Eli Prinsen (Sacred Warrior, The Sacrificed), Samuel Nyman (Manimal), Thomas Winkler (Gloryhammer & Emerald, neither of which I'm familiar), and Mayo Petranin. The only vocalists from the list I have real familiarity with are Daisa, Matt Smith, and Eli Prinsen, so I can only guess who sings on the other tracks, but all vocalists sound good on their respective songs and bring a nice blend to the sound. As for the lyrics, they convey the story of the Exodus from both a personal perspective, as well as simply a storytelling bent, so it's nice to get things from both angles. The production here is good, as the instrumentation has enough separation so you can hear what's going on with each instrument, though I will say due to the number of sessions it took to record this album, there are some songs that have slightly less polish to the final product, and others that sound as though time was spent sanding off the rough edges to give it that butter-smooth feel like latter day Blind Guardian, where the heaviness is slightly diminished by how shiny it all is. It's not overly distracting, but still noticeable.
At the end of the day, this is a quality album that will please fans of power metal and especially those who like these kinds of collaborations, because it allows the vocalists to do their thing in their own way. One almost wonders if the songs were written with some of these specific vocalists in mind, because they come off sounding as though they were designed for a certain vocalist's talents or approach. Specifically, "Wrath of Pharaoh", "The Ten Plagues", "Song Of Deliverance", and "Sole Survivor" all sound as if they were tailor-made with the vocalist in mind, because they blend so well into those settings. I'd say too well, in the case of Matt Smith, as his performance sounds just a bit more restrained than he normally is with Theocracy. "Mountain of God" being the bonus track is a bit strange, as it fits in with the theme (Moses on the mountain receiving the ten commandments), but this is a small thing. The melodies on the album may not be quite as memorable as I'd like, but the enthusiastic performances, quality playing, and overall great sound partially make up for that. I'd recommend this for fans of power metal who like more than just speedy, double-bass ridden fodder, and especially to enthusiasts of history and Hebrew culture, and metal fans in general looking for something a bit outside their comfort zone.