Friday, April 11, 2014

Azoria - Seasons Change (2014)

Power metal is a vastly overcrowded field.  If you're going to get noticed, you have to do one of two things.  Either do something unique and bring your own flavor to it, or do it very, very well.  When you can't do one or both of those things, chances are, you're going to go largely unnoticed.  There are a lot of groups that become nothing more than a footnote in metal history, if they make enough impact to even accomplish that.

Where does Azoria fit into this spectrum?  At this moment, they're in the minor footnote category.  To be fair, this is only their debut, and they can only go up from here.  Still, it's disheartening to hear bands with talent and skill that just can't rise above the mediocrity of the material.  It's even more disappointing when you have a talented host of vocalists guesting on the album that should elevate the material.

First and foremost, I must talk about the guitar tone.  I'm not sure if it's Alex Oriz, or Simon J, but the riff tone is kind of flat.  This is an album that mixes traditional and power metal styles, so I can understand why they're not going for an overly crunchy sound, but this just isn't as heavy as I would expect from an album like this, especially in the year 2014.  It's got some weight to it, but I just don't get the same satisfaction from the guitar sound/feel as I should.  It sounds fine, but I want more than "fine".  I want the guitar to grab me, because that's the crux of the metal sound, but this just doesn't.  I'm not sure whether the guitar is just over processed or over produced, or just what the issue is, but it bugs me.  Guitar solos sound good, generally, and are reasonably well done, but they're not resonating with me much, either.  Bass guitar by Christopher Davidsson is, thankfully, not buried in the mix, and it does its job, but not much more than that.  Drum work by Emil Eriksson is solid and well played, but like most metal drummers that serve the songs and don't branch out much, his work is mostly indistinguishable from a dozen or so other trad/power metal drummers.

Vocally, the album should be an exciting prospect because there are 6 different vocalists that lend their talents here.  Unfortunately, this is a mixed bag.  Tommy ReinXeed's performance feels "phoned in", like he did his quick take in the studio a couple times and called it good, so for the 1st 2 songs on the album, it's vocally a bit weak, considering the guy handling much of the singing.  Mark Gunnardo brings a lead vocal to "Inside My Heart", but when you take a weak power ballad and add vanilla vocals singing relatively banal lyrics, you don't get much back.  Mikael Dahl sound reasonably good here, but the title track doesn't do much for me, though it's perhaps a bit more anthemic and memorable than the rest of the material.  "Prophecy" and "To The Land of Glory" have Mike Andersson (Fullforce/Cloudscape) on vocals, but the songs aren't lighting a fire under me like they should.  "When You Sleep" brings things up a notch, both because the song is more well written than previous tracks, and because vocalist Matilda Eriksson sounds pretty decent here.  Mark Gunnardo sounds a bit more commanding on "Love It Loud", and as a typical "hail metal, metal rules" kind of anthem, it works, even if it's a bit too Manowar-esque.  Snowy Shaw provides vocals on the final 2 tracks, "Starlight" and "Peace of Mind".  I like the unique sound of Snowy's voice and his odd timbre, so at least vocally he closes the album out with something a bit more exciting than before, and it sounds as though he put some effort into the performance, which helps the relatively mediocre material rise above a bit.

Sadly, Azoria are in danger of being swept under the rug.  There's nothing inherently "wrong" with "Seasons Change" as an album, but the songs just don't stay with me at all.  I expect that from brutal death metal and some black metal, because those genres can get by at times on sheer heaviness, atmosphere, and attitude.  Traditional heavy metal and power metal require a bit more effort in the songwriting, because when you have someone singing words that will generally be discernible with a cursory listen, the songs need to be strong, the vocals need to have passion and power, and the performances need to resonate.  I don't feel that at all with this album.  Other folks may disagree, but I didn't get a kick out of this at all.  I'd consider it sub-standard metal, from a band that is obviously talented, but needs to put a lot more effort into the songwriting, performance, recording, and overall feel of their material before it will really leave a mark.  If you can't get enough metal and have to have everything you can get your hands on, you may enjoy this, but certainly don't add it to your list over anything that the heavyweight bands are releasing this year, and certainly not over past releases that have garnered praise that you just haven't picked up yet.  Not recommended.


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