Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Harmony - Theatre Of Redemption (2014)

I'm always nervous when a band comes off a really strong release, and then for whatever reason, makes a big change in the line-up.  These changes are often necessary, either due to stability (or lack thereof) within a band, or sometimes, a member needs to leave a group for various personal and/or professional reasons.  Whatever the impetus for change, fans of the band in its previous incarnation either have to hope that the band will carry on and be as good (or better) than they were, or perhaps even fold, since they'll have little chance to match what they've done in the past.

I'm a big Harmony fan.  I dug the End Of My Road EP, and the subsequent album Chapter II: The Aftermath.  I'd say more than enjoyed, because Chapter II is one of my favorite power metal albums of all time, and I rather thought vocalist Henrik Bath was a perfect fit for the band's sound.  Truth be told, I preferred his work with Harmony to what he's done on the flipside with Darkwater.  I've always felt as though Darkwater is just shy of greatness, but the songs just haven't quite hit me the way that Harmony's material did.  So if Henrik left Harmony to focus on Darkwater, let's just hope that he brings his "A" game on the next album, because his departure from Harmony hurt my heart a little.

Having said that, Harmony scored a major win with Henrik's replacement, former Lost Horizon vocalist Daniel Heiman.  It's not clear whether or not he'll be joining as a permanent member or just provided session vocals, but it's no secret that in the early 2000's, Lost Horizon set the power metal world on fire with both "Awakening the World" and "A Flame to the Ground Beneath".  They were to be the "next big thing" in the power metal scene, after Hammerfall helped to resuscitate the genre in the mid-late 90's.  Twas not to be, however, and Daniel lent his vocal talent to both Heed and Crystal Eyes in the mid 2000's.  He's been relatively quiet since then, doing an occasional guest vocal, but without a major project to attach his name to.  After hearing his performance on this latest Harmony album, I'd recommend he stick with these guys.

Immediately, the recognizable guitar sound of Markus Sigfridsson is present.  He has cultivated a great guitar tone that perfectly combines a heavy, crunchy sound, while retaining a clarity that allows the riffs and melodies to really shine.  It also gives his solos a great sound that hearkens back to the golden age of metal (I'll say that's the 1980's).  He also employs a nice acoustic guitar sound in "You Are" as well, and uses a couple other textures throughout the album where there's less distortion (or at times none), for a nice effect.  Thundering bass is handled by Raphael Dafras (Almah), and he's solid as always.  Harmony's production (handled by the band, as well as Fredrik Nordstr√∂m & Thomas Johansson) doesn't lend itself to overly audible bass lines, and relegates it to more under the radar, but there are moments (like during the post-chorus section of "Hands Of Time") where the bass takes more center stage.  Drumming is handled by one Tobias Enbert, and as usual, he brings solid drumming that stresses rhythm over technicality and speed, but he ramps up the pace when necessary, and provides consistency throughout the album.  Newcomer John Svensson does a fine job on keyboards, adding the symphonic bits here and there where they make sense, and adding that additional melody line in places where the guitar is spending more time on driving riffs than establishing the base melody.  He does a fine job here with the material.

Vocally, Daniel Heiman is on point, though noticeably more reserved than we heard him on either Lost Horizon album.  I doesn't sound as though his voice has lost a step, so perhaps he (and/or the band) didn't feel the material here called for quite as flamboyant a performance as before.  He sounds excellent here, however, with a fair degree of dynamics, range, and emotion on display.  He goes up quite high on several occasions, and his smooth voice really blends well with the material on this album.  He's no stranger to Harmony, having contributed some backing vocals to the previous album, as well as a guest spot on the Chapter II song "Inner Peace".  Daniel's vocals are a different breed than Henrik's, so it will take some getting used to, but he really does a good job of putting his own stamp on the Harmony sound with his performance here.

My biggest hangup with the album is going to be the loss of Henrik Bath as vocalist for the band, because I really felt as though his unique voice was one of the strengths of Harmony that set them apart from the rest of the power metal pack.  Adding Daniel Heiman gives them the band a boost of name recognition, and he does a great job, but I'm left wondering what this material might have sounded like with Henrik singing atop the songs.  In addition, the delineation of sound between Darkwater and Harmony has always been that Darkwater was the band for the more mid-paced, progressive material, and Harmony was the band for the more straight-forward, European power metal material.  The lines are slightly more blurred here, as this material leans ever so slightly back in the prog direction, though only as compared to its predecessor.  This is either a good thing or a band thing, dependent on whether you like Harmony best as a prog/power band, or a straight up power band.  For me, I lean toward the more power side, as their progressive leanings have not been a draw from my perspective.  In addition, the songs here just don't hit me the way those on Chapter II: The Aftermath have.  Of course, that album came at a time when I was seeking out power metal in quantity, and it stood out from the pack.  Having reviewed a number of albums in the genre in the last several years, and purchased several, as well as receiving review copy of nearly that many, I've been deluged somewhat by the genre.  That may be coloring my opinion of the album as well.

At the end of the day, this is a high quality release from Harmony that just misses the mark for me personally, but should please fans of the genre.  Power metal aficionados should already be familiar with the Harmony name, and with the addition of Daniel Heiman at the vocal helm, that additional name recognition should help boost the band's profile beyond its current reach.  The songs are all well done, though they're not sticking with me quite as quickly as the band's previous material has, though admittedly that's partly my own disappointment in the vocal changes.  Still, Harmony's 3rd album is one they can and should be proud of, and will continue to draw accolades and expand their listener base.  As a fan of the band, I'll continue to follow what they do.  They just need to shore up the vocal side of the house and either get Daniel to stick around, or find someone who fits their sound & style who can carry the band into the future.  Recommended.


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