Custard - Forces remain 3.5/5
1. Ancient views
2. The dragonslayer
4. Heaven strikes
5. Poke the flames
6. Enter the world
8. Kind of peace
9. Angel of sorrow
10. Final stand
11. For the cross
12. God of storm
13. Forces remain
Custard were never a band with the most stable of line-ups, but after 2005's most satisfactory 'Wheels of time' it all looked to be in danger of falling apart for the long-running German outfit. An incessant series of comings and goings amazingly left drummer Chris Klapper as the only survivor from that CD's line-up, and were it not for the return of founding bass player Michael Marquardt we would effectively be looking at a completely different band for this delayed follow-up.
Even with the return of a founder and former key songwriter, the gradual exodus of band members has left 'Forces remain' with a lot to live up to. Charismatic vocalist Guido Brieke is certainly a tough act to follow, and guitarist Karsten Knüppel was a key member of the band's dynamic, having been among their number for many a year. But perhaps most important is the loss of Holger Simon, the guitarist who only played on the preceding CD but in fact also wrote about 80% of the music on what was a very impressive offering.
But enough foreplay – in simplest terms, 'Forces remain' is another terrific power metal offering from Custard (whatever relevance the ever-questionable band name may have to this particular set of musicians) and the new and returning members acquit themselves very well indeed. I'm not sure if it was just because it's the way the wind seems to be blowing these days, but for some reason my gut told me to prepare for another enduring power metal band transitioning into dumbed-down hard rock. From the instant the opening riff of 'The dragonslayer' came out swinging though, these fears were dispelled. A classic opening track, it survives a slightly dodgy choir vocal section to get 'Forces remain' off to an absolute flyer, with some impressive soloing that see the new guitarists hit the ground running.
The thundering gallop of this opening track is probably not consistently matched anywhere else on the CD, but this isn't cause for concern. As with their previous releases, Custard manage to seem instantly familiar without ever being pinned down to sounding exactly like a single other band. Their willingness to jump styles (while staying within the admittedly quite narrow European power metal spectrum) is to their credit and gives an aura of variety to their treks down some well-trodden musical paths.
Despite the sniggersome title, "Poke the flames" is a particularly impressive piece of midtempo atmosphere, and is one of the tracks where new vocalist Olli Strasser really impresses. Like Brieke, he has a likeably unusual voice and, while he lacks some of the off-the-wall charms of his predecessor, his debut performance is a commendable one. He even manages to save what would be a fairly mundane pair of piano tracks (used as an interlude and outro) with his chams, and thus ensures that there is nothing throwaway on the CD.
'Forces remain' tends to vary between these slightly slower efforts and some speedier songs that never quite match pace with the opener, with only a few slightly weak and forgettable moments along the way. Only the cumbersome, overlong ballad "Kind of peace" (basically they play the song twice, with distortion the 2nd time round and a solo in the middle) with its obvious and slightly awkward lyrics threatens to derail things, but it proves to be a stumble that is not repeated.
The final full song before the outro and title track is "God of storm" (actually a reworking of a much older Custard song) and it makes for a very good closer, brimming with vigour and bombast, and ends the CD as well as "The dragonslayer" started it, albeit in a completely different way.
What Custard have done is provide another comfortable slab of melodic power metal that is predictable and clichéd in all the right ways, and in a scene populated with the likes of Edguy, Nocturnal Rites, and (shiver) Twilightning all intent on 'progressing' that is a welcome thing indeed. When all the uncertainties they have faced over the last few years are taken into account, the achievement becomes even more commendable. Hats off to them.
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