Dreamtale - Phoenix 3/5
1. Yesterday's news
2. Eyes of the clown
4. Failed states
5. Take what the heavens create
6. Great shadow
7. No angels no more
8. Faceless men
10. The vigilante
It is almost seems to be an inevitability with the wave of Finnish metal bands from the late 90s onwards that after a few CDs their style will change to something weaker compared to that of their early work. Sonata Arctica, Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Twilightning and Norther have all in recent years abandoned their original power metal sound to some degree or another, and it leaves a sense of foreboding whenever another band from their scene has a new CD in the offing.
Thankfully, Dreamtale have not made a drastic stylistic change with their 4th CD, and while there are some worrying hints that something unsavoury may be around the corner on their next release, 'Phoenix' is an above average power metal collection that belies the mass changes to the band's line-up over the last couple of years.
Of course, in what has become Dreamtale tradition, vocalist Jarkko Ahola (best known for his work in the Eurovision-bothering Terasbetoni) is gone after only one CD, but it really has been all-change time following 2005's 'Difference', and the band's entire line-up other than founding guitarist Rami Keränen and bass player Pasi Ristolainen have been replaced.
'Difference' saw some attempts from Dreamtale to get away from exclusively playing in the Sonata Arctica (and by extension, Stratovarius) style, with increased symphonic elements and minor folkish influences being added to the mix. Strangely though, both of these aspects have been largely excised from the music on 'Phoenix', with another batch of new influences coming to the fore, and these unfortunately are often the cause of the CD's biggest problems.
Most of the songs are built in the style of later Nocturnal Rites (before they went off the deep end on 'The 8th sin'), a cross between power metal and anthemic, midtempo hard rock. The smoother tones of new singer Erkki Seppänen contribute significantly to this vibe, and while his voice is more versatile than that of Ahola he lacks some of his predecessor's character.
Following the arrival of Akseli Kaasalainen for his debut with Dreamtale, the style of keyboard playing has been largely revamped on the less familiar-sounding songs, and overall has a much larger role in the final product than before. Stacked to the front of the mix on plenty of songs, the keyboards are largely a welcome but occasionally overbearing presence, and are also partially responsible for a couple of baffling missteps. The opening section to "Payback" is an example the most eye-rolling of 'spooky keyboard' effects, and while it doesn't really harm the song, it only hints at what is to come on the following track. This song is "Failed states", a completely disastrous mix of 'Century child'-era Nightwish and preposterous Euro-dance. Quite what Dreamtale were thinking of with this abortion is beyond me, and it can only be hoped it is not a portent of what is to come from them in the future.
A couple of throwaway songs, "Take what the heavens create" and the ballad "No angels no more" also bring 'Phoenix' down a bit, but credit is due for the more successful attempts at branching into new territory that are to be heard. "Great shadow" is the longest and most varied song on the CD, opening with on a pummelling riff and constantly referring back to an inspired chorus accented strongly by some choir vocals.
The real winners on the CD though – strangely loaded towards the end – are the traditional, light-speed power metal songs. "Firebird" is absolutely stunning, a melting pot of all the best elements of Sonata Arctica, Freedom Call and early Nocturnal Rites, featuring an unforgettable chorus and an outstanding guitar-and-keyboard solo section. For this reason it is advisable to get the Japanese version of the CD with 2 additional songs at the end, of which the brilliant "Lady dragon" is worth the extra money on its own.
On some levels, 'Phoenix' is maybe comparable to Children of Bodom's 'Hate crew deathroll' – while weaker overall than older material and absorbing some unwanted new additions to the formula, it ought to be close enough to the band's recognised style for fans to appreciate it. Of course in retrospect, 'Hate crew deathroll' was also the warning shot before Bodom really went for in terms of a style change. One can only hope that 'Phoenix' will not be one day looked back on in the same terms.
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