DSG - Hellborn 3/5
1. Asylum god
2. The lie
3. Bleeding hell
4. Living for nothing
5. Left to die
7. The tyrant
8. When is it wicked
10. Sins and promises
11. Cold and diseased
12. No remorse
13. The voyage
After spending a few years out of the band circuit bettering his already ridiculous technical skills, the reception for David Shankle's return with DSG's 2003 debut, 'Ashes to ashes' was something of a muted one. It was a solid enough offering of neo-classical melodic power metal, but that crusty old truism levelled so often at guitar shredders was tossed around quite a bit – that what they have in incredible talent for playing, they so often lack in the ability to write memorable songs.
Another few years on and DSG are back in an almost completely revised form – the entire line-up other than Shankle himself have been replaced, and the music has been toughened up (notably, there is no keyboard player this time around) to a more traditional U.S.-style power metal sound.
While the sound has shifted quite notably – Shankle's low-strung 7-string guitar playing and the Blaze Bayley-like vocals of Dennis Hirschauer make sure of that – it is unfortunately the case that the songs on 'Hellborn' make for an only occasionally brilliant collection, with sweet moments of inspiration swamped in more numerable instances of banality.
"Bleeding hell" takes home the prize for being the only song on the CD that is seriously bad – musically it is nothing worse than rather bland, but the charming lyrics about extracting vigilante justice on a paedophile make for a truly painful listening experience. The rest of the songs tend to vary between being really quite good – see "Sins and promises" and "When is it wicked" – and a little forgettable.
While perhaps less at the forefront than before, Shankle's lead guitar playing is clearly the main focus of the CD, and while his fret-mangling speed is often stunningly impressive, there are plenty of occurrences throughout 'Hellborn' where his desire to stuff as many notes as humanly possible into every solo robs them of any emotion. The intro to "Sins and promises", for instance, could definitely benefit from just a little restraint.
That being said, the closing instrumental, "The voyage", featuring 4 massive solos from Shankle, Joe Stump, TD Clark and Michael Angelo Batio, and with no pretence of being anything other than a 7-minute shredding session, is easily one of the best songs on "Hellborn". The remarkable lead playing under the pre-chorus of "The lie" also sets it apart from anything else on the CD and is the sort of thing Shankle ought to be doing more of with his massive talent. Endless shredding can only get you so far on a song-based CD, and more effort in finding ways of working it into the songs (rather than just dumping a solo in between less inspired riffs) could provide that little spark of innovation needed to raise the bar overall for this band.
Recently, the DSG personnel shifted again, with the surprising addition of Power Quest keyboard maestro Steve Williams, and the not-so-surprising acquisition of Chity "well, I hadn't joined a band this week" Somapala on vocals. Perhaps this promises a return to the more Euro-centric sound of 'Ashes to ashes', but the most important thing the new version of the band will have to work on is crafting more noteworthy songs. 'Hellborn' is another solid but unspectacular offering that is unlikely to truly astound anyone beside diehard shred enthusiasts.
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