Endangered Reign - Fractured reality 3/5

Reviewed: 5-1-10


1. Edge of the unreal
2. Fractured reality
3. Mind messiah
4. Tears of glass
5. Absence of time
6. Lost in the grey
7. Soul cages
8. Descend
9. Last laugh
10. Bleeding Jericho

Endangered Reign are the kind of endearing underdog band that are easy to root for. Hailing from the frozen desolate wastelands of Michigan, the band have been toiling under the radar for a decade, releasing 3 CDs during that span. Judging by their press photo, these guys are no spring chickens (then again, who among us is?), but are short-haired workaday johnnies, family men who refuse to allow their passion for heavy metal music to be extinguished. There's no glamor or glory in this path. Fame and fortune aren't lurking around the bend. If you're not doing it for the love of the game, then you shouldn't be doing it at all. And by all appearances, Endangered Reign really do love the game, given that their list of influences includes non-mainstream European acts like Communic, Evergrey, Tad Morose, Brainstorm, and Angel Dust, alongside the usual assortment of Metallicas, Iron Maidens, and Megadeths.

The strongest initial impression that 'Fractured reality' conveys is just how professional the entire package is. The top-notch, crunchy and full production belies its undoubtedly shoestring-budget nature. The striking cover artwork fits the title well, and looks suitable for gracing a slick Century Media release. Musically, the searing guitar leads of Marc Ridenour and Brian Newman, as well as the tight rhythm section, demonstrate that Endangered Reign have chops aplenty. And, most importantly, the band appear to have devoted a great deal of time to the songwriting process, from the thoughtful lyrics to the obvious efforts to craft hooky choruses mixed with pounding rhythms and fiery guitar work. On several tracks (most notably "Fractured reality", "Tears of glass", and "Descend"), everything coalesces perfectly and the results are quite impressive. This is an enjoyable 44-minute listen from a talented band with some fine playing skills and musical ideas.

Having said all that, I do have some reservations about 'Fractured reality'. For starters, this CD represents a bit of a stylistic change for the band, as Endangered Reign utilized a more old-school approach on their predecessor release, 2005's 'Unborn legacies'. I would have liked to see them keep a firmer grasp in that style, rather than trying to embrace a more current vibe on 'Fractured reality' by calling themselves a "modern metal band" with an "ultra heavy" sound (I guess referring to the down-tuned guitars). Also, the lack of variety in tempos on 'Fractured reality' is a hindrance, as most songs plod along in midtempo with very few speed breaks and a couple of slower passages. Finally, there's the issue of vocals. New singer Anthony Cunningham is undoubtedly a significant upgrade over guitarist Ridenour (who handled lead vocals himself on the 'Unborn legacies' CD before wisely stepping away from the mike on this new release), but he's surely limited and sometimes exceeds his range. Especially difficult to listen to is the acoustic ballad "Last laugh", where Cunningham's voice simply has no place to hide in the music. More generally, he adopts this tough-guy edge to his voice that just sounds strained sometimes. Cunningham's certainly not an awful singer, by any stretch of the imagination, but with such straightforward mid-paced songwriting, a top-notch vocalist is an absolute must to raise the interest level in the material.

I'm going to end this review on the same note that it began. Endangered Reign are deserving of respect and admiration. They've put their best foot forward with a competent and professional CD that is certainly not lacking in highlights, either in the songwriting or in the performances. It may not entirely click for me, but there's a lot to like about 'Fractured reality', especially if you're enchanted by the Nevermore/Communic/Brainstorm branch of the heavy metal family tree.




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