Epinikion - s/t 2.5/5
1. The battlefield (intro)
2. The conqueror
4. The sword
5. The sorcerer
6. The beast
9. The city of heroes
You have to give it to certain power metal bands - either they are completely oblivious to the 'geek' stigma attached to the cheesier side of the subgenre, or they just don't give a toss and get on with it regardless.
Certainly, bands like Epinikion don't do power metal any favours in the credibility stakes – the 3 members, all under World of Warcraft-type pseudonyms, have forgone a photo shoot in favour of having a fantasy artist draw portraits of them. Pretty silly, but in the end image means less than nothing (although it of course goes without saying that they play bombastic, Rhapsody-inspired metal) and the quality of a band's songs should speak for itself.
This new Ukrainian band have a fairly unusual set-up, with a female singer (known to the band as The Encountress and for the rest of this review as 'the vocalist') and 2 other members of unspecified designation. Whether it is a keyboard player and a guitarist doubling up on bass or a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist is unclear (my money would be on the former) and in truth makes little impact on the overall sound - the production on this self-released debut CD is admirably clear, but also somewhat flat and stifled.
Despite the music on the whole being somewhat generic and occasionally jaded, the vocal performance gives the band a fairly unique position, but unfortunately not exactly in a good way. Female vocalists in power metal generally mean either early Nightwish-style operatic vocals or more smooth gothic tones. Epinikion's vocalist, though, performs just as a regular male power metal vocalist would but while occasionally acceptable, her voice is more often than not irritating and even unintentionally hilarious.
During the choruses, when her voice is allowed to soar, she is usually at her best, but many a verse on the CD suffers terribly from her squeaky, nasally tones, and in the too-frequent ballads, she sounds more like a girl pop singer than anything else.
The lead guitar and keyboards are as well played as you would expect from a band of this sort, with the best parts of the CD more often than not being the interplay between the 2 instruments. These passages are what give hope for the future for Epinikion.
The keyboard use is actually a little more sparse than would be expected – often the sound comes across more like Stratovarius or early Sonata Arctica than the fully-blown symphonic sound the band are clearly aiming for. A studio-backed CD with a proper recording budget would probably see these elements increase tenfold, but whether that would be a good thing is debatable. A little more colour would probably improve the songs to a degree, but on the other hand swamping out the already underdeveloped rhythm guitar and bass parts would probably not be favourable.
But in the end, as is so often the case, it always leads back to the vocals, and the good work that is done here is often undermined by the performance of the vocalist.
Though there are too many ballads (3 of the 8 full tracks, one of which being a piano piece that barely scrapes past interlude status) which stop the CD from flowing freely and making for an interrupted listening experience, there is enough promise to at least be optimistic for future releases. The songs need more work on the verses – the choruses and instrumental parts are fine as they are – and the vocalist will have to either shape up or ship out, but with a pair of talented musicians calling the shots, they certainly have the potential for something better. This first CD is worth a listen, but there is a lot of work to be done for Epinikion to come close to being considered serious contenders.
Follow-up note: This was reviewed from mp3 files available from the band's home-page, but it has since been re-mastered and will be released on CD through Stormspell Records in 2008, and apparently the sound quality is better.
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