Rebellion - Arise/From Ginnungagap to Ragnarok: The history of the vikings volume lll 3.5/5
At long last, German true metallers Rebellion have unleashed the 3rd and final chapter of their History of the vikings saga. I hold the first and 2nd installments in extremely high regard, as both 2005's 'Sagas of Iceland' and 2007's 'Miklagard' showcase an intoxicating brew of Grave Digger-styled stout-hearted German metal with a dollop of Iced Earth, topped by the versatile Matt Barlow-influenced vocals of Michael Seifert, with a massive production courtesy of ex-Grave Digger guitarist Uwe Lulis, and rich, thoughtful lyrics exploring obscure nooks and crannies of the vikings' history and legacy.
Unfortunately, 'Arise' is something of a good news/bad news proposition. The good news is that at this stage of their career, Rebellion probably couldn't make a poor CD if they tried. Their experience, skill and professionalism pretty much ensure that anything bearing the Rebellion imprimatur (post-'Born a rebel', that is) will be of high quality. Such is the case here. 'Arise' features 59 minutes of well-played, well-conceived traditional German heavy metal, with crushing guitars, passionate vocals, and catchy hymn-like choirs. If hard-edged Teutonic steel in the vein of Grave Digger, Mystic Prophecy and old Brainstorm is your thing, then 'Arise' will find a welcome place on your CD shelf.
So what's the bad news, then? Well, 'Arise' simply doesn't deliver the thrills, the shivers, and the headbanging replay value of its predecessors in the History of the vikings cycle. There's a subtle, but still perceptible, stylistic shift at work here. Sure, the Grave Digger fingerprints are still present (and how could they not be, given that Rebellion's key songwriter was also the driving force behind 'Tunes of war' and 'Knights of the cross'), but 'Arise' doesn't feel like a Grave Digger CD most of the time. The heaviness has been ratcheted up several notches, with a pummeling drum performance overshadowing the sometimes-bland, mechanical and repetitive riffing. In fact, Lulis has acknowledged in recent interviews that his personal tastes have taken a big step away from traditional power metal and now veer more towards heavier styles. For better or worse, that evolution shines through in the songwriting. Some may welcome the tweaked approach, but to me it makes the compositions less interesting because they are more rhythmic and less melodic in structure.
The altered focus has also affected Rebellion's vocals. To be sure, throughout much of 'Arise' Seifert still sounds much as he always did, delivering a masterful performance in his clear, expressive midrange. (Check out the epic "Thor", when Seifert sounds strikingly like a young Rob Halford in a few places. Wow!) However, given the lack of melody in the riffage, too often he has to carry the entire melodic core of the song, and I'm not sure his voice is always up to the challenge. Also, there are a few occasions where Seifert growls instead of singing, which strikes me as a real underutilization of his talents. Even Cookie Monster can growl decently, but few metal vocalists can sing with the sheer power and conviction of Seifert. Finally, the lyrics are infinitely less interesting this time, abandoning the fascinating tales of viking leaders and commoners from previous chapters in favor of a paint-by-number batch of texts about Norse mythology. Everyone from Wizard to Manowar to Amon Amarth to countless others has mined this territory so thoroughly over the years that hearing another CD about Odin and Loki and Asgard and Thor and whatever else just seems tired and played out at this point. It's a pity because bassist Tomi Gottlich has proven himself to be an adept lyricist in the past. There's just not much he can do to offer a fresh slant on this well-worn, picked-over material.
Before you go crossing 'Arise' off your purchase list (or your download list, as the case may be), don't let these last 2 paragraphs scare you. If you liked Rebellion before, the chances are quite good that you will still like them now. The music, songwriting and vocals are all instantly recognizable as Rebellion, and all are quality. But the tinkering that Rebellion have done around the margins has been for the worse, rather than for the better. I still enjoy 'Arise' quite a bit, but I can't imagine it elbowing 'Sagas of Iceland' or 'Miklagard' out of the player very often when I have a hankering for a History of the vikings-style asskicking.
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