Skylark - Divine gates part lll/The last gate 4.5/5
2. The scream
3. Soul of the warrior
4. Dying inside
6. Believe in love
7. All is wrong
9. The heaven church
10. A story not to tell
11. Mt. Fuji (bonus track)
Everything Skylark has done in their career thus far has been working up to their 8th CD, 'Divine gates part lll/The last gate', a near masterpiece that's been an enormous surprise. We all knew this well known and unique Italian symphonic power metal band could do it, but different things held them back throughout their discography; whether it was the average vocals of former/long-time vocalist Fabio Dozzo, a poor production (which hit a low point on 'Wings'), or inconsistency in the songwriting department ('The princess' day', or again 'Wings', being good examples of their weakest material). Rest assured, 'The last gate' has pushed these obstacles aside with furious anger and the band can stand proud, as the CD is their best to date.
For starters, 'The last gate' features female vocalist Kiara, who's now present on her 3rd CD, but she sings exclusively on the CD, and wow, who would have thought she would end up being one of my favorite female vocalists in power metal. Really, she's right up there, offering up her soft, clear and passionate vocals that will surely impress many previously skeptical fans. In my review for the bands previous CD 'Fairytales', I wrote: "Kiara's excellent vocals have grown on me and now shine like she was meant to sing with the band from the very beginning." I'm usually way off when guessing a band's future (hehehe), but I can now stand by these words with 100% confidence, as Kiara truly rises high with an extraordinary performance on this CD.
Next up is the production, and simply put, 'The last gate' contains the band's best sound/production to date, by far. Gone are the thin guitars, light drumming and overall lack of power. In addition, this CD seems to be more guitar oriented than any of their other CDs, leaving the harpsichord/keyboard parts to be just an element on the side, as opposed to a dominating one. This means that if you could never get into the band because of the overwhelming amount of harpsichord/keyboard parts (which I've actually always loved), now's the best time to jump on in and give the band a shot. On the flip side however, there are still enough harpsichord/keyboard parts to satisfy those who found them to be the band's strong point.
So all the ingredients are in place, but what makes 'The last gate' so special is the songwriting. Main songwriter, Eddy Antonini, has given us many wonderful songs/CDs in the past, but he provides the most consistently well written CD thus far and I hope he sees this CD as his ultimate peak as a musician, as I sure do. There is plenty of speed, some mid-paced catchy/galloping riffs and lovely slower parts highlighted by Kiara's vocals and Eddy's piano play. Only track 8 "Time" (where the chorus is continually repeated and drug on at the end way too long, bordering on annoyance) keeps this CD from reaching the 5/5 rating.
But believe it or not, despite my extreme praise for this CD, I have one complaint! The CD comes in a "deluxe" digipak that measures a whopping 6" X 8", and its width is actually longer than the length of a regular size digipak/jewel case. What the hell am I supposed to do this thing? Forget about stacking it with other CDs, this thing is more suited for a book shelf!! In addition, there is no sleeve/slot inside for the booklet, which ends up floating around and nearly falls out every time I open up the fold-out digipak. This booklet features several beautiful pictures of Kiara too, so I really don't want to lose it (she's quite a looker in my mind, *wink*). Obviously this dilemma is nothing that affects the CD's rating (I care only about the music), but it's worth mentioning, and those who have Concept's 'Reason and truth' digipak from years ago, know that 'The last gate' is even bigger. Both CDs are with the Underground Symphony label, so perhaps they're behind this, but I must compliment the label too, as I've always liked their silky-smooth booklets.
In closing, while 2007 has seen more changes (mostly negative) with well established bands than any other year this decade, I sit here with a big smile, as Skylark has stayed true to their original style and kept things positive for me as a major listener. Hopefully this CD will entice similar bands (Landguard, Pandaemonium, Gutter Sirens, Magnalucius, etc.) to keep this unique style of symphonic power metal going, as I know there are plenty of fans like me that enjoy it.
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