Syth - The reckoning 4.5/5
1. Out of the night
2. Marching evil
3. The reckoning
4. Ghosts of the past
5. Battle rages
6. Shadow on the stone
7. Three remain
8. The seige (The battle of Badajoz - 1812)
Despite a period of creativity and constant gigging after the release of their amazing debut ‘Warzone’ in 2006, it was a case of everything eventually falling apart for Syth. Following a loss of forward momentum, an inability to find a replacement for young guitarist Alan Douglas after his departure in 2007 eventually led to the band splitting up in the final months of that year.
A period of about 6 months away seemed to recharge the batteries though, with the 4 remaining members regrouping (with vocalist Niall Russell now permanently on rhythm guitar duties) with an apparent clearer sense of focus to record the best of the material they had accumulated since ‘Warzone’ for this delayed follow-up.
A change in the main writing department (it’s no secret to say former guitarist Shaun Nelson had a great deal to do with the creation of the songs on the debut) has meant an inevitable shift in style to some degree, but ‘The reckoning’ thankfully proves to be just about every bit as good as its predecessor for slightly different reasons. While the band’s instrumental talents remain stellar, there is less of the over-the-top flashiness that provided much of the charm on ‘Warzone’, with less of the extravagant lead fills bursting from every seam. Instead, there is more of a focus on epic songs – the CD is 3 songs shorter than the debut but equally as long – built around inspiring melodies and choruses.
Opener “Out of the night” sets down a marker for the rest of the CD with its outstanding chorus (and a brilliantly-executed key change towards the end) and a really nifty solo that is almost completely harmonized. One of the overall faster songs on ‘The reckoning’, it nonetheless is not your usual breakneck opening track and makes it clear from the get-go that things will proceed a little differently this time.
Russell definitely seems more comfortable as the vocalist this time round, with the new material written with his own voice in mind (instead of adapting to melodies originally written for Nelson’s more limited range when he was also the singer) and with this increased freedom of expression he delivers a knockout performance. The chorus to the penultimate track “Three remain” is the perfect an example of the raw power of his voice blending perfectly with a melody almost too powerful and catchy to describe.
The title track is one that took a long time to grow on me – a staple in the live set for a while, it never succeeded in impressing, but in the context of the CD makes a lot more sense and with its endlessly driving rhythms that proudly show the band’s Iced Earth influences, creates a militaristic atmosphere quite similar to that found on the Americans’ instrumental track “1776”.
Another of the older songs gathered here, “Shadow on the shore” is a little more ostentatious, with a couple of neck-snapping time changes and possibly the best drumming yet displayed by Mark Connelly anchored by a completely essential chorus. More overtly power metal than a great deal of Syth’s songs, it offers a bit of unrestrained exuberance on a CD more generally made of up of upper midtempo anthems.
My pick for the most outstanding song would probably have to go to the 9-1/2 minute colossus “Battle rages”. This massive war tune opens on a celtic-tinged guitar line quite similar to those Iron Maiden have been using recently on songs like “Dance of death” and “The pilgrim”, and other than the empowering sing-a-long chorus has several distinct passages, including a spell-binding bass interlude, to show off as it weaves and twists its way through its extensive running time.
Special praise must also be given though to 2 more of the longer songs – “Ghosts of the past” breaks new ground for Syth, being their first full ballad, and builds continuously from the mournful, clean strummed opening passages to a monstrously heavy finale, and Russell’s bellowing performance as the song hurtles to a conclusion is nothing short of astounding. The enormous closing song, “The siege”, is another first, a historical epic recounting one of the British Army’s less glorious moments, switching viewpoints from both sides of the walls as the destruction of a besieged city is retold in graphic detail. The midsection to this song is typically amazing, and the cluster of guitar solos crackle with all the power of the weaponry detailed in the well-researched lyrics.
Though quite different stylistically to the CD that preceded it, ‘The reckoning’ makes it feel like Syth have never been away. Just like ‘Warzone’, this is a CD that demands attention on more than just their local front, and with a more apparent sense of resolve following their early demise, the best unsigned band in the U.K. may just get it at the 2nd attempt.
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