Zandelle - Flames of rage 4.5/5
1. Killing graze
2. Broken trust
3. Flames of rage
5. Dark nemesis
6. Face of war
7. Inner strength
9. Eradicated existence
Slowly, quietly, unobtrusively, a potent metal force from Brooklyn, New York, has been gaining strength, biding its time, and honing its craft. Over the last 13 years, Zandelle have released 5 CDs (the first being an EP). From humble beginnings in the metal wasteland of the mid-90s, George Tsalikis and his merry minions rose to some degree of prominence on the LMP label with their 'Twilight on humanity' and 'Vengeance rising' releases earlier this decade. Yet success continued to elude Zandelle. Festival appearances and tours never (or rarely) came to fruition in Europe and America, and they remained unknown to all but the most neurotic undergound power metal junkies. Then Zandelle were bitten by the LMP curse, and parted ways with the label in the acrimonious fashion that seems to characterize many bands' parting of ways with Limb and Company. Personnel changes have been both frequent, and severe. But these past travails and misfortunes are irrelevant, because Zandelle are now ready to step out of the shadows and into the light. The time has come for Zandelle to claim their rightful place in the upper echelon of American heavy metal bands.
"Is that Gamma Ray?" my wife inquired as she walked into the living room while the opening cut from 'Flames of rage' was playing the other day. The comparison was apt, because "Killing gaze" carries all the hallmarks of Kai Hansen's crew circa 'Somewhere out in space' or 'Powerplant'. The soaring melodic speed metal riffs, aggressive drumming, sparkling European melodies, Queen-ish flair for the dramatic, and Kai-like vocals. Zandelle have always been heavily influenced by the European power metal genre, but they've never pulled it off this well. What's really interesting, though, is that as the 70-minute CD unfolds, it becomes clear that Zandelle aren't merely aping Gamma Ray and Stormwarrior. Sure, the core of 'Flames of rage' is undoubtedly aggressive European speed/power metal, but Zandelle have brewed an intoxicating potion weaving in the chest-thumping metal antics of Manowar (see "Inner strength", essentially a revision of DeMaio & Co.'s "Call to arms" but it rocks mightily), the hyperspastic blastbeating speed of Dragonforce, the melancholia of Solitude Aeturnus (check out the verses of "Dark Nemesis"), the gothic/haunting keyboards of a Kamelot or Epica, the emotional dynamics of Jag Panzer, the occasional downtuned riffage of Nevermore, and a healthy dose of proggish complexities (see the 9-minute "Face of war" and the 21-minute closer "Eradicated existence").
This amalgamation of different elements works for several reasons. Most importantly, in branching out sonically, Zandelle have not lost sight of their artistic vision or forgotten what and who they are. Zandelle always have been and always should be a melodic speed/power metal act. They still are that on 'Flames of rage', with the other elements keeping things fresh by serving as accents and seasonings, without overwhelming the recipe or distorting its fundamental character. Additionally, the band's broader sonic soundscape on this CD is successful because Zandelle have stepped up their songwriting skills bigtime. Unlike the old days, Tsalikis is sharing the writing with current and former members of the band. New bassist/keyboardist Rudy Albert leads the charge with sole music credits on 3 tracks and partial credits on 3 others. The new creative blood has done the band good, and selecting the best musical ideas from multiple writers has allowed for an "all-killer-no-filler" CD, devoid of the occasional saccharine ballads that tarnished past Zandelle efforts. Finally, it bears emphasizing the remarkable improvement in Tsalikis's vocals on this CD. I had always enjoyed his voice in the past, but the criticism of his high-pitched nasal wailings was not without basis in fact. On 'Flames of rage', however, Tsalikis avoids overusing his high range, but spends a great deal of time in his Kai Hansen mid-range and occasionally even channels Robert Lowe in some of the more somber bits. It's easily his most accomplished vocal performance to date, and is a secret weapon to this CD's success.
My only dissatisfaction with 'Flames of rage' - and this is strictly a matter of personal taste - is that I wish the intermittent keyboards were not so prominent and distracting. My bias against keyboards is well-documented, and I don't think that this kind of aggressive fast heavy metal needs upfront keyboard passages playing melodies completely different from the guitars. But again, that's just me.
With 'Flames of rage', Zandelle have vaulted their way to the head of the class. They're easily the star attraction of the Pure Steel Records roster. In thinking of today's U.S. metal luminaries, Zandelle deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Cage, ASKA, Pharaoh and Crescent Shield. All hail Zandelle for not letting the bastards grind 'em down, and for unleashing the true metal tour de force we always knew they had in them.
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