Zandelle - Vengeance rising 4.5/5
1. Blood red shores
2. Dragon's hoard
4. Queen Anne's revenge
5. The final hour
7. Vengeance rising
8. Ancient tale of valor
9. Cry for vengeance
Even tighter and more explosive with speed than its predecessors, Zandelle's 4th CD (3rd full-length) returns with glorious U.S. styled fantasy/epic/power metal that improves in every way from the band's previous work (which was pretty good to begin with.)
Overall, Zandelle plays a unique and decidedly American style of epic, melodic metal, with plenty of intricacy, and heaviness that is most at home along Iced Earth, classic old Fates Warning and Liege Lord, Riot at their peak, or Iron Maiden and Twisted Tower Dire. Their unique vocalist George Tsalikis, whose very high-pitched style may or may not be your cup of tea, has consistently gotten better with more skill on each release, and this is one more furtherance on that scale. If anything, his vocals are the only "acquired taste" on this platter, I expect that all the other elements will be automatic ecstasy for fans who enjoy this broad range of metal at all.
Readers might be aware that I normally focus on lyrics and vocals first, but the instrumental work on this CD just screams out of the disc player, blows your heart and mind away and refuses to be ignored. The dynamic energy and glorious enthusiasm that comes through the guitars (Anthony Maglio), the bass (Joe Hartoularos, previously on guitars), the drums (Joe Cardillo), is just amazing and some of the best I've heard in quite some time, achieving a pure, visceral evocation that leaves you panting for more. You listen to it, it picks you up, and you love it.
"Blood red skies" rips off to start the CD, with some staccato drumming and aggression reminiscent of an all-out Iced Earth assault at their fastest, and the title track that's part II of the Beofwulf Trilogy gives us even more of classic Iced Earth - a touch of darkness with plenty of energy. Songs like "The final hour" have more of the buoyant, uplifting energy normally produced by Iron Maiden's unique rhythm section (which is often overlooked as a critical element beyond the "Maidenesque" guitar work many bands try for). The production is great, clear and strong, and I happen to love how the upper register percussion comes through as clear, delicate, and distinct, rather than muddying up the sound with the white noise ride. The CD is rife with great, high energetic passages that conjure up delightful metal rides akin to those aforementioned bands, such as "Prophecy", an instrumental that just blows my mind with its great sound and metal flight, and I'm usually pretty bored with instrumentals as a matter of principal, but this has music that good.
Any down sides? Well, as of yet there may not be a chorus that's driven itself in as deep in my skull as "Lord of thunder" (Who doesn't love screaming, "Face me and die!"), and at times the instruments may overshadow the vocal songwriting, only because they're so good, but there's plenty of strong vocal hooks as well. The lyrics don't disappoint those like me who love their epic fantasy, and they're well done in that area, with some departures ("Blood red skies" deals with [more] modern war; "Queen Anne's revenge" deals with 17th century piracy), while the Beowulf Trilogy picks up some classical literature which happens to be the seminal swords and sorcery/fantasy tale, therefore being a touch original, intellectual, but not in any way disappointing to those who want their metal in animal skins and armor.
Simply put, get this CD, play it, and let your metal spirit take flight! Not with self-congratulatory cliches that have quickly become tiresome, nor overly produced sound, but by speaking through the glorious music itself.
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