Benedictum - Dominion 4/5

Reviewed: 6-1-11


1. Dominion
2. At the gates
3. The seer
4. Grind it
5. Prodigal son
6. The shadowlands
7. Beautiful pain
8. Dark heart
9. Bang
10. Loud silence
11. Epsilon
12. Sanctuary
13. Overture/Temple of Syrinx

San Diego’s Benedictum earned my respect and admiration with their stellar sophomore CD, ‘Seasons of tragedy’, back in 2008. At the time, I marveled at their ability to merge an old-school classic metal aesthetic with modern metal ultra-heavy production values and sometimes groove-laden riffing. I was bowled over by Veronica Freeman’s powerhouse vocal performance and Pete Wells’ 6-string wizardry. And I was eager to hear more. It’s been a long wait for Benedictum to release CD #3, this one entitled ‘Dominion’, but they’ve not been idle. Indeed, there have been a number of important changes in the band camp in the interim. There’s a new record label (Frontiers), a new rhythm section, the addition of a full-time keyboardist, and a new producer (Ryan Greene) at the helm. Would these changes derail Benedictum’s promising career with a subpar outing, or would the band power forward through the adversity and deliver another monster CD?

I am pleased to report that the latter is true. The new guys are excellent players (and even contribute a few key co-writing credits), the keyboards are no more prominent (and if anything less so) for much of this CD than they were on ‘Seasons of tragedy’, and the production job may be a bit flat, but is mostly fine. More importantly, at this juncture, Freeman and Wells appear to have such a laser-beam focus on their artistic vision and their creative partnership that these other distractions seem not even to have registered on their radar. ‘Dominion’ is a collection of 13 songs (including a cover tune) that stand proudly alongside the band’s previous body of work. It’s really the logical next step from ‘Seasons of tragedy’. Freeman and Wells turn in individual performances that once again showcase their extraordinary talents. Freeman’s varied, versatile vocals perfectly capture power, range and emotion (the “female Dio” tag really isn’t far off the mark), while Wells shreds up a storm, albeit in a tasteful manner that never feels like showing off or exceeding the parameters of the song.

What’s really cool about this CD is that Benedictum have mastered the art of writing diverse songs that fit comfortably under the band’s overall stylistic umbrella, while maintaining a consistently high level of quality throughout. For a classic fist-pumping anthem tailor made for the live arena, look no further than “Bang”, which won me over immediately with its hard-hitting, straightforward approach and inspirational lyrics like “If I’m going down / It’s with my fist in the air.” Damn straight. “At the gates” sounds almost like a heavier Halford solo track, with groovy uptempo verses giving way to a spellbinding melodic chorus and a superb bridge. Another highlight is “Epsilon”, a sprawling 9-minute epic laced with proggy tendencies that never forgets to be catchy, heavy and memorable. Then there’s “The seer”, which rides a haunting guitar theme from Wells and a vocal from Freeman that ranges from fragile delicacy to booming power in a song that honestly could garner radio play on hard rock/metal stations. The icing on the cake is the bonus track cover of Rush’s “Overture/Temple of Syrinx”. Now, I’m not much of a Rush fan, but to hear this revered piece of music heavied up and performed with conviction and grace by Benedictum is a real treat, more so, I’d say, than their somewhat vanilla covers of Accept and Dio staples on past CDs. The decision to cover this song was an ambitious stroke of genius.

The head-scratching thing about ‘Dominion’ is that it has received a mixed reaction from the heavy metal press, including by journalists who purport to be fans of ‘Seasons of tragedy’. Frankly, I don’t get it. The songwriting on ‘Dominion’ surely equals that of its predecessor, and there have been no jarring stylistic changes that might turn off longtime fans. I do understand the criticism that the production may not be as strong as Jeff Pilson’s work on ‘Seasons of tragedy’, but this is hardly a tin-can, ‘St. Anger’ kind of issue that detracts in any material way from the music. Whatever. To my ears, ‘Dominion’ shows a band that is hitting its stride and perfecting its sound, while not being afraid to take risks and step outside its comfort zone a little bit. Benedictum have been booked to play the 4th annual Warriors of Metal Festival near Columbus, Ohio in June 2011 (along with the likes of ASKA, Widow, Shok Paris, A Tortured Soul, Split Heaven, Vindicator, Dantesco, and a host of others). Live appearances Stateside are a rare thing for all of these excellent bands, so do yourself a favor, get off your duff and get thee to Ohio to support the scene.




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