Intense - Second sight 3.5/5

Reviewed: 3-25-05


1. Intro - Premonition
2. One twenty
3. The winged
4. War of angels
5. Seeds of betrayal
6. The skull of Sidon
7. Inside torment
8. Collision of destinies
9. Autumnheart
10. Path of the dark
11. Your final breath

Times are tough for European power metal bands. Sure, the genre is thriving, but with the proliferation of so many bands and CDs, it is inordinately difficult for even the most talented of new acts to be noticed. Case in point: British-metallers Intense, whose first full-length CD, 'Second sight', was released with little fanfare by Italy's Underground Symphony late last year. Although this CD has certainly garnered favorable reviews in many metal publications (including this one), I've yet to encounter much buzz about these guys on message boards, in concert halls and on tenement walls. If there's any justice in the world, that should change soon.

Accurately characterizing Intense's sound is difficult because their style is fairly typical power metal with a few progressive arrangements, yet they should not be dismissed as "just another power metal band". Perhaps the best description is that Intense favor the riffy, uptempo brand of European power metal, with just a touch of the Italian flair for musical twists and turns (i.e., the very occasional keyboard trill and progressive dalliance). The songs are built around sturdy, driving guitar riffs with plenty of melody, eschewing the keyboard-centric pop sensibilities of the Stratovarius crowd, on the one hand, and the beer-stomping fury of the Paragons and Brainstorms of the world, on the other. Their sound places Intense squarely in the sweet spot of power metal: Not too heavy, and not too light. Imagine a faster, heavier Shadowkeep with a lower-register singer, and you'll have the basic idea.

Without a doubt, 'Second sight' displays tremendous promise. The individual performances are excellent, with particular props going out to the compelling and energetic twin six-string histrionics of Nick Palmer and David Peak. The songwriting is imaginative, thoughtful and unpredictable, with varying tempos and shifting moods, all the while remaining squarely rooted to the tried and true power metal format. Not surprisingly, my favorite tracks are "War of angels", a straightahead speedster where the band really cuts loose and featuring an instantly memorable refrain, as well as the sterling epic cut, "The skull of sidon", but the CD as a whole is packed with solid ideas. A few songs in the 2nd half of the CD could be catchier, but that's a minor beef.

Sean Hetherington is a good singer, but a bit of an acquired taste given his fairly limited range. To me, he sounds like a hybrid of Vanishing Point's Silvio Massaro, the Poverty's No Crime guy, and the Predator guy, but not as accomplished as any of them. He's great in the more frenetic parts, but seems to struggle in some of the quieter bits. I don't mind him, and he certainly turns in a serviceable performance, but I could understand why some might find his delivery a step below the quality level of the music. Perhaps better use of choir/backing vocals might help, as well as some studio refinements on the vocals.
I firmly believe that Intense have a truly great CD in them. They just need to hone their adventuresome songwriting, beef up the catchiness factor, and work a bit on the vocals. For now though, I'll continue cranking 'Second sight' and heartily recommending it to fans of well done European power metal with a touch of prog.




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