Syth - Warzone 4.5/5

Reviewed: 12-29-06


1. Warzone
2. Plague
3. End of days
4. Into the light
5. Call to arms
6. Harmony
7. No tomorrow
8. Tortured souls
9. The hunt
10. Thunder roar
11. We stand alone

Reviewing CDs by unsigned bands is always a bit of a challenge. For one thing, it can be difficult to balance up the deficiencies in budget that can lead to inferior sound quality against the quality of the songs. On the other hand, it can sometimes be easy to be carried away by a 'rooting for the underdog' sort of mentality, and end up giving undue credit to a band simply because they have no label support.

Fortunately, the Glasgow band Syth makes it a bit easier to get past these obstacles. Firstly, the production on 'Warzone' is far, far above demo quality, and exceeds even that which is sometimes afforded to bands by smaller labels. Secondly, and much more importantly, the 11 songs here are of incredible quality. Distributed or not, you will be lucky to find a better power metal CD released in 2006.

This is traditional, riff driven power metal (completely free of keyboards) focused on melodic lead guitar and soaring vocals. While not close to being considered progressive, the songs are all relatively elaborate with the shortest just scraping past the 4 minute mark. Most of the songs have been in the band's catalogue for a few years now, and it is plain to hear the care that has gone not only into the initial writing, but also further 'maintenance' later along the line. "End of days" features a fairly simple but incredibly enjoyable trick towards its conclusion. Everything cuts out, and the instruments come back in one at a time guitar, 2nd guitar, bass, drums and the song continues before they pull the same trick again in reverse (drum interlude, bass line, 2nd guitar, first guitar). It always brings a knowing smile to my face and it is this sort of attention to detail and flair for intricacy that pushes the CD above much of the competition.

Syth's real draw, though, is the guitar playing fans of speedy, melodic solos will be left drooling by some of the flashy stuff on display here. Lengthy segments of most songs are given over to instrumental sections that feature solo after solo piling up. The impressive playing is not reserved for showing off in these sections however, with most of the songs having fantastic lead parts to compliment the riffs that drive everything forward. Indeed, the melodic, harmonized break in the middle of the sombre epic "Into the light" goes down as one of the best pieces of music ever written by a metal band. It's just that good.

Despite the guitars constantly being well out in front, the other band members are not by any means left in the dust Syth boast a truly fine rhythm section, with impressively varied drumming that doesn't rely on overuse of double bass, and some inspired bass playing that goes far beyond your standard supporting role. There is an excellent break in "Tortured souls" that allows both to catch the listener's attention without any other distractions, but the quality is apparent to those inclined to listen throughout the CD's 60-minute running time. This song, like the 2nd cut, "Plague" is a little dissimilar to the rest of the material. Both show the band in full flight and are the most direct and aggressive songs on the CD. "Tortured souls" in particular displays very uncharacteristic semi-growled vocals on the intro and gang vocal pre-chorus that punctuates the CD with some unexpected diversity.

The vocals of front man Niall Russell also deserve a mention. They are a little unusual for a power metal band while the choruses certainly soar long and high, his vocals stay consistently in mid-range and offer something a bit different to the more standard vocal styles of the genre. His approach is perhaps more direct than the average power metal singer, relying less on technical precision than sheer energy I've heard him compared to Sean Hetherington of Intense, and the resemblance of their styles is notable, if not striking.

The end product of these elements is a collection of immensely satisfying, uplifting songs played by a collection of hugely talented musicians. It's unfortunate that the CD will inevitably receive very little recognition outside their local circuit, but I'd strongly advise fans of this brand of music to make seeking out 'Warzone' a priority.




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