Twilight Odyssey - s/t 4.5/5

Reviewed: 1-13-06


1. Plaza de toros
2. Zero hour
3. Near dark
4. Under the black flag
5. Defiler
6. The endless days of a stranger
7. Onward to the games
8. The new queen
9. Gettysburg
10. Gift of the southern oracle

Of late, I've noticed a most welcome movement taking form amidst the teeming American metal underground, simmering in shadows beneath the clawing, grasping hordes of would-be metalcore MTV mallrat celebrities. The "movement" to which I refer is the emergence of utterly professional, largely self-financed new bands (or reincarnated obscure acts from days long past) delivering unapologetic, no-frills 80s-styled traditional American metal with skill, passion, integrity and grace. In recent months, bands like Ignitor, Icarus Witch, and Axehammer have captured my fancy even as they've captured the magic of American metal in the 80s. In so doing, these bands offer a breath of fresh air from the glut of European power metal that typically dominates my CD player. Twilight Odyssey are perhaps the most accomplished purveyors of this New Wave of 80s Styled American Traditional Metal.

Hailing from New York, this 4-piece has recently self-released its full-length debut opus featuring 61 minutes of grade A American metal. The first thing that struck me upon receiving the CD is how professional the packaging is, featuring simple, yet striking cover art, a 16-page booklet combining posed photos, live shots, images corresponding to the lyrics of particular songs, and detailed thanks lists, all in a color scheme that is thematically consistent with the cover painting. Many label-released CDs from such venerable powerhouses as Century Media, Massacre, Nuclear Blast and the like include packaging inferior in concept and actualization to Twilight Odyssey's self-financed effort. But the band's attention to detail in its packaging is not an isolated fact, but is instead symptomatic of the painstaking craftsmanship that Twilight Odyssey have devoted to every aspect of this release. A good example of what I mean is the production job, courtesy of guitarist/songwriter Ben Asaro. Consciously side-stepping the overcompressed, slick sound du jour favored by the vast majority of today's metal recordings, Asaro offers us an earthy, old-school sound where the music is allowed to breathe and each instrument shines through clearly. (Curiously, I've read posts on a popular Internet message board skewering this CD for its allegedly poor production. Hogwash. This is a fantastic, crystal clear, but undeniably old-school production.) To head off any misunderstandings about the production, Twilight Odyssey have taken the extraordinary step of enclosing in their mailings with retail copies of the CD a typewritten sheet discussing the evils of compression and their intentions vis a vis the CD's sound. You've got nothing to explain and no apologies to make, guys: Your CD sounds just fine!

And what of the music? Old-school traditional guitar-driven metal, plain and simple, with a variety of tempos and a decided flair for the grandiose, as 4 of the 10 tracks exceed 6 1/2 minutes in length. On songs like the standout maritime yarn, "Under the black flag", and the Roman gladiator tale, "Onward to the games", Twilight Odyssey display a penchant for Steve Harris-styled epics. Elsewhere, the band adopt a more straightforward stance on the rapid-fire "Endless days of a stranger" (the CD's sole double-bass romp) and the intense "Near dark". And I love how the songs incorporate musical themes that parallel their subject matter. "Plaza del toros" weaves in what I could only describe as Spanish bull-fighting music, while "Defiler" (about the desecration of Egyptian pharaohs' tombs) includes a snake-charming musical passage, and "Gettysburg (The Blue and the Gray)" offers the bite and bark of cannon fire in time with the music. Despite their often protracted structure, the songs feature catchy guitar lines, a stellar rhythm section, memorable choruses and distinct feels, so you won't need a roadmap to navigate these tunes or a scorecard to tell them apart.

A couple of other aspects of this debut CD deserve particular praise. Vocalist Pamela Berlinghof turns in one hell of a performance, showcasing a combination of tunefulness and power so rare in metal's female vocalists (or any vocalists, for that matter). Sometimes, she reminds me of Leather Leone, other times I hear the Ignitor singer or the Backslash singer, and still other times she conjures Twyster's vocalist. Whatever the appropriate comparison, Berlinghof is an excellent singer and a real asset to the band. Moreover, I am extremely appreciative of the thought and care that Twilight Odyssey devoted to their narrative, story-telling lyrics, with each song transporting the listener to a land of Spanish matadors, high-seas piracy, Egyptian grave-robbers, or even Civil War battles (okay, this last one was done awfully recently by Jon Schaffer, but Twilight Odyssey's take on the Gettysburg saga actually predates 'The glorious burden' according to the band). Lyric junkies will have a field day.

In any just world, Twilight Odyssey would have been snapped up by a major metal label long ago. As Nuclear Assault put it so many years ago, however, "In... this... world, there's no justice." Still, Twilight Odyssey have toiled tirelessly in an uncompromising labor of love, settling for nothing less than perfection on every aspect of this CD to create a jewel of traditional metal par excellence. I only hope and pray that enough of you rivetheads support them so that Twilight Odyssey may carry us on another musical journey soon.




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