The Alliance of the Kings
I actually first discovered this album by reading Oakenson's review of it on The Encyclopedia Metallum, shortly before we became fast friends. I was blown away by his spectacular review of the album (giving it a 100%), and decided that I must have it!
Months later, I am as enraptured by this album as my brother is, and have decided to pen my own review. This album deserves to be well-known, and I've yet to read overall negative feedback on it.
First things first, Italy is a country that is running over with fantasy flower metal bands, and this generally describes the Ancient Bards as well. BUT, and that is a big but, this band does it all with so much passion and talent that it's really hard to compare them to bands like Derdian, Kaledon, and others. Even the mighty Rhapsody of Fire have a considerably different approach. Personally, I've never been an incredible fan of Rhapsody's work, and something like this appeals to me much more.
So what is it that makes “The Alliance of the Kings” so fresh, so exciting, and so novel? There isn't a quick and simple answer, I'm afraid. It is glorious, epic, passionate, and utterly brilliant musically. Let's begin with the very first and perhaps most impressive item, and that which I normally do not care for in metal bands: a female vocalist. I am NOT a sexist, but neither have I been a great fan of women as lead metal vocalists (gothic metal and bands like Nightwish, Luna Mortis, and early Dark Moor notwithstanding), particularly in the genre of power metal. Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards has made me a believer, and I confidently state that this fine lady is already on par with Tarja Turunen in terms of talent and respect in my book. While she is a soprano, she's clearly not as operatic. Her voice is powerful and silky smooth, at times a gentle breath, mounting to fortissimo melodies on many tracks. She slides so gracefully between some notes that, much rather than sounding amateur, her vibrant and melismatic singing is a joy to listen to.
Oh, and instrumentally! Most of this group's work is so incredible that the guitars are almost the low point, believe it or not. The bass is audible, and there are at least two short sections featuring the bass in a solo, which is almost unheard of in this genre. Choirs and synths complete the transformation into a project that has little trouble transporting the listener from an office cubicle to a fantastic land fraught with peril, pride, and promise.
Like many Italian bands, the lyrics are written in English but are occasionally difficult to understand (sword comes out repeatedly as “surd”). This is a slight imperfection in the otherwise flawless majesty to which the band aspires. Musically, the compositions are breathtaking. Long song lengths find the listener repeatedly finding themselves swept up in an orchestral interlude or a tasteful demonstration of the ample guitar shredding that is also to be found. With symphonic metal this well-crafted and exciting, I almost don't care what I'm listening to, story-wise. Here also, the band excels. This is the first entry into an ambitious project for these young Italians, being part one of the “Black Crystal Sword Saga”. The difference being the means of telling the story. The lyrics are perhaps easier to understand, and the story not entirely so bombastic and dramatic. There is more...story-telling if you will, than many other outfits see fit to provide.
While upbeat, technically proficient, and bombastic tracks like “The Birth of Evil” and “Frozen Mind” are my favorites (you CANNOT find better symphonic power metal, ANYWHERE), there is a wide tempo spread and a beautiful ballad in the form of “Lode Al Padre. As with all excellent metal releases, words don't quite do the music justice, as it's impossible to bottle the essence and energy of such a dynamic and unique band and then spread it across so many sheets of paper.
With that said, if you get even a shred of enjoyment out of symphonic or orchestral power metal, or if you feel that you may want to look back into a genre you've given up on, this is the time to do it. The genre itself seems to have been limping a bit the past couple of years, but Ancient Bards are one of the several bands from Europe that have re-energized the genre and given it a sublime recovery this year. This album should not be ignored by any fan of power or heavy metal in general. Friends, you owe it to yourselves to discover this wonderful and majestic gem of an album.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 9.5 out of 10