Dark Moor has been a constant presence in the scene of symphonic power metal for nigh on 20 years now, and while they haven't had the greatest record for consistency, their persistence is to be admired. As a devotee of their brand of symphonic power metal (as opposed, perhaps, to Rhapsody), I've enjoyed every release at least moderately, if not much more so. Recently, they've been like a fine wine, getting considerably better with age after pulling out of their mid-era slump with the outstanding Tarot. With the release of Autumnal, my hope soared, as here was proof of Dark Moor re-asserting themselves as real masters of their genre. Of course, Ancestral Romance will be the real proof as to whether or not Dark Moor's solid new lineup has what it takes to remain at the top of their game.
The proof, friends, is right here. Dark Moor has released another landmark album that is on par with both of their previous releases in terms of grandiose songwriting, fetching melodies, and downright symphonic indulgence. While similar in spirit to their last release, Autumnal, Ancestral Romance is a bit less chromatic and romantically styled. The sound is generally a bit more light-hearted and/or quirky, as opposed to the somber tone that the band put forth previously. One thing they haven't fixed is their lyrics. As any Dark Moor fan will resignedly tell you, the lyrics are penned only very tenuously in the English language. The pronunciation really isn't too horrible, it's just that phrases like “Love came to me, love for good, from the stone. With love, how could I be alone?” end up being somewhat incomprehensible.
While I'm getting the bad out of the way, the song “Just Rock” has to be mentioned. This is awful. It's insipid, banal, and ridiculous. All words that I generally don't associate with power metal at all. It's like a substantially more orchestral Queen rose from the dead with a Spanish accent and backing choirs, trying to deliver an awful gospel of rock. Rock? Where's my METAL??
Enough! The rest of Ancestral Romance is a colorful spread of tunes that are predominantly inspired by Spanish history. “Gadir” kickstarts the album with a monstrously memorable chorus and a tale of the oldest city in Europe. “Love From the Stone” is technically the single off of this album, a love song that, while catchy and tuneful, is definitely not the best that the band has to offer. The album hits a dark note with “Alaric De Marnac”, the tale of a nocturnal serial killer, before stepping up to the mighty “Mio Cid”. Skipping over the aforementioned garbage, we arrive at the strange and lackadaisical “Tilt at Windmills”, which is a very relaxed and humorous track. I can almost see Don Quixote charging them with a ridiculous smile plastered on his face and a heroic song in his heart. The remainder of the album continues with the energetic and stellar “Cancion Del Pirata”, the whimsical instrumental “Ritual Fire Dance”, the quick and philosophical “Ah! Wretched Me”, and finally, the remarkable sole ballad “A Music in My Soul”.
Alfred Romero is perhaps the best that he's ever been on Ancestral Romance. From a husky, sensitive whisper of a voice at the end of “Mio Cid” and “A Music in My Soul”, to a rising, triumphant tenor in “Galdir” and “Cancion Del Pirata”, he is absolutely spectacular. Romero and Dark Moor are responsible for my love for power metal when sung in Spanish. I've grown to appreciate just how smooth, flowing, and beautiful the language is, and find myself just waiting for the sections or songs that are written solely in Spanish. “Cancion Del Pirata” and the final chorus of “Mio Cid” are prime examples of this.
Dark Moor's bombastic use of strings, brass, and choirs is here in full force, along with the rapid double bass and fiery guitar licks that I've grown so fond of. The harpsichord-emulating keyboard that has been in and out of Dark Moor's music since In the Hall of the Olden Dreams has made a return, and some parts of this new work feel like a throwback to the band's early glory days with Elisa Martin. They maintain their supreme musical (if not lyrical) talent for storytelling and emotional conveyance that I simply find most other artists incapable of matching.
Ultimately, despite their typical struggles with English and one BAD track, Dark Moor does indeed deliver another exceptional entry into their passionate neo-classical repertoire. I recommend Ancestral Romance not only to those who already fans of the band and other symphonic power metal, but anyone wanting to discover fast-paced metal meshed finely with art music elements. To Dark Moor: cheers to another solid piece of work that you should be proud to have your name on, but don't you ever write another song like “Just Rock” again.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 8.25 out of 10