I haven’t been around the power metal scene for an overabundant amount of time. Long enough, however, to have heard of Axenstar and acquired their catalog (which I listen to a little more than occasionally). I’ve always thought of them as one of the stalwart grunts of the European power metal scene, soldiering on and releasing quality albums while repeatedly taking a back seat to a good number of their more popular Scandinavian brethren. If you’re even somewhat acquainted with Axenstar like I am, you know that they haven’t made a poor album, and you expect a pretty reasonable offer from them every time there’s a new release (My personal favorite being 2005’s The Inquisition).
I was struck by the artwork of Aftermath immediately. The album cover is darker than the band’s standard fare to date, which typically included angels in some form or another. This doesn’t seem to have had much effect upon the contents however, as it’s pretty much the same fare that we’ve always seen. This could be good or bad, and for Axenstar, which has always thrived in its consistent use of clear harmonized vocals and double-bass driven riffage, it’s pretty decent. They haven’t tried to progress, but have taken instead to improving their already successful and appreciated formula which obviously works for them.
The improvement is obvious. First and foremost, this is the best produced Axenstar album to date, and noticeably so. Play a couple of tracks from The Final Requiem and then switch to Aftermath. Big difference? You bet. The drums are BIG here, and pound really hard. This alone makes the album a smoker: hard and consistently fast. Even the more mellow tracks like “Agony” and “Until Your Dying Breath” are pretty brisk. Luckily, this means that I never got bored while listening, which is something that I do very quickly with poor to mediocre ballads. Speaking from past experience, Axenstar’s ballads are nothing to write home about, and I’m glad to see that they’ve been omitted on this newest work.
Axenstar has always been quickly and easily distinguishable from any and all other metal bands solely based upon their lead vocalist Magnus Winterwild. On early releases, his voice was somewhat immature which, combined with being clear as a bell with no vibrato, certainly gave the band a youthful feel. On Aftermath, Winterwild is fully capable and in control of his voice. While still very high and clear, there is no weakness. When layered and harmonized with himself, he creates a very distinctive style with which the band carries itself. Combined with the newfound percussive mixture and the persistently competent guitar and bass, this makes for a rather enjoyable listening experience, if perhaps a little bit redundant due to Winterwild’s tendency to lack much variety in tone or timbre.
Without mincing any more words, Aftermath is a pretty quality release, and one that Axenstar’s members ought to be proud of themselves for. I still hold a soft spot for a couple of the band's earlier outings, but Aftermath will certainly appeal to a wider audience overall with its polished sound and solid performance.
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The Protagonist's Rating: 7.25 out of 10