C O L U M N S
Defender - They Came Over the High PassIt was post-Y2K 2000. The resurgence and popularity of the European Power Metal explosion had blown far enough to now easily obtain Blind Guardian, Hammerfall, Gamma Ray and new Helloween CD's in any big chain electronic/music store in America. I was there and this was one of my main sources of discovering Heavy Metal (not Nu Metal!) from across the ocean and the rest of the planet. With the help of dial up internet and a lot of patience and time, I realized that there was more to active Heavy Metal music with guitar solos than just Pantera. Did current bands portraying the style of classic Iron Maiden and Judas Priest really exist? It was true and I was on my own quest to discover it all.
Although easily overlooked, 'They Came Over the High Pass' was featured in my current Necropolis Records catalog, a label which bred mostly Death and Black Metal. Page after page of advertising pure raw true dark evil, there was no denying a band named Defender (those who don't connect with the Manowar reference--leave the hall!) with dragons on the album cover being a new Power Metal album that I absolutely had to hear, but how? The lack of information, smart phones and slow internet connections at the time lead to being given most of the recording via message boards and online cassette tape trading.
Yes, one glorious day I was greeted at my mail box with 'They Came over the High Pass' dubbed on a blank cassette. I had no knowledge of song titles, band members, country of origin...nothing other than the music that I heard after for searching months! I would later discover that the mastermind behind Defender is none other than Sweden's very own Phillip Von Segebaden, most notably from Afflicted (see also Cranium and Dawn) who appeared on 'Prodigal Son' and 'Dawn of Glory' which have both been reissued recently via Century Metal Records. If you read no further than this I couldn't recommend those two albums enough! Buy them now and thank me later. What other band successfully transformed from weirdo progressive Death Metal to Power/Heavy Metal? Anyway... back to Defender...
'They Came over the High Pass' wastes no time. An atmospheric intro pulls you directly into the album art. Cold blowing wind cuts through the speakers while the seeming protagonist trudges through the snow. Tired and out of breath, each painful step is one valiant effort towards the summit followed by volume swelling feedback. The uninformed that only knew this from the label and country may have predicted a Bathory clone but once the gusto of "The Siege of Armengar" charges onward, it is quite obvious that Defender attacks by their own traditional Metal rules. Dianno-era Iron Maiden melodies meet Running Wild speed-picked riffs crunch and gallop along with ex-Afflicted vocalist (Dawn of Glory) Michael van der Graaf's gruff approach providing the listener with zero doubts in their mind that this isn't just another froofy, neutered, limp-wristed Power Metal album to skip by campfire light with unicorns. Not all of 'TCOTHP' is muscle flexing. The following track "High Himalayan Valley" slows down, but not for ballads sake. Mood and melody combine in one of the most epic tracks providing the listener with evidence on how high and low Defender can soar. While there is very much a warm analog and raw quality throughout the entire album the first of two instrumentals (because why not?) "Summit Day" has a very "Somewhere in Time" futuristic and even glacial quality and atmosphere. "Maze of the Minotaur" is more rooted ala "Genghis Kahn" with the fast picked single notes and palm-muted riffs gallop along fiery and consistent locomotive double bass courtesy of studio drummer Peter Nagy.
As for the late 90's Power Metal boom involving familiarity and overall formula, "Dragon" would have been the best choice for a catchy single to attract that demographic. While definitely not an inferior track, the simple and affectively titled anthem starts with an acoustic intro that quickly ascends into more galloping, Maiden-like harmonies. "Dragon" charges along with enough testosterone and finger tapping to rival New York's Manowar, complete with screams of "Die!" nearing the end of the track. "City in the Clouds" wastes no time opening up with what may as well be "Kill the King" part 2 followed by open chords and riffing ala Downing/Tipton, instantly memorable and shadowed Wolf Hoffman melodies combining full-fisted "Red Sharks" style guitar wizardry in the mix. The finale, "Nomads of the Stars" is no less commanding than any other track but a fitting closure consisting of ethereal melodies, slower and heavier palm-muted galloping for a mid-paced farewell from the sky.
True grit, determination, and honor along with the fantasy themes of 'TCOTHP' could not have been accomplished via 1980's revitalization alone. Aside from being a master musician playing the guitar and bass in entirety, as well as serving as the primary song-writer of the album, Philip von Segebaden's responsibility to keep 'TCOTHP' affectively validated stems from actually living those glory days instead of a halfhearted attempt by "kids" who were beginning to put out their own retro Metal recordings by this time. 'They Came Over the High Pass' still timelessly flies high over the snow covered mountains with the dragons over 20 years later.
Who will pass the torch again? Will you be a Defender?
They Came over the High Pass (Intro) 02:22
The Siege of Armengar 04:01
High Himalayan Valley 08:53
Summit Day 05:08
City in the Clouds 05:42
Maze of the Minotaur 03:10
Nomads of the Stars 06:40
Release date: November 10th, 1999
Full Album (YouTube): They Came Over the High Pass [Full]
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