10/22/2004 - Review by: Eric Compton
Theocracy - ST 2003 Metal Ages Records reviewed by: EC
Just like prior Metal Ages releases like Katagory V and Division, Theocracy gets the full package treatment. With this debut album, the label has shelled out the cash in exchange for a brilliant artistic layout. The album's booklet is bright and colorful, with a beautiful album cover that just screams European power with its Ying-Yang look at Heaven and Hell. The left side of the cover has a glorious golden glow, illuminating the paradise of Heaven, while the right side is black and gray, showing the serpent and it's representation of Hell. Why the Christian based themes? Well Matt Smith is very spiritual, and Theocracy is his way of teaching the gospel through metal. Each song on this album is dedicated to Christ and his teachings, which is a very positive and uplifting experience even if you aren't a believer. The lyrics are very inspirational, and the music backing it is extraordinary.
You might find Theocracy on par with bands like Rhapsody and Angra, but there is a stronger progressive power metal vibe to it all. This album has it's streamlined approach at times, but for the most part each song is epic, better yet, each track is a monumental explosion of sound. With huge choir pieces and complex arrangements, Theocracy are very much on the same page as the Europeans. It's odd to hear such a fantasy metal sound from America, but this debut record is filled with those elements, from violins to orchestra arrangements, this album has it all. The production is done well, with plenty of attention given to the arrangement and complexity of the record. Every instrument gets full detail, from the huge chorus parts to the violins, and every song has that epic feel. The polished production reminds me of the very best in Brazilian power metal.
I normally don't buy into the whole fantasy metal genre, with much of that sound being too medieval for my liking. My tastes lie in the more traditional power metal market, with bands like Running Wild and Grave Digger always finding a place in my player. But Theocracy have crafted some wonderful tunes on this debut album. Some of the faster cuts are very traditional, with plenty of Helloween speed riffing and catchy chorus sing alongs. Songs like "Ichtus" and "The Healing Hand" sound a lot like Edguy or Avantasia, while faster cuts like "New Jerusalem" remind me of another Christian themed band, Seventh Avenue. Matt Smith has a wonderful flare for melody, with his songwriting and guitars built around a nice melodic hook. His vocals are really the highlight for me, with his range drifting from mid to high, keeping the album diverse and interesting throughout. The only downside for me is the length of the songs. Out of the ten tracks here, five are over six minutes long. Not something you can really throw in on the way to the grocery store.
It's great to see another Christian band surface, as I have always found the positive lyrics uplifting. It is really amazing to hear this guy do so many things with this recording. Matt Smith is really a master of all trades, and it clearly shows on his debut album. There are plenty of bands out there that can't be this creative with five brains involved. If you are looking for another quality fantasy metal act, then check this project out. For fans of Dark Avenger, Angra, Rhapsody, and Avantasia, you will find plenty to like here. Hardcore power metal enthusiasts may want to pass this one by, as the choirs and keys aren't going to be heavy enough for their tastes. All in all, a solid debut and a miraculous body of work for one man. God bless him!
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