Dead City Dreaming
6/12/2008 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
I must say, this is one of those albums that makes writing for this site a pleasure and a privilege, and is the very definition of a pleasant surprise. Oddly enough, however, things didn't look so promising when I received a copy for review. What I first saw was a plastic sleeve containing a disc with color artwork and a glossy 8 1/2 x 11 press release with the album art, band photo and bio folded up in the sleeve. "Oh no," I though at first. "Another bunch of Stratovarius/Gamma Ray wannabes with a dodgy name, on a small, obscure label, no less." Surely this was something destined for delete bins worldwide.
But upon finally, dutifully placing this in the player for the first time, I found myself completely unprepared for what I heard. No, not a sonic revolution the likes of which Hendrix initiated in the late '60s, but definitely not the anonymous cookie-cutter power metal I was expecting. With some vaguely eerie sound effects and a short crescendo, the rumbling, tuneful title track emerged from the speakers, sounding like HammerFall with more brains, more balls and less cheese (actually, I like cheese, but too much of it spoils a good album).
Yes, this album contains many of the hallmarks of power metal, but also addresses that genre's most commonly cited shortcomings in many ways. Yes, there are groovy, teutonic riffs, anthemic sing-along choruses and valiantly melodic vocals and guitar solos. However, Crystal Eyes inject a much-needed dose of creativity into power metal, particularly with regard to song structures, throwing the listener a curveball just when they think they know for sure what's coming next.
Much of the credit goes to guitarist and songwriter Mikael Dahl, who seems to have taken an approach to songwriting similar to that of Annihilator's Jeff Waters on this album, compiling a stupefying pile of cool riffs and putting them together jigsaw puzzle-like, resulting in some surprising and cool musical left turns. The guy clearly demonstrates a great reverence for classic metal guitar-craft, rattling off one tasty (if somewhat derivative) riff after another and complimenting them with an almost George Lynch-like elegance in his solos. Lyrics are, for the most part, not great, but new vocalist Nico Adamsen delivers them with passion, versatility and-like Dahl-total command of his craft.
If anything, the crazy quilt of cool musical ideas in each song can actually be a bit much, but at the same time, it's a breath of fresh air for jaded power metal fans pelted by too many clichés. Check out "Battlefield," a pastiche of goofy Manowar-ish, He-Man metal spiced with hints of vintage Metallica and Ozzy (spot the brief "Bark At the Moon"-like riff that comes and quickly goes mid-song). "Wall of Stars" also uses this patchwork approach, ending with an acoustic guitar and vocal passage that sounds like it could have been the start of a whole other song. My personal favorite, however, would be the smart and inspiring power metal anthem "The Narrow Mind," though "The Quest Remains" also pleases with it's almost 70's rock-ish intro riff.
I must say, while I was not familiar with Crystal Eyes prior to this release, I am glad I finally got to hear them. Dead City Dreaming is a most solid release, but somehow, I think they are capable of better. Whatever happens, I will look on with interest. For the over-saturation and formulaic writing tendencies that have ailed power metal of late, this is just what the doctor ordered.
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