I'm stepping out of my comfort zone this month with a foray into the mystical lands of symphonic power Metal. Dragonland (Swedish, naturally) have put together an album which conjures up images of 'Lord Of the Rings', Merlin and 'Game Of Thrones'. A continuation of the fantasy realm 'Dragonland', featured in their first two albums, it's a theatrical journey through the 'Ivory Plains' and 'Elven Woods' of their imaginations.
What sets this apart, however, is the time and care taken by the band to really create a fully realised fantasy world which you can explore at www.thegreybanner.com. In addition, the album features various guest artists to support the concept and bring the realm of Dragonland to life in an audio-visual sense. Musical actor Fred Johanson plays the role of the antagonist, and visual artist Damian Bajowski provided the impressive artwork for the project.
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So what have Dragonland got to offer? Well, they've fused the battle Metal template of Sabaton with a drop of Wagnerian classical music and built into it the melodic speed and guitar tone of Dragonforce. This makes for a truly irresistible combination. 'Black Mare', the sixth track, is a melodic Metal masterpiece, but it's 'A Thousand Towers White' which makes me punch the air and reach for my battle-axe. It's brilliant.
'Shadow Of The Mithril Mountains' calls to mind Sabaton, while album closer 'Ivory Shores' is a female-sung, enchanting and beautiful folk song, proving that Dragonland can mix light and shade effortlessly.
Jonas Hedigert brings real emotion to his lead vocals, matched by some truly breathtaking shredding and guitar solos. Keyboards provide a lot of the backing but, for me though, the highlight is the drumming. So many power Metal bands focus on double-kick work and forget they have other drums. But Morten Lowe Sorensen manages to really play his kit. Like Stet Howland with bionic legs, he mixes it up, creating a huge depth of sound.
It's not a perfect album though. The singers tend towards musical theatre - more Glee than Megadeth - and there's an unintentional sense of parody throughout via song titles such as 'Durnir's Forge' or 'Throne Of Bones'. This comes across most in penultimate track 'Under The Grey Banner', which has basically had the kitchen sink thrown at it - drums, guitars, guest vocalists, keyboards, orchestra, you name it! But that's just part and parcel of this genre. If you're going to create an album like this, these are the elements needed and, for me, this is an absolute tour de force.
With books like 'Game Of Thrones' being so popular, I'm surprised music like this hasn't become more mainstream. Dragonland have definitely created something that will have broad appeal, entertain and, hopefully, win them a battalion of new fans!
Verdict: epic, exhilarating and entertaining.
Jonathan Churchill. MetalTalk.net
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