Signum Regis – Chapter IV: The Reckoning

Slovakian band Signum Regis has had quite a prolific run recently, now with the release of their third album in two years’ time, and their fourth full-length studio album overall with the CD release on November 20, 2015 and now the newly remixed and remastered LP version releasing on June 3, 2016. This melodic power metal quintet takes on another ambitious album with returning personnel Mayo Petranin (vocals), Ronnie König (bass), Filip Koluš (guitar), Ján Tupý (keys),  and Jaro Jančula (drums).  Entitled Chapter IV: The Reckoning, this album offers 10 new tracks that are high-octane throughout and definitely catch the listener’s attention from the start.  Drawing from different inspirations with similar themes common to the band’s albums, these following tracks display the band’s solidification in their chemistry and sound as they continue to move forward in their musical development.  Let’s take a look at their newly minted song offerings…

Quitters Never Win is the first song on Side A of the LP.  A song reminiscent of Living Well, from the previous EP, it is a positive song about not giving up even when times are tough and not caring what others think or facing fears to overcome them.  An energetic song to start off the album, it begins with a neo-classical introduction that eases into the first verse and bridge that lay back a bit while still retaining a very definitive beat.  The chorus lets loose further, however, with a lot of double kick drum pushing the song forward.  There is a short instrumental segue into the second verse, bridge, and chorus cycle that is followed by a most interesting and eclectic instrumental interlude:  it begins with a classically-influenced duet with the guitar and bass (which sounds like something that could have been played on a harpsichord), but is then followed by an insanely fast and more power metal-like guitar solo, which is then followed by a bass solo, after which enters nonsyllabic choral vocals that starts picking up the themes of the song that segue back into the last chorus.  Following the last chorus is more instrumental ensemble playing with a quite memorable and abrupt ending.

The second track, called The Voice in the Wilderness, is a song that one might correctly surmise is about John the Baptist, identified as such in the Gospels:  “John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:23), which can be seen reflected in the lyrics of the chorus.  This song could be considered the musical version of his life and message, it is one of the more dynamic songs on the album with one of the catchiest choruses that easily sticks in one’s mind.  With a strong introduction, the first verse commences with a chugging accompaniment to the vocals, while the bridge sustains a bit more before entering into the catchy chorus with a lot of layered harmonies that add to its richness. After a short instrumental segue, same as the song’s introduction, the second verse, bridge, and chorus enter to continue the story.  Then, punctuated with syncopated rhythms in the guitars and drums, the instrumental interlude is guitar-driven with fluid lines and scales then segues into more riff-oriented with a lot of pinch harmonics, then undergirded by a groovy, almost Latin-flamenco flavored bassline beneath the shift in guitar solo.  The chorus then reprises twice and is played out by the recurring riffs and pinch harmonics as were found at the end of the instrumental section for an appropriately parallel ending.

The Magi is a song that can be added among one’s heavier Christmas music collection, a fresh new take that focuses on the famed wise men who visited Bethlehem to pay homage to the young Jesus as they followed the celestial signs to identify His kingly rank as well as the location to find Him, bringing their famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Beginning with a more arpeggiated opening riff that is also present underlining the chorus, this song has a neo-classical feel balancing with the drive of the power groove.  The 16th note rhythms found throughout the song with all of the instruments in the melodies, runs, and arpeggios particularly contribute to this sense.  This song’s map takes a little different path than other tracks on the album, with an A and B part to each verse before the choruses, and going through a fairly solid continuation through verse 1a/b, chorus, verse 2a/b, chorus, and then a new channel that differs from the other vocal segments, with short segues between the portions to seamlessly tailor the song together.  After the channel, there is a token to Bach during the interlude, accented by a guitar solo by guest Roger Staffelbach (Artension, Angel of Eden, Artlantica).  Following the instrumental portion is an interesting return to verse 1b and one last reprise of the chorus before the song finishes out.  Though I love many of the classic Christmas carols and songs, it is always nice to hear new music that also celebrates the holiday that I can add to my ever-growing list of contemporary songs, especially from the heavier end of the spectrum, and The Magi is no exception.

The Secret of the Sea is the fourth track on the album, and is actually heavily inspired by the poem of the same name by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Opening with the sound of waves and seagulls, it opens with a dynamic riff paralleled by the guitar and bass and accented by the keyboards.  The first verse and chorus commence with a straightforward and somewhat gritty approach, with the chorus more elaborative than the verse, which focuses more on the vocal lines while the instrumentation is more laid back and takes less engaged approach than the chorus.  As the second verse continues as the first, it is followed differently by the introduction of a new bridge that has both a sense of suspension while there is still much rhythmic activity with the basslines, the percussion accompaniment, and the arpeggiating clean guitar moving it forward while not overwhelming the listener sonically with dynamic control.  The chorus then returns and segues into the guitar solo that adds some nice duet harmonies about halfway through and wrapping up nicely with a compelling finale that leads into the next bridge and chorus feature as we hear the lyrical conclusion that is naturally poetic given the inspiration of the song. In a balanced and parallel structure, the song ends with the reprise of the same opening riff, and ends with the sounds of crashing waves.

When Freedom Fails is another song that is reminiscent of a song from the EP, which I liken to the theme from Come and Take It. As one might expect, this song is as aggressive as its theme of standing up against evil and tyranny as society has turned further from its moral and religious foundations and become more totalitarian and oppressive as a result.  Sixteenth notes abound throughout the guitars, bass, and kick drum in particular starting from the get-go in the intro.  The first verse and bridge continue in the same vein, arriving at the anthemic chorus that decries the myth that attempting to appease those in power as freedoms are slowly stripped away only leads to ultimate oppression.  Showing this sad state of affairs is the theme that hopes to goad the listener into action to fight for freedom because of this realization rather than merely a rallying cry of patriotism.  After a brief instrumental segue, the second verse, bridge and chorus resume, but then enter into a new channel that differs from the rest of the song.  With a small choir of vocals over a very active bassline and minimal kick drum to maintain the tempo, it slowly builds into the instrumental interlude, and really has become one of my favorite parts to the whole song.  Its difference that sets it apart from the rest of the song is precisely what makes it such an appealing section. Afterward begins the blistering guitar solo with its staccato and frenetically-measured delivery that matches the urgency and intensity of the song.  Another new section follows the extended instrumental interlude, a new bridge to the chorus one last time before the energetic and punctuated end to this piece.

First on the second side of the album is also the first single released in a lyric video (see below) called Lost and Found.  This song starts off running right out of the gate with accents leading into the vivace-tempoed piece with strong power metal foundations as the melodic vocals enter with the first two verses.  A brief lightening of the strong rhythm occurs as the bridge appears, but everything picks right back up entering into the chorus.  This pattern follows again going into the third verse, bridge, and chorus, after which is the instrumental interlude with a blistering guitar solo seemingly effortlessly executed by Koluš.  The chorus then reprises after the substantial instrumental section as a finale to the song.  The song is fairly straightforward compositionally speaking, but it’s very high energy and sets the listener up for much of what to continue to expect for the album, pushing the tempos to the limit while maintaining a great amount of melody throughout.

I loved listening to the Prophet of Doom track, searching for clues in the lyrics and feeling like I was playing a game of “Name that Prophet.”  Hoping I’m not giving too much away (but I guess I am), this song relates the life events of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, whose nickname became “The Weeping Prophet” due to his many messages of impending judgment on Judah in the book of his namesake and in his book Lamentations. This track is pretty hard-hitting throughout and lets up a few times from the staccato and punctuated rhythms, even in the vocal delivery.  The introduction starts with a melodic guitar riff, but soon becomes even more of a speed-power metal song as the kick drums and rhythm guitars in particular kick into high gear with steady 16th note rhythms, which also drift into the bassline as well, and keep the high-octane beats going right on into the first and second verses as well as the chorus with no sign of slowing down.  After the first chorus, there is a reprise of the introductory riff that segues the song into the third verse and second chorus, and is used again into the instrumental interlude that provides the first real break from the 16th note blasts highlighting a guitar duet line, and then into a guitar solo that ramps it up somewhat with the kick drum providing more 16th notes but in a triplet pattern.  It continues to build into a full on blistering guitar solo with the drums and bass easily in tow on this fast ride.  The intro riff is heard again as the chorus also reprises at the end of the song, which plays out with a brief novel riff for a memorable ending.

Tempter of Evil is a more moderately-tempoed song that is all about what one might imagine the topic might be:  Satan.  Far from being what one might expect to be an ominous-sounding tune, though warning about the wiles of the lying nature of Lucifer, this piece is a more rock-driven piece accented by keys with chugging guitars that are more articulated during the choruses.  The main riff is heard throughout the intro and the tags after the choruses, while each verse contains two distinct sections with more rhythm guitar parts heard underneath the verses while the catchy choruses have more staccato forzato arpeggiations throughout.  After the first two verses, choruses, and tag is the instrumental interlude with guitar solos that again feature Roger Staffelbach.  Following this instrumental portion verse 2 reprises with another chorus and closes out with the titular tags of the “tempter of evil, wicked deceiver” before the guitar-led closure to the track.

The ninth track is The Kingdom of Heaven, which highlights the story from Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his 12 disciples among the towns to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven as well as healing the sick and exorcising demons. Starting off with a crescendoing organ chord, the introduction begins with both an appearance of guitar riffage with a lot of pinch harmonics as well as the main theme from the chorus with vocals proclaiming “The Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”  Soon launching into the first verse and bridge that instrumentally continue the riffs from the introduction, it then shifts into the bridge that differs slightly and briefly connects the verse to the chorus, which I find extremely catchy.  I love the chorus of this song, and I enjoy the syncopated rhythms of the instruments under the on-beat vocal melody that can easily get stuck in your head.  After a moderate segue that reprises the introductory riff, verse two and the second bridge are introduced, leading into the second round of the chorus.  After this begins the instrumental interlude that is quite lengthy, with a guitar solo that expands upon the melodies from the verses and choruses before shifting into a more melodic string of arpeggios before leading into a twice-repeated return of the chorus.  The song plays out just as it began, with the introductory riff and titular vocal proclamation as the organ – which has undergirded the song throughout – fades out the track.

Bells are Tolling is the finale track to the album.  The only song I would consider a ballad on the album, it is heavily influenced by verses from the book of Ecclesiastes for the lyrics.  Featuring Italian pianist Mistheria on classical piano, the introduction and the first half of the song is playing primarily on piano with some acoustic guitar accompanying.  By the second chorus, there is an addition of strings for an even more orchestral feel.  However, following this second chorus, the songs shifts gears significantly, when the band enters with an abrupt entry with a guitar solo heavy on the wah effects and turns the song in a different direction.  The vocal melodies also change with two new verses that have different vocal melodies with a more aggressive delivery on the first and more layered harmonies on the second.  A second instrumental break occurs after this with a new guitar solo with the melody in octaves at times, sweep picking of runs at other times, eventually returning to the main chorus with a more measured approach that is more like a rock ballad.  The song ends with the melancholy closure by the acoustic guitar and synth foundation.  This song really runs the musical gamut throughout that doesn’t stick to any one style or method, but has enough variety to be interesting but it is not too differential to seem disjointed.  A fine piece this composition is to end the album.

This lineup is proving to be very solid and the musical chemistry between them seems undeniably bonded at this point.  This is the second album that the current quintet lineup has played on entirely, and they definitely show a settledness with their current dynamic as the Signum Regis sound has become established.  The musical prowess of each member is unmistakable, and bringing the mastery of each of their instruments together makes for one heck of a group that becomes greater than the sum of their parts.  Ronnie‘s bass and Jaro‘s drums form a tight rhythm section, though the basslines are not afraid to meander and take the lead at times with very active parts while the drums are both foundational as well as ornamental to the songs, and keep everything moving along briskly on this high-speed album.  Filip‘s virtuosic guitar playing continues to be top-notch and it seems there isn’t anything he can’t play or any style that is out of his range.  Jan‘s well-placed keyboards provide the right amount of embellishment to each piece, giving different flavors to each tune as it is called for.  Mayo‘s vocals continue to show the grit that seems appropriate for the power metal style that the band plays in, but he can also soften his delivery if the song calls for it and the layered harmonies that are more prominent provide an addition richness to what could have been a one-dimensional performance.

The mix on this LP version differs from the CD version in quality that seems clearer and has a different equalization that accentuates the vocals more appropriately prominent in places and where the instrumentation seems more balanced with each other. Another aspect I enjoy about Signum Regis‘ sound, which continues on this album, is that they are unmistakably power metal with hard-driving songs, but they are not afraid to throw in classical influences along the way and sprinkle something a little baroque in the middle of a solo, for instance.  I love the Easter eggs to be found in the songs both musically and lyrically, and know I will be challenged every time I listen to one of their albums.  This Slovakian group continues to put itself on the map and with every album shows why they should be counted among Europe’s top power metal bands.  The energy on this album remains high, and the group sounds as tight as ever.  Overall, Signum Regis’ fourth album aptly titled Chapter IV: The Reckoning is definitely a force to be reckoned with for any melodic power metal fan.

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