Signum Regis, the prolific Slovakian power metal band, is already back in the studio and has recorded their 5th full-length studio album. Interestingly enough, this album originally was intended to release as an EP, but after having recorded more material than is standard on an EP, they decided to stay on their roll and record a couple more songs to make it another full-length album in their discography. This was not the only significant aspect of the album, it also commemorates the band’s 10 years of existence, hence the title Decennium Primum (The First Decade). This album features their continuing lineup of Filip Koluš (guitar), Ján Tupý (keyboard), Mayo Petranin (vocals), Ronnie König (bass), and Jaro Jančula (drums) and includes 10 tracks on their album celebrating 10 years, as an apropos – and surely not accidental – selection.
The album opens with a self-titled instrumental, Decennium Primum, that begins with an acoustic guitar introduction that has a classical, almost Medieval/Renaissance-like inspiration. Then the electric guitar enters with its own melody line over the accompanying acoustic guitar and non-lyrical choral vocals (sung by guest Katka Vlačikyová) for its short duration of just over a minute in length, ending in a final ring of a gong.
Unfold the Mystery begins the first full track on the album, a powerful and upbeat song that relates the fascination of exploring and searching for the truth wherever it may be found as long as one continues to look and be willing to uncover what is found along the way. Musically, this song includes a variety of gems. After a powerful introduction, the first verse kicks in without losing any momentum – and one thing of note throughout all the verses is the triplet pattern of the kick drum that differs from the usual 16th or 32nd note double kick patterns in other parts of the song (or even power metal songs in general). The chorus is catchy with a nice dichotomy of the more measured vocal lines over the active instrumental parts underneath. After the second verse/bridge/chorus, there is an unusual instrumental interlude that takes the typical idea of “soloing” and takes a different tack. It starts off with a moving bass solo, and then switches to a flamenco/Spanish acoustic guitar solo taking over the lead. Following that, an electric guitar solo picks up and carries the song into another round of the chorus and equally energetic outro, creating a great track to really kick off the album in both traditional and non-traditional power metal ways.
The third track on the album boasts another Latin title, Damnatio Ad Bestias, which means “damnation to the animals,” and is a poignant song about the early Christian martyrs being fed to the lions and other beasts at the Coliseum in Rome for their beliefs. (Watch the lyric video here) Starting with a powerful beginning and screaming guitar, this track takes a moderate tempo with the opening vocals in a lower range that seem to communicate the gravity of the subject matter through the opening verse and bridge. The chorus is catchy, however, and reminds me a bit of the hookiness and layers of their song Come and Take It. After the first and second verse/bridge/chorus cycles, the instrumental section in the middle begins with a gritty rhythm guitar riff that becomes accompaniment to the guitar solo, somewhat reminiscent of a Megadeth-style interlude. However, the tone and style then changes in the next portion of the instrumental break with a supersonically alternately-picked pentatonic-based solo undergirded by more ambient keyboards, and then it switches again to a more major melodic electric guitar solo to carry out the last third of the interlude with a couple of key changes thrown into the mix for good measure. The chorus reprises and segues into the song’s finale, ending a very solid and memorable track on this album.
Screaming for Justice is the fourth track, and starts out with a very solid riff and is augmented by a keyboard presence that provides a proper balance yet brings a hint of epicness to elevate the piece (and continues as such throughout). This song is also contains a little more complexity in the structure than some of the other tracks. There are two cycles of a verse, bridge, and chorus, segued in between with a short instrumental break that reprises the introductory motif. After this, however, the song extends after another instrumental segue into a couple of new channels that I find of particular interest, as the main musical themes change to different melodies and progressions. Following this, the soloing break appears with quite a blistering guitar solo straight away, again changing the feel of the song as it then continues to downshift into a slower, melodic guitar solo, briefly shredding again as it enters into a chorus reprise. A short vocal a capella moment appears out of nowhere as an effective signal into the reprise of the introductory riff for the outro. This is an anthemic song, in a patriotic vein of many of Signum Regis’ songs that advocate for freedom, though it transcends that of any country or earthly government. It communicates the longing for true, divine justice hoped for by faith to bring a reprieve to all the human injustices on Earth through an ultimate but fair judgment that will finally set things right in the world.
The fifth track is Kingdom of Light, the ballad on the album that reminisces about Heaven, a parallel to the Garden of Eden, the afterlife where believers will meet loved ones again where there is no darkness or evil. The beginning of the first verse is lighter with acoustic guitar as the main accompaniment, but then it picks up with a heavier yet not overpowering addition of the electric guitar with the rest of the band during the intros and choruses. In the middle of the song with the instrumental break, there is a soulful electric guitar solo that shifts to a faster and more intricate delivery in the second half of the interlude. After this instrumental, however, the song does not move immediately into a reprise of the chorus, but rather returns to an excellently executed countermelodic section of lead vocals with choral accompaniment sung underneath before the chorus returns to the song for the last time in its modified juxtaposition with the countermelodies. This slower song is nicely placed in the middle of the album for a type of sonic rest along with its hopeful message contemplating the better kingdom to come.
As with many Signum Regis songs, the sixth track recounts a well-known Biblical story – that of David and Goliath, and of the newly anointed and eventual rise of David as The Future King of Israel. Starting out with a rocking riff, this song hooks the listener in from the intro into the first verse and bridge as it sets up the chorus nicely in a nice build, each section having their own catchiness and segueing smoothly even though they differ from each other. The next round of the second verse, bridge, and chorus continues in kind, after which enters the instrumental interlude with the featured guitar solo that plays primarily on the lead chorus melodies for its inspiration. Toward the end of the song, however, the first bridge reprises in an unexpected appearance, but this time it is played differently than before with a delightful acoustic version emerging before revving back up into the catchy chorus for its last time as the song plays out to chants of “Long Live the King!”
Well Deserved is a moderately-paced seventh track on the album, and for me, is musically reminiscent of their previous single, Living Well. It is a song that uses well-crafted lyrics to warn against the shifting of the world societies into a new world order of sorts, where freedom in increasingly limited and history may be doomed to be repeated on a larger scale of greater government control and population imprisonment, devaluing human life, and destroying national economies. The piece begins with an introduction rife with melodic and arpeggiated riffs that lead into a more measured first verse. A short, two-line bridge follows, picking up the pace into the harmony-laded chorus which echoes the main theme of the song. The next verse and bridge then enter and lead into another appearance of the first chorus, after which a gloriously moving bass solo enters, accompanied only by the kick drum. The instrumental break expands into a guitar-driven interlude with the advancement of an electric guitar solo while being accompanied by an additional acoustic guitar along with the rest of the band. After the blistering guitar solo, the mood of the song drops into a new channel/verse that is more acoustic and chord-driven in nature. Following this is a shift into a second, new chorus, where the melodies remain the same as the previous chorus, but the lyrics change (emphasized by a change in key as well), which plays out with a syncopated outro to end the track.
The eighth track, Thunder and Rain, begins differently than usual, with the chorus sung a capella with all its harmonic choral layers before the instrumental introduction begins. Even though it begins more classically, this song really packs some punch once it gets started and holds the upbeat tempo throughout until the very end. After the instrumental intro, the substantial eight-line first verse enters, setting the stage for the song and its theme of walking the high, narrow, and sometimes isolating road of faith, segueing into the first bridge that leads to the chorus (as was heard in the beginning of the songs, but this time with instruments). After a brief instrumental segue, the second verse, bridge, and chorus appear in the same style as before, but after this second chorus enters the instrumental interlude – consisting of guitar solos in various styles shifting from more classical scale jumping to melodic lines to a more hard-rock soloing approach and back to the scale jumping again before return to the last chorus reprise. The song ends out with a lick akin to the introduction and end with a reprise of the first 4 lines from the first verse. This song, though power metal through and through, has a slightly gothic feel to it given the inclusion of the organ and choir-like vocals, especially seen in the choruses.
Train to Neverland is the ninth track on the album, and opens with the apropos sounds of a train traveling along the tracks. This is a fun song about the journey of life with all the people who join you on this journey with the ultimate destination in mind. It has a galloping beat and has a style that to me is a mixture somewhat reminiscent of Stryper and Iron Maiden, if you can imagine such a sound. The song structure is a little more complicated with several verses, subverses or channels, bridges, instrumental interludes and segues, and the main chorus. Every instrument has their chance to shine throughout the song, whether guitar soloing, exposed bass lines, or a bit of drum showiness at parts where it makes sense to do so. This is a nice song to hear along the end of the album and gives it some lightheartedness amidst some more serious fare.
The tenth and last song on the album is A Psalm of Life, inspired by a poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which talks about celebrating life, making the most of it, and perhaps even inspiring others along the journey of life with a “Carpe Diem” attitude. The poem and the song allude to the soul transcending this life (“for you were made from dust, and to dust you will return”), but both also admonish the readers/listeners not to let life just pass them by, but rather to make the most of each moment, taking it seriously and without being wasteful, even if they look forward to a glorious afterlife. The song starts off with a kind of majestic opening, but then shifts into a higher gear with galloping rhythms entering into the first verse with punctuated guitar and lovely off-beat cymbals that complement the vocal lines effectively. The chorus picks up again instrumentally with a powerful chorus that is likely to stick in your mind even after listening. Another verse and round of the chorus follows, after which enters the instrumental interlude including a guitar solo in a Megadeth-style rendition, also accented in parts with the keyboards (both with ambient chords and harpsichord), then the main theme returns both with the guitar and vocals singing in tandem again until a new channel/modified verse enters with a final chorus follow-up. The ending vocals and acoustic guitar (with a few augments from the cymbals and quiet chords laid down underneath by the keyboards) feature a different yet highly effective performance of the poignant ending “I know life is real, not an empty dream, heart for any fate, work and learn to wait.”
Decennium Primum is an album that celebrates the first ten years of Signum Regis as a band. There were some special Easter eggs to be found in this album, such as the inclusion of an album and a song title both in Latin, just like their name. Another thing to note about this album – to the pride of the band – is that it was completely done in-house. For instance, keyboardist Ján Tupý created the cover artwork and booklet layout and bassist Ronnie König did all of the mixing and mastering, having recorded all of their music in their own studios. The songwriting was also spread out, including contributions from others, even from years past. They included a song that was never before released but written by their friend and former band member Ado Kaláber (Train to Neverland), and a couple of other songs (The Future King and A Psalm of Life) were re-arranged and written with new English lyrics that had originally been intended for another project called Trigger, but whose singer, Josef Vlaschinský, also contributed to some of the songwriting on the album (The Future King, Thunder and Rain, A Psalm of Life). This album also saw the return of Ronnie’s brother Tommy König as a lyrics contributor once again (Thunder and Rain).
Signum Regis even released this album independently (rather than on their previous label Ulterium Records) because they won a competition of a free 1000 CD pressings of a new album, beating out 400 bands who entered. This album marks where they have come as a band and highlights their hard work and musical chemistry that come together to make them the group they are today as well as their future ambitions for what lies ahead, and even though they are proud of their accomplishments and growth over the past decade, they have no intentions of slowing down.
The lineup of this quintet has been solid over the last three recordings, and it really feels like they are growing and maturing together, settling into what is becoming the “Signum Regis” sound for which they are known. They have found a good balance between the energetic force of the power metal foundation, but they are not afraid to experiment and throw in some musical surprises not always seen in traditional power metal styles, which keep it fresh and break up what could otherwise end up being monotonous songs that only try to be fast for the sake of speed, as is sometimes the case in the power metal world. Each band member brings their individual strengths to the table, and they fit together nicely. Mayo‘s powerful vocals bring the grit and gravity to all the songs while Ján‘s keyboards add the panache that each song needs in the right amount – not being overly showy but providing the right additional ambiance that each song needs. Filip is a virtuosic guitarist who really should have much more recognition in the metal world, and Signum Regis should be proud to have such a musician among their ranks. He can play many styles, and nothing seems to be too fast or complicated for him to offer up on this or any album. Ronnie and Jaro make a great rhythm foundation for the band, and they both have extreme talent that you can see flashes of when they really get to shine with exposed bass solos (or just nicely heard walking basslines underneath) or with some unusual syncopated rhythms or reinvention of the status quo beyond just blast beats or standard rhythmic patterns one might expect from the drums. Their musical chemistry has only tightened up over the years and who knows what we can expect from this dream team quintet in the future. One thing is certain, however, and that is their 5th album Decennium Primum is a solid winner.
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