During the last year, I’ve heard a lot of praises for Italian metal scene, especially applied to the recently formed bands. I’ve ended up checking some of their albums in 2013, and concluded the praises were well-earned. So when another record from Italian band, Astral Domine, caught my eye, I picked it for review without hesitation, and never regretted this decision since. The band, being founded in 2011, took their time to deliver their debut album, Arcanum Gloriae, and these two years of writing, recording and mastering certainly didn’t go in vain. The band consists of six members, featuring two guitar players Luca Gagnoni and Daniele Cerchietti along with Yeshan Gunawardana on keyboards. Bass and drums are handled by Marko Margiotti and Davide Di Patrizio respectively, while the epic vocal melodies are delivered by Marco Scorletti and two guest vocalists.
The album contains an hour of fantasy oriented material, ranging from slow-paced, solemn pieces to fast and sweeping tunes with catchy, memorable choruses, thrilling instrumental work and decent production. Opening with a mostly spoken introduction and giving the listener a taste of what awaits him, the record manages to remain calm for a while due to the acoustic intro of Holy Knights. This clean guitar melody gets you into a medieval mood, and then the song expectedly explodes. Tricky vocal melodies in the verses transform into soaring, grandiose ones in the chorus, making you think of holy crusades and heroic sacrifices. The next song starts similarly quiet, but soon it becomes clear it doesn’t bear too much resemblance. The weather in the North is harsh, ruthless and hard, as are the northern people, and King of North conveys these impressions exactly. This is a fast-paced, straightforward double bass tune mostly without splendor and grandeur, just like the life in a cold freezing winter is. The vocals on this song are a bit on a safe side, and I can’t help but have a feeling the song would benefit from them being more aggressive. Moonlight offers the listener a time to take a breath after such a ride, and while the chorus is slightly underwhelming, the song makes up for it with intense solo and gorgeous piano outro. It’s certainly not a highlight of the record though, unlike the next two songs, which are the example of exceptional songwriting the band is capable of. Tale of the Elves and Pain contains a wide range of musical ideas: a simple yet captivating main riff, the tense verses with unrestrained vocals, a nice change of pace in the middle and of course the symphonic chorus, hyped up with an appropriate oh-chanting, somehow reminiscent of Rainbow’s Wolf to the Moon. And that’s not a bad sign, by all means. Anyway, it gets better, because nothing on this record can top the next song, Where Heroes Die. This piece is the longest one on the album, and it’s as epic as it gets. One might call it a power ballad, another can label it as a speedy song, in fact it’s neither. There are a lot of pace changes and this song can’t be easily classified. I feel that the perfect way to describe it, and also to pay a compliment, is to notice it reminds me of Blind Guardian’s And Then There Was Silence, only with less layers and more bombastic chorus. Seriously, this chorus will blow you away, trust me. This song features Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire, Vision Divine) as a guest vocalist, and he does a magnificent job there. I can see this song working as an incredible album closer.
Such a glorious song like Where Heroes Die casts a very large shadow, so I Am The King, while being a decent tune, feels a little lackluster on the verses. The chorus, on the other hand, is memorable enough. Same can be said for My Lord, a ballad where exceptionally calm piano-and-vocals driven verses transform flawlessly into the second best written chorus on the album; anthemic, splendid and glorious. It feels like some valiant and honourable man says his vows before being anointed to a knight and the atmosphere is reflected impeccably. And after few epic songs in a row it seems only fitting to put something more powerful and rushing in the sequence, but the usage of overly evil voice in Welcome To My Reign is, to put it mildly, questionable. It certainly gives me an impression of some vile and disgusting creature, which can be an allusion to the men trying to take the crown only due to their greediness for power, but it’s totally not a pleasant thing to listen. The album is wrapped up with Falsi Dei, featuring Giuseppe “Ciape” Cialone (Rosae Crucis) as a guest vocalist. The song begins with intro, which distantly reminds me of acoustic part in Holy Knights. While it’s not the same melody, there are some similarities between them, and it’s a nice touch indeed. Falsi Dei kind of represents the whole album, being at the same time tightly written, concise, differently-paced, powerful and solemn. Yet, in my opinion, there is one thing it fails to do properly, to end the record. The whole thing ends too abruptly to my taste, unlike most of previous pieces, but it is only a small complaint among lots of praises.
Arcanum Gloriae is not an amazingly consistent album,it has its highs and lows like most of the records have. I also have a feeling the band decided to play safe on certain tracks, King of North especially, which is probably because it’s their first album to be released. And despite the flaws I mentioned, this is a solid contribution to the metal scene, and a fine start of band’s career. While this album may not be welcomed by everyone, fans of fantasy-themed power metal will certainly enjoy it, and other people may find something appealing to their tastes too. One thing can be said for certain, these guys indeed know how to catch the medieval spirit.