Album Reviews

Signum Regis – Exodus

Signum Regis (Latin for “Signature of the King”) is a melodic metal band out of Slovakia, founded in 2007, and Exodus is their third studio album.  The follow up to their sophomore album from 2010, The Eyes of Power, Signum Regis has put forth a concept album that covers the story of its namesake of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.  This topic seems to be a hot theme among metal bands recently (i.e, Amaseffer’s first offering of their Exodus trilogy, Slaves for Life, and their second album releasing soon), and Signum Regis takes it on with a fairly straightforward melodic metal style.  For them, this album differs as they use different guest vocalists on each song, rather than a singular vocalist as they have had on their first two albums.

The band lineup for this album includes Filip Koluš (guitar), Ronnie König (bass, keyboard programming), and Jaro Jancula (drums, flute). Keyboardist Ján Tupý, who is still a full member of Signum Regis, only played on one song, however, and was not listed in the lineup.  In addition, their vocalist on the previous two albums, Göran Edman, only sang on one of the songs, since they decided to use guest singers for the different tracks on Exodus (as well as Edman’s not continuing as their full-time frontman).

The album starts off with a short but poignant instrumental track entitled On the Nile, that starts off with the sound of flowing water, with a beautiful, haunting melody played on acoustic guitar, and featured on the flute (by drummer Jaro), later joined by a choir as the song tapers to an end.  This leads into the first vocal track and second song, Enslaved, which features guest vocalist Thomas L. Winkler (Gloryhammer, former Emerald) and couldn’t be more different in style than the introduction.  It begins with a strong, quick-paced guitar lead introduction, and the attempted gritty and guttural melodic vocals by Winkler tell the pained story of the Israelites enslaved by the Egyptians as the new Pharaoh came to power who did not know their ancestor Joseph and forced them into hard labor.  The song keeps a good pace, with a generally straightforward metal style and structure, with the lyrics smoothly flowing into the rhythm of the song.  The grittiness of the vocals seems forced, however, and although it may have been inflected to communicate the hardship felt by the Hebrews, it feels a little distracting in the delivery and likely would have sounded better with a cleaner sound with Winkler’s particular voice.

The Promised Land, the third track is sung by guest vocalist Mike Vescera (Obsession), and continues the story as it fast-forwards to Moses’ appearance onto the scene as the deliverer of the Israelites out of Egypt.  This song starts off with an ethereal chorus and harps with an eventual entry of a more orchestral score, which then segues into a melodic power metal guitar entry, though the choral voices continue with the band until the vocal appearance by Vescera.  The song proceeds with a typical verse-bridge-chorus pattern in the prog-power vein with the vibrato-laden vocals soaring overhead.  The double pedaling of the kick drum, the eighth note walking bass lines, and the shredding guitars keep the song going along at a good pace without letting up for most of the track.  The vocal lines carry on with a half-feel over the double-time feel of the instrumental music that makes it both catchy and balanced.

The fourth song, Let Us Go!, is sung by guest vocalist Eli Prinsen (Sacred Warrior, The Sacrificed), who noted himself of his use of a Dio/Dickenson vocal approach for this piece.  The song starts off right away with a driving entry that sets the tone for the song, with the deeper, authoritarian vocals that Prinsen puts forth to emphasize the message of the song, which relates the confrontation of Moses and Aaron to the Pharaoh to let the Israelite people free.  There is a slight shift with the music after the second chorus that is a little slower and methodical, but it picks up again with the guitar solo that remains until the end of the song as another verse and chorus finish it out to the brusque ending.

Wrath of Pharaoh, the fifth track, recounts Pharaoh’s haughty response to Moses and his contempt for the Hebrew people as he feels he will surely defeat them and prevent them from leaving Egypt and challenging his authority again.  Guest vocalist Samuel Nyman (Manimal) takes this song to a much different level than Prinsen’s vocals on the previous song.  Again, Nyman’s vocals carry a lot of vibrato, but he also stays in the high octave range throughout much of the song, particularly on the verses, almost like an ostinato. The chorus is very catchy, but the high vocals on the verses and part of the choruses make the lyrics more difficult to understand and are less dynamic in range than the melodies in the lower octaves. Musically, the band’s direction on this song is quite straightforward metal, in a way quite reminiscent of the 80’s or early 90’s.  It keeps a fast pace with double kick drum and 16th note guitar rhythm and solo parts, giving it an almost thrashy feel.

Moving into the sixth song, The Ten Plagues starts of a bit slower and deeper than the previous track as the perspective returns to Moses and his warning to the Pharaoh of the coming of the Ten Plagues that will come if he doesn’t change his mind to let the Israelites go.  Guest singer Matt Smith (Theocracy) brings his trademark vocals to this song with rich harmonies and strong delivery.  This song is a step down in tempo and style from several of the previous songs, but not to be mistaken for having a lack of drive.  The bass lines are as dynamic as ever, the drums keep it moving forward, and the guitar lines are serious and less showy but communicate the gravity of the song.

Last Days in Egypt is the second instrumental song on the album, and the nearly four minute song starts off with a ticking clock, and continues the melody with electric guitar, supported by organ and synths along with the bass and drums, and is a very likeable piece that definitely stands alone as an instrumental.  It has shredding solos, parallel arpeggios with the bass and guitar, and memorable melodic lines that stand strongly on their own without the vocals present.

The eighth song on the album, Exodus, picks up where The Ten Plagues leaves off, and begins by recounting the tenth and final plague – the death of the firstborn – that eventually causes the Pharaoh to change his mind and let the Israelites go.  This begins the namesake of this song and the album – their Exodus to the Promised Land and the defeat of the Pharaoh’s chariots at the parting of the Red Sea.  Guest vocalist Lance King (solo, former Pyramaze, Balance of Power, et al.) takes on this song with melodic finesse in his solidly-delivered mid-range.  The song is moderately paced, marked mostly by staccato chords with a length guitar solo with solid supporting bass about 2/3 into the song and the chorus reprised in a pseudo-acapella return with the vocals and punctuated instrumentation

Song of Deliverance, the ninth and final official song of the Exodus story, brings together the trio of guest vocalists Matt Smith, Lance King, and Daísa Munhoz (Vandroya, Soulspell) for its finale.  This song is the longest on the album at just over 7 minutes in length, and is the culminating piece of the album, essentially a hymn that praises God for their deliverance out of Egypt (one could imagine this song to be sung by Moses, his brother Aaron, and his sister Miriam – appropriately apportioned to the vocalist representation), though it is general enough like one of the Psalms that it could be used in any type of context of worship and not the Exodus story alone.  But make no mistake, this song does not come across like any “praise and worship” song, and retains its metal roots quite well.  It starts off quite strongly with a quick beat and the gritty but effective vocals of Munhoz starts the first verse off.  The trio of vocalists merge well together, especially on the chorus, and it maintains and rapid beat throughout until about three minutes into the song, when the tempo slows briefly for about half-time, and then speeds back up to [a tempo] again.  This extended instrumental continues with a switch in style and speed for almost two minutes before the reprise of the chorus with the vocalists, after which the tempo and style notches down again as the instrumental takes the listener out to the faded end.

Sole Survivor, a bonus track on the album, is a cover song by Helloween.  It features guest vocalist Göran Edman (previous vocalist with Signum Regis and formerly with Yngwie Malmsteen & John Norum), who, with the band, produces a quite close but updated-sounding version of the song, very nicely performed.  Also a bonus track that still fits in with the theme of the album is the last track Mountain of God.  This song features guest vocalist Mayo Petranin (Castaway, now the current full-time vocalist with Signum Regis), is almost like a postscript to the album, though it could have easily been fit in between Enslaved and The Promised Land, as it recounts Moses’ first person account of meeting God at the Burning Bush and unknowingly being chosen as the spokesperson and deliverer of the Israelites from Egypt.  It begins almost like the opening song with the sound of fire burning, and a sadly-themed Middle Eastern flavor from a cello or duduk, but almost unexpectedly catches you off guard as it starts into the power metal flavor for the rest of the song – very reminiscent of Titanic’s style and sound – with a measured delivery with the solid and unadorned drum beat and straightforward 4/4 guitar riffs.

Overall, this album is an ambitious project that strives to tell one of the quintessential stories in the history of mankind.  While it may not be a decidedly epic album, the straightforwardness of the musical style allows it to have a wider accessibility within the metal genre for greater acceptance.  The incorporation of multiple guest vocalists has both strengths and weaknesses, and one way Signum Regis could have approached the album using this method – since it is a concept album – is if they had assigned the singers to represent a certain role within the story (i.e., Moses, Pharaoh, etc. – a la Ayreon), reprising as necessary for perhaps a greater continuity and impact with the subject matter.  The roster of guest vocalists who contributed to the album were impressive, and kudos deserve to go to the band for arranging for these prog/melodic/power metal singers to be included, as well as to the vocalists themselves for being available to offer their talents to this album. Some of the music was very compelling, particularly the instrumentals, and it might have been nice to expand on some of those themes that felt unfulfilled such as the beginning of Mountain of God that seemed to get shortchanged with seemingly abrupt changes in style, rather than having an extended segue of the styles in a more fluid or connected fashion.  The lyrics of the songs are well done, easily communicating the important aspects of the Exodus story incorporating clarity and belief into their message.  The musicianship is unquestionable, even though there might have been a greater sense of musical or stylistic continuity throughout the album to seal it together as a consistent whole.  Signum Regis has put forth a solid album that has a widespread appeal that should be received by most who love melodic, power, and/or even AOR metal.  Even though there might not have been enough “wow” factor to launch it over the top in my opinion, there are still a few good gems on the album that make it worth listening to, and no doubt there will be standout moments that will likely differ from listener to listener.  With Exodus, Signum Regis has put forth a visionary album, and I do look forward to seeing what they create in the future.

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