One thing that I enjoy about reviewing music in particular is hearing albums that new groups have created and put forth for the public to feast on the fruits of their labor with their freshly combined musical vision. New bands are formed around the world on a daily basis, but only the best come to the surface. One such group comes from Sweden, the birthplace of many bands of excellent repute, which is a power metal band by the name of ShadowQuest. It is a supergroup of sorts with its members combining a great amount of experience both past and present in the metal field. ShadowQuest‘s impressive personnel includes Jari Kainulainen (Masterplan, Devil’s Train, former Stratovarius, Symfonia, and Evergrey) featuring on bass, Kaspar Dahlqvist (former Dionysus, Nation, Ride the Sky) playing keyboards, Patrik Johansson (Bloodbound, Dawn of Silence) helming the lead vocals, Peter Huss (Shining, former Sinergy) and Ragnar Widerberg (Witherscape, Saint Deamon) teaming up on guitars, and Ronny Milianowicz (Sinergy, Saint Deamon, Dionysus) holding down the fort on drums. They confidently put forth their debut album, Armoured IV Pain, with a tracklist of eleven powerful songs with a variety of themes.
The opening song is Blood of the Pure (listen in the lyric video below), and relates the idea of a man who lived a life of horrible actions, but he later pays for his misdeeds by helping others when they need it. This track starts with a kind of heraldic metal introduction, and then dives into a fairly straightforward metal tune, with hints of 80’s power metal and a dash of progressive flavors, somewhat reminiscent of an Iron Maiden flair. There are punctuated off-beat syncopations that dominate the verses, but then settle into straight eighth note pushes into the bridges and choruses. This song was written with Patrik’s voice in mind, so it showcases his higher range and is a good starter out of the gate for this album.
Last Farewell (listen in the lyric video below) is the next track, which is a moderately-tempoed song with power ballad feel, though it is more serious than sappy. This song paints the story about a person who was deeply hurt from a near-fatal injury and left to heal from it on her own, and only after finding herself in the position to help someone else was she able to come out of her difficulty and find a reason to live. It is a melancholic song of heart-wrenching pain, which can be heard in the vocal delivery, but it also communicates hope of being able to overcome.
The third track, entitled All One (see the music video below) changes styles a bit and is a heavy-hitting song. Starting out of the gate with a fast, stampeding gait without a letup during the whole song. The vocals are gritty, powerful, and soaring – jumping octaves in the verses with an amazing vocal scream at the end that is not to be missed. The song moves forward with a steady sixteenth note foundation pummeled by the kick drums and bass while allowing the guitars to have their moments of wizardry and the keys to add an orchestral flair at key points. The guitar duet paralleled by the keyboards during the instrumental break is well-executed, and they subtly sneak in a couple of key changes to give it a little extra interest. This song relates more of an apocalyptic theme about the end and rebirth of the world that is driven home with the energy of the delivery in this tune.
Live Again is a song that illustrates the consistently seeking to find the freedom and self-discovery beyond the mundane of the everyday life. In particular, this song is dedicated to Timo Tolkki (former Stratovarious, Symfonia, Avalon), who helped Ronny during a difficult time during the production of this album. The musical beginning shif ts gears again, with a deftly-delivered keyboard introduction to the song to start things off, while the band enters after the first strain of this melody with equally fast support for another couple iterations of the theme until they pare back a bit when the vocals enter for the first verse. The rhythms become more punctuated during the bridge and segue into a smoother chorus with a reprise of the introductory theme into the next cycle of verse, bridge and chorus. The instrumental break has a bit of a neo-classical taste to it, a nice interlude between the solidly even beat in the rest of the song.
Aptly titled to its theme, the fifth song is a hymn that relates the wonder of the land of the Midnight Sun amongst the Scandinavian countries from where ShadowQuest hails. With a Viking influence in its lyrics, there are also some moments that evoke some Celtic musical approaches that fit well with the 6/8 time, giving it a slightly different feel than its predecessors. This song is a kind of anthem, with some regimental verses and bridges followed by heavy yet rallying choruses. The instrumental interlude includes some more modernistic keyboard voices along with the guitar solos, followed by two more anthemic choruses before the decisive conclusion.
Reach Beyond the Dream is a high energy song that encourages the listener to follow your dreams, whatever they may be, and don’t just conform and miss out on your heart’s calling. The verses seem a little darker musically, so that going into the chorus from the bridge, the tone changes into a more triumphant and positive feel as if to further accentuate the positive message of breaking free from the bondages that may be put on us by others. This song is full of double kick-drum, fast-paced riffs and solos, and soaring vocals. Though the song is short and sweet, clocking in at just under four minutes, the message is not lost in its jam-packed, brisk delivery.
The seventh track, We Bring Power, changes gears with a slower tempo as well as a different topic relating the events of the 1944 D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach. The music is more deliberate in its heavier pace, and rather than relying on the shred factor as in the previous track, the beat is steady and incorporates syncopation on the choruses. Patrik’s vocals continue the intensity, kicking up the notch at the end of the verses and into the choruses up the octave. Ronny and Jari hold down the fort very solidly throughout this tune – with a little bass flair during the instrumental interlude – and Kaspar’s keys take a front seat during the solo section as well with a fleetingly-fingered feature in between the guitar solos.
Insatiable Soul begins with a choral entry that sings the first couple of lines from the chorus as the initial introduction, with the band then entering to complete the nearly minute long opening. This longer tune takes the listener through a roller coaster, with the choral opener, to the measured verses and through the majestic choruses. Then, about three and a half minutes in, the song takes a totally different tack and switches to organ/synth only, with the vocals sung as if hearing them from a distance, creating a very lovely musical reprieve in the piece. However, the listener is in for a rude awakening from this ethereal, serene portion as the band returns with the most blistering part of the whole tune, entering in with a vengeance for another reprise of the chorus and a definitive finale. This emotional song relates the extreme despair that can come with the betrayal by a friend or loss of a love, but not to give up no matter what, which seems to be aptly communicated through the lyrics and the various musical themes throughout the composition.
The next track takes the listener on yet another turn in themes, which is loosely but largely inspired by the cult film “Hellraiser.” Take This Life is understandably a hard-hitter with a chugging introduction that keeps a tempo that moderately presses forward, and then ups the ante about halfway through the first verse. It drills right into the chorus, which employs some interesting upbeat syncopation to break up the style a bit. The solos on both guitars and keyboards are appropriately shredding and keeping the intensity of such a song high.
Where Memories Grow changes the pace a bit, beginning with a beautiful piano solo to start it off, and is then joined by a more orchestral paralleling introduction with a lighter entry by the rest of the band to accompany the grand entrance. This song has a more tempered 12/8 feel to the time, and carries a poignant sense to the melody and the lyrics. This song relates to what people find comforting and safe, especially going back to basics when one comes to the end of life stage. The verses and the chorus are heavier, while the bridges pull back a little with some lighter arpeggiated acoustic guitar. The instrumental interlude is initially completely different with soft rain and a swish of a sword unsheathing in the background, with only acoustic guitar and parallel-played harpsichord keys. This segues back into a heavier complement of the band complete with the guitar solos, but as the vocals return for a bridge reprise, they drop down to a hushed tone as well as the instrumentation is reduced again to just the piano. Even though this song has a different style than most of the other tracks, it has moments of beauty along with the overall zeitgeist that sets it apart and makes it one of my favorite songs on the album.
Freewheel Burning is the final song on the digital release of the album, and a cover of the Judas Priest song, a la ShadowQuest style. This version is fairly close to the original, with a slightly updated sound with their own signature approach. This remake is a worthy homage to the band, especially since ShadowQuest’s sound could be easily compared to that of Judas Priest, so this bonus track is a nice nod to their musical predecessors (and contemporaries).
ShadowQuest‘s debut album is definitely a strong offering from veteran musicians from the metal genre in the vein of old school power metal with a dash of NWOBHM and 80’s heavy metal influences thrown in (especially given the hat tip cover of Judas Priest, with whom they share a similar sound). Their combined musical experiences make this album seem mature and further along than a typical young new band’s first disc. And though Armoured IV Pain tackles a gamut of themes, one of the common threads is the uplifting message of not giving up no matter how difficult the circumstance might be. Their songs are relatively straightforward, and with an average song length of four and a half minutes, they aren’t belabored or overcomplicated; they are simple yet complex compositional offerings with thoughtful lyrics. The musicianship here is very solid, with complicated, intense, and sensitive drumming provided by Ronny and joined by Jari as a fellow brother-in-arms to hold down a steady and formidable foundation for each song. Ragnar and Peter make a great guitar team that seems equally balanced, and they play off of and with each other well, shredding when the time calls for it, or playing with more restraint and simplicity at others. Kaspar is a great addition to the musical team, with his varied piano and synth parts at times being subtle supports to the other parts, and at other times shining forth as the lead. And Patrik‘s vocals are fairly rock solid and hit into the higher octave range with power and confidence, with a little grit to them for added traction to the songs’ delivery. This formation of a new Swedish power metal band is worth taking a notice, and it seems the chemistry is right for future endeavors to continue beyond this album. In the meantime, one would be wise to check into this powerful new group’s musical vision.