As this particular combination of band name and album art has probably deterred the chunk of our visitors who are power metal-phobic, these next words will likely fall on the ears of those who want to hear them least: most power metal is bad. My love affair with the genre will never completely fizzle, but with so many start-ups crutching on knock-off Helloween choruses executed through dreadful vocal performances and robotic rhythm sections, picking out the diamonds in the rough is often a fruitless task. Judging by their name, I would have assumed Eagleheart incapable of escaping the bottomless bargain bin of Stratovarius clones1, but astonishingly, they sound very little like Finland’s second-corniest sons. Their third LP Reverse, though undoubtedly derivative, is undoubtedly good.
Hailing from the Czech Republic, Eagleheart, like Serenity before them, travels the power metal trail blazed by Kamelot; relatively sophisticated when compared to the scene at large, yet not afraid to indulge in velocity and excess. Chunky, prog-lite riffs and relatively straightforward drum patterns provide Reverse’s framework, but despite a mostly predictable rhythm section, the album is elevated by frequent songwriting surprises. From the bittersweet musings and proggy kit work in the bridge of “Healing the Scars” to the out-of-left-field speed metal runs that lead into the solo sections of the title track and “Erased from Existence,” Eagleheart frequently subverts expectations in the latter half of their compositions while sticking close to traditional power metal song structuring tactics. Of course, the genre is nothing without its emotionally driven vocal hooks, and in this respect, the band proves itself consistently competent and, occasionally, exceptional – the refrain of “Until Fear is Gone” is one of the catchiest I’ve heard this year.
If Reverse has one glaring drawback, it’s that it occasionally falls back on modern melodic metal tropes that disrupt Eagleheart’s otherwise energetic momentum. The staccato, metalcore chugs of “All I Am” and the milquetoast pop personality of “Endless” spring to mind, and while these tracks are certainly not as cringey as something Enbound would shit out on a lazy Sunday afternoon, it’s disappointing that the band would pair something as exciting and dynamic as the high tempo penultimate track “Painting the Shadows by Light” with material that feels decidedly mediocre in comparison. Elsewhere, otherwise solid songs are dragged down by choruses that feel strangely tired. This is a rare occurrence to be sure, but it’s difficult to ignore in cuts like “Palace of Thoughts,” which has an oddly dispassionate sounding refrain for a track that, as far as I can tell, deals with the topic of assisted suicide.
This is by no means a knock against vocalist Roman Sácek who, despite lacking the castrato-esque falsetto of many power metal singers, is an impressively flexible frontman, delivering brooding, restrained passages and raspy barks with equal skill. Otherwise, there aren’t really any standout members, but Eagleheart’s ability to execute a funky time signature change on a dime is indicative of a band perfectly in sync with each other nonetheless. I wish I could make out the lead guitar better in Reverse’s non-solo sections, but the production somewhat dampens these performances in the mix to the point where I’m still discovering riffs after several listens that probably should have been obvious from the first spin. As it’s been engineered, nothing about the record sound-wise makes it distinct from other modern power metal albums; it doesn’t sound bad, but I find myself wondering when every album in the genre is going to stop sounding identical.
A couple of underwhelming tracks aside, I was more than pleasantly surprised with what Eagleheart achieved here, and I found myself returning to Reverse often outside of my blog obligations2. This isn’t an earth shattering power metal release by any means, but it’s one that I think will be almost universally appealing to genre devotees thanks to entertaining songwriting flourishes, quality melodies, and impressive vocal work. If nothing else, with the release of the next Kamelot LP roughly half a year or so out, Reverse should prove a worthy record capable of filling that specific void.