It’s always more difficult to review a band with an established discography when you’ve never heard of them in the first place. Such is the case with Eldritch, a prolific Italian power metal outfit with a whopping 11 albums under their belt since their 1991 inception. Allegedly, their earlier works contained such influences as Metallica, Machine Head, and Pantera, but 17 years and a few line-up changes can do a lot to a band (right, Metal Magic?) In case of Eldritch, their experience has pushed power and progressive tendencies to the forefront, settling on a sound from the neighborhood of Angra for their new release, the curiously titled Cracksleep.
The band wouldn’t be Italian if they did not sail the seas of cheese, of course, but when the opener proper brings out the stilton with as much verve as “Reset” does, you won’t hear me complain. Building upon the backbone of a killer riff embellished with humming synths and a sprinkle of piano, Eldritch aims high and hits when it counts. Vocalist Terence Holler has a youthful voice, residing in the upper registers and carrying a lot of power. He doesn’t constantly blast piercing falsettos, but relies on a solid and stable performance, befitting a band with 17 years of experience. The sound is crisp, the riffs and hooks tightly constructed on a backbone of energetic drums and supplemented with synths. The solos are professionally executed with great variety and flow, winding through multiple short movements that keep them fresh and more than just an exercise in finger speed. The hook-laden “Aberration of Nature” is the best example of these elements coming together with hermetic songwriting.
Your overall enjoyment will depend on your lactose tolerance. Several songs descend from mere cheesy to the downright corny, specifically the power ballads. “My Breath” milks the line ‘You are my life’ for all it’s worth, remaining to the point about its nature as a sticky love song. With its higher amount of keyboard engagement, “As the Night Crawls In” has a slicker feel than the other tracks, and the mid-pace of the chorus (a bit of a staple along the album) has Eurovision vibes not everyone will appreciate. Aside from the excellent tumbling flow of the penultimate track, the back-half is a little too similar in structure as well, with its similarly paced dramatic choruses and more punchy energy in the verses. The closer uses the reduced pace to its advantage though, bringing the album home with a densely atmospheric track heavy with emotion, not dissimilar from the atmospheric closers to Dark Tranquillity‘s Atoma.
The main thing overcoming these bumps in the road is the sturdy songwriting. The riffs have great hooks and the execution is sharp as a razor, the instruments harmonizing perfectly and playing off of one another. It is obvious that this band has been in the biz for a very long time with its mature compositions and skillful implementation. The production is similarly high quality. The mix is balanced well, with the spotlight on the vocals and guitars, but not ignoring the ambiance of the keys, the sprightly drums, and industrious basswork. The latter could have used a little bit extra volume, but that’s barely worth mentioning in this society of underappreciated bass players.
Eldritch have walked a long road to be at the point where they are now. With Cracksleep (which I still think is an odd title, crack is not generally a sleeping aid) they have delivered a solid album that displays their mature, experienced take on power metal with some elements of a progressive sound. It’s not an album that will blow your mind, nor will it top anyone’s End of Year lists. But for genre lovers looking for a well-constructed diversion, you won’t go wrong with the excellent vocals, addictive hooks and pungent cheese contained on this platter.