A few years back I had the pleasure of seeing Kamelot live at the only venue in my home state that hosts good metal concerts. It was a brilliant show, with the audience belting every lyric while the band granted us an unanticipated level of interactivity, yet one man I met in the crowd remained nonplussed. Forget one of America’s best power metal bands; this guy was excited as all fuck to catch second-rate supporting act Delain. After giddily proving himself to be the only person in attendance to know all (or any) of the symphonic metal band’s lyrics, he remained stone-faced through Kamelot‘s first two songs before donning his fedora and disappearing into the night. I deliver this anecdote so that you, dear reader, may better understand the mentality of Swedish melodic metal act Enbound on their sophomore release The Blackened Heart. Like my mystery Delain man, Enbound is inexplicably enamored with melodic bands that dilute the sounds of far more fulfilling artists. In turn, they have diminished the formula even further.
The Blackened Heart is the type of simplistic melodic metal à la (you guessed it) Delain that seems designed to be sampled on Spotify and promptly forgotten, but it’s not entirely without merit. Perhaps thanks to the influence of drummer Mikael Hornqvist of Zonata fame (who here goes by Mike Force for some pretentious reason), Enbound sports some evident power metal leanings that make for a few surprisingly enjoyable instances. The mystical opening melodies of “Crossroad,” for example, recall the atmosphere of early Pyramaze, and the towering symphonic arrangements of “Twelve” could stand toe-to-toe with Epica‘s bombastic compositions. The problem here is that nearly all the memorable moments the band pulls off are followed by totally insipid verses. The vocal melodies are of the thrown-together quality you might expect from a Saturday Night Live sketch, except where SNL has actually managed some earworms in the past, most melodies on The Blackened Heart roll right off of me. As you might imagine, this does not bode well for a pop metal band reliant on vocal hooks.
Enbound attempts to smother their compositions with a thick symphonic blanket in an effort to distract listeners from the emptiness of their Blackened Heart. Song structures are completely linear, 4:4 affairs supported by stock drum patterns and chuggy, robotic riffs. The symphonics are so prevalent that I was flabbergasted to learn that Enbound lacks a keyboard player; how are you supposed to pull these songs off live without one when the synths are layered heavily enough to make Jari Mäenpää blush? Not that you’d want to catch them live, because outside of the programming, this record lacks any defining traits. At least Amaranthe possesses some pretense of aggression and can muster a catchy chorus, whereas Enbound largely goes through the motions without a hint of urgency or purpose.
To their credit, Enbound manages one track that I can enjoy in its entirety with “Fallen,” which features a livelier chorus than the rest of the album’s cuts and offers intriguing staccato interplay between the rhythm guitar and drums. Singer Lee Hunter nearly killed my impression of this track though with his embarrassing, harmonized introduction. It sounds like it would be at home on an N*Sync b-side, as does the entirety of the cavity-inducing “Holy Grail.” Hunter is a good vocalist who reminds me of Pellek at times, but he completely lacks the energy to be an effective metal performer. The flaccid lyrics regarding love and other generic, pedestrian subjects certainly don’t help his case either, and as much as we like to joke about him around these parts, I really wish that someone like Jørn had been enlisted to bring some life to the proceedings [Report to HR. – Steel Druhm].
I have a troubled relationship with The Blackened Heart. While it’s so inoffensive that I can’t really say I loathe it, that very same innocuous nature makes this an extremely difficult album to review, as I forget half of the songs between spins. I suppose that, if you’re a connoisseur of derivative melodic metal, this might not be a terrible listen to hear the album’s brighter moments. As I see it, however, Enbound is a lesser product of a genre that was never particularly gripping to begin with, and outside of my reviewing duties, I would never be caught dead listening to this in a year filled with so many excellent and compelling releases.