The AMG promo well had been experiencing a significant power metal drought since I rolled into these hallowed halls roughly a year ago, but within in the past month, something changed. There were no less than five new releases in the genre to choose from, and choose I did; Tales of Gaia turned out disastrously, but I figured that Finland’s Force Majeure, with their surprisingly audacious band name, might turn things around. The phrase “force majeure” refers to an unprecedented event, a notion I found seductive in context with a genre infamous for its limited scope. Ironically – and, sadly, not at all surprisingly – The Rise of Starlit Fires is an extremely derivative affair, writing power metal tunes with barely enough competence to cling to “mediocre” status.
Despite being Finnish, Force Majeure takes greater inspiration from the Germanic power metal sound than from Stranata Variarctica. The closest comparison here is probably Edguy thanks to both bands’ penchants for mid-paced excursions and hard rock tangents, though Force Majeure does bring sprinklings of synths and a few high-speed numbers to the table that echo the brand established by their fellow countrymen. The best thing that can be said for The Rise of Starlit Fires is that individual moments reflect genuine flashes of inspiration. The Keldian-esque trans-galactic instrumentation in “Blessed by the Wolves” and the strange outburst of symphonic black metal in “The Darkening” hint at a band that, with the right mindset, could potentially pull in enough creative elements to craft a unique sound.
Even with its occasional bursts of inspiration, The Rise of Starlit Fires never managed to hook me because it can never gain enough traction to sustain my interest for an entire song. Any spark of ingenuity is quickly doused by utter predictability; my first exposure to this record coaxed my cynical side into playing a very successful game of “Guess Which Chord Comes Next,” and on subsequent spins I would almost completely tune out of the proceedings if I didn’t actively focus my attention on the music. The choruses feature awkward melodies that don’t come close to delivering the catharsis that more successful power metal bands can pull off effortlessly, the riffs consist almost entirely of bland power chord patterns, and after several listens I can only manage to recall a single guitar solo from the entire album (the surprisingly emotive performance in “Apocalyptic Hearts” nabs this nugget of memorability). As a result of its thoroughly flaccid presentation, TRoSF is worse than bad; it’s instantly forgettable.
The production doesn’t do Force Majeure many favors as it unpleasantly distorts the rhythm section1 and frequently buries the lead guitars to absurd obscurity; even certain guitar solos are difficult to make out. The bass guitar is often quite audible, however, giving tracks like “The Great Starfall” a dirty, tangible groove to boost the lackluster compositions. The performances, for the most part, are quite good, so I can’t fault the record from a technical standpoint, even though Vocalist Marcus Lång (Excalion) never made a strong impression on me. His voice possesses enough grit to make him a suitable metal frontman, but his range feels quite limited and it periodically sounds as though he’s shouting to reach certain notes.
A handful of people commented on my recent Tales of Gaia review that it’s the type of album that gives power metal a bad name. That may be true, but I’d contend that bands like Force Majeure bar long-term investment from would-be genre loyalists. There are countless albums like The Rise of Starlit Fires; not necessarily detestable, yet so singularly concerned with aping and unintentionally diluting the established formula that it’s merely another disc thrown carelessly onto an endlessly growing pile. Pick it up if you absolutely have to hear every power metal release, but in terms of sheer entertainment value, you’d be better off sticking with Tales of Gaia.