I know you. You’re like me. You took one look at that hein(ie)ous album title, shook your head, and reported yourself to HR.1 The obliquely-named Return of the Cosmic Men marks the second effort from French power outfit Galderia, a band whose 2012 debut The Universality was decent but notable only for its group of eight vocal contributors. If Galderia wanted to beat my exceedingly low expectations, they were going to have to show me something special. But like an ace pitcher telling an overmatched batter that he’s throwing three fastballs, Galderia fires off an untouchable barrage of energetic power metal that leaves you sorry you doubted them.
A name like “Shining Unity” belongs on a Freedom Call album, and indeed the opener harbors much of the Germans’ uplifting nature. However, Freedom Call wish they could write a track this catchy. Galderia spread the cheese and spread it thick. Gamma Ray riffing, harmonious vocal-centricity, and a full-bodied production live the power metal dream. When I think of power metal, this is exactly what I want: upbeat, exciting, hook-laden cheese that gets me singing and stamping my feet like I’m trying to keep up with Mick Harris. “Shining Unity” blasts through triumphant melody after sing-along chorus, settling only for a helping of solo n’ gallops with a side of a clean piano bridge. Axe duo Seb Chabot and Thomas Schmitt and bassist Bob Saliba trade lead vocals throughout Return, combining for a varied Euro-power buffet with takes as wide as Kai Hansen, Chris Bay, and Nils Patrik Johanssen. When keyboardist Julien Dagne joins the trio on backing vox, as he often does, the hooks take on a layered choir quality and compel you to bounce and nod and sing, dammit, sing.
Pressed for a reason for why I unconsciously ramp up the volume over the course of the spin, I immediately turn to the pep of the choruses. They embody the best of Galderia, a rising tide that lifts even the weaker cuts. Second-slated “Blue Aura” serves up some well-cooked Meat Loaf, while the rising vocals of midpoint “Celestial Harmony” join the galloping leads in perfect harmony. Staccato chords play off “Harmony’s” harmony and, by God, when the brimming vocal booth cries in jolly unison that “We! Believe! In love a-gain,” I’m calling up my better half to put words into action. Return is innately simple, however. “High Up in the Air” is a good attempt at “Blue Aura”-lite but highlights the album’s dependency on its choral earworms. When applied to the throttled-down “Living Forevermore” and ballad “Wake Up the World,” a sense of stagnation leaves you waiting for the next high-flier to come along. The latter track is rendered largely moot by finale “Wake Up the World 2.0,” a Gloryhammer-meets-club-beat sequel to a ballad we wrapped up only fifteen minutes prior. Neither version sets the universe on fire — in fact, the central synth portions of “2.0” are the only memorable aspect of the combined experience. The track arrangement could use some work too. For an album this fun, the cantering “Pilgrim of Love” and the decidedly non-metal “Wake Up the World 2.0” make for a poor finish.
Don’t let the niggling issues fool you though — Return is a hell of a lot of fun. The record has an Avantasian sense of showmanship, unsurprisingly given the presence of Mikko Karmila (Avantasia, Sonata Arctica) in the mix. While some of the individual vocal performances are stronger than others, the full thrust of their combined talents rarely fails to compel. As you might expect from an album with four singers and five instruments, the offering can be quite busy. The production puts its chips on the overall package, giving the individual instrumentation short shrift. If their solos are anything to go by, Schmitt and Chabot have chops, but the clarity of their leads are sadly sacrificed in the name of compositional unity.
I will be the first person to tell you there’s room for improvement, but when Return of the Cosmic Men brings the heat, I can’t turn it off. Its peaks alone propel it past Freedom Call’s recent output. With some refinement, Galderia will be doing soaring, inspirational power metal as well as anyone in the game. Not brutal enough? You bet. Can’t get enough? You bet.