Kobra and the Lotus is a Canadian melodic power band that first came onto my radar in 2012 with their self-titled debut. Fronted by the actually-legally-named Kobra Paige, the band’s third LP, Prevail I, is on Napalm Records, after releasing the debut on Spinefarm, and 2014’s High Priestess on Titan Music.1 Prevail I is, apparently, the first of two albums which will be released in quick succession, and it’s being marketed as produced by the guy who produced Amaranthe‘s records, with a debut single squarely marketed at people who like Delain. Since the band’s debut was a solid power metal album, this strategy raises a question for me: three full-lengths (and three labels) into this whole experiment of being named Kobra, how’s the whole thing going?
The answer appears to be: “slightly tense,” and Prevail I has tension sewn right into its fabric. On the one hand, KatL is a melodic power metal band. Their sound is laden with crunchy guitars, soaring choruses, and ripping guitar solos. Kobra punctuates traditional songwriting with pipes like a french horn with vibrato; operatic and powerful, reminiscent of the distinctive tones of Michael Grant [RIP] from Onward and Crescent Shield. Her sound is straight up power metal, and Kobra and the Lotus sounds like they could easily open for Angra or Sunburst; modern power metal for a power metal crowd. The band demonstrates its power metal credentials with slick, heavy tracks like “Specimen X (The Mortal Chamber),” “Hell on Earth,” and title track “Prevail,”—a great song with all the ‘we’re in this together’ of “Sworn in the Metal Wind” but sans the rank misogyny. Jasio Kulakowski—the band’s lone guitarist—has chops and a style reminiscent of Angra‘s Rafael Bittencourt and Kiko Loureiro, and Prevail I‘s best moments remind me of Secret Garden.
On the other hand, Kobra and the Lotus feels like it’s being marketed to the infamous 14 year-old girl demographic. This side of the band cribs riffs from later incarnations of Lacuna Coil and lyrics worthy of Scott Stapp. The obvious single is called “You Don’t Know,” and it demonstrates all the emotional intelligence and lyrical sophistication of a moody teenager, peaking with a frustratingly banal chorus (“You don’t know what it’s like to be me / No, you don’t know what it’s like to be me” complete with backup vocals singing “You don’t know me, you really don’t know me…” at the song’s zenith). “Victim,” which I can only assume is scheduled to be the record’s second single, is a good Lacuna Coil song,2 but also strains at the album’s power metal leash. These moments feel misplaced, even though I actually like “Victim” quite a bit.
Another example of this tension is that Jacob Hansen’s (Pyramaze, ex-Anubis Gate) production is sold as “the producer of Volbeat, Amaranthe, and Epica,” rather than “the producer of Týr, Pyramaze, and Destruction.” Take out two tracks and Prevail I is an album which Hansen shined to the reflection of solid, modern power metal albums. Týr and Angra are great comparisons for the band’s sound and for the record’s production. The crunchy guitars, semi-audible bass, and thundering drums are heavily compressed, but they work well under Kobra’s powerful tones. The album’s production is frustratingly standard fare for power metal,3 but Hansen balances it well, so it feels heavy and has a subtle ’80s influence that speaks to me.
Prevail I works, however, because of the strength of the songwriting. With the exception of “You Don’t Know,” the songs are solid power/melodic metal with a thick, “modern” edge. Even “You Don’t Know” is a well-written piece of schlock, with a pre-chorus/bridge (“I’m sick and tired…”—check the video below) that demonstrates capable pop-composition. The band especially hits its stride on “Specimen X,” which shows off Kobra’s lyrical acumen, is smart and well-constructed. “TriggerPulse” and “Hell on Earth” stand out as tight, catchy songs, while “Check the Phyrg” is a great musical number which shows off the band’s chops.
Finally, Prevail I overcomes (prevails over…?) the tension between what the band is and what Napalm’s marketing department wants them to be. I think placing them in the Amaranthe/Delain box does them a disservice, because that’s not really what they sound like. As a jaded listener of the metals, Kobra and the Lotus falls pretty squarely in the category of the traditional power metal band. They have a lineup of good metal musicians and a great vocalist. Prevail I contains tracks that would be even better live—where they’re given more room to actually pop *grumble grumble DR5 grumble*—and I’ve found myself returning to Prevail I repeatedly. Do yourself a favor and give Kobra and the Lotus a chance, I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.