It’s not every day that you see C.S. Lewis’ name in a metal review. But a Lewis cameo is inevitable when reviewing a band called Narnia. If you’ve never heard the band before, I bet you’re picturing seven full-album concepts based on Lewis’ Narnia saga [How Proustian! – Steel Druhm]. Well, put those thoughts away because they’re wrong. This Swedish power-metal outfit does indeed have seven records, but not a single one of them is a front-to-back concept. There are the occasional Narnia-influence songs but, for the most part, the band uses Lewis’ folklore as an instrument to spread the word of God; and not in a subtle way. Narnia is a hymn writer for metalheads. I understand many of you might be turned off right now, but that’s why you should stick around and get some churching.
Hell, even a heathen like myself are able to find some good in Narnia. But, for serious Narnia fans, 2016’s self-titled release is the comeback album they have been waiting seven long years to hear. The biggest news for longtime fans is the return of original vocalist Christian Liljegren. It may not seem like a big deal, but listen to the band’s first few albums next to 2009’s Course of a Generation. Yup, exactly. The band isn’t the same with Liljegren. Narnia (the album) isn’t a return to the neoclassical, Yngwie J. Malmsteen days of Awakening and Long Live the King, but you can tell these dudes are having fun once again.
And opener “Reaching for the Top” proves this better than if Jesus Christ had written it himself. It’s not mind-blowing or novel, but it’s a rocker that would feel at home on an album like Dream Evil‘s Dragonslayer. The opener has fist-pumping riffs, a blanket of silly keys, a catchy chorus, and some nifty guitar work from founding axeman, Carl-Johan Grimmark. Now take the driving atmosphere from the opener and inject it with some melody and you have “Moving On.” The opener may be fun, but “Moving On” is an album highlight. That goddamn (oops) riff nearly had me down on my knees screaming the chorus to the heavens. “Moving On” is simple, but it hits in all the right places—showing life still exists in this old band.
“Still Believe” and “Messengers” also rise to the surface. This time, the beefy riffs take a backseat in favor of emotion and melody. The former is a huge God-worshipping cheese fest with beautiful, opening leads and a memorable chorus. “Messengers” has similar God-praising verses, but its tighter composition makes for greater memorability. It contains a strong atmosphere, sappy lyrics, and a chorus sure to convert your atheistic grandma. But the sappiness doesn’t end there. Perhaps the sappiest track of them all is “Thank You.” For the majority of its length, its soothing piano and gentle vocals feel like a Narnian version of Dream Theater‘s “Disappear.” Once the build maxes out, Grimmark unleashes a chunk of guitar sorcery to put this one to rest. A finale that many o’ fan ought to love. “Thank You” is sappy as all hell, but it’s an effective ballad.
In the end, Narnia is no album of the month, nor is it the power-metal record of the year. It is, instead, a fun, simple, stripped-down example of the genre. Sure, religion is the main staple, and numbers like “Set the World on Fire” and “One Way to the Promised Land” have as much staying power as tumbleweeds in a haboob, but Narnia is a promising return for the band. Not to mention that their comeback arrives via independent means (losing that coveted Nuclear Blast contract years ago).
But, perhaps it was their independent distribution that causes the greatest annoyance of this release. After listening to this set of songs in three different orders (thanks a lot, Amazon, Metal Archives, and the promo distributor), I finally got confirmation of the correct track order. And kudos to the band for delivering the track-list that actually works. Of all the ways I had this album shuffled, the correct organization is the best one. The tracks sync together, the guitars have lots of energy, and Liljegren sounds as good as ever. Narnia is a respectable comeback for the band and a huge step up from their previous outing. For those rare occasions when I’m in the mood for God metal, Theocracy is my go-to. But, if you like this sort of thing, Narnia ain’t bad [Ha ha, you said “haboob.” – Steel].