Preconceptions can go far, regardless of the subject. From only a handful of clues, people extrapolate a picture and form an opinion. Take Niviane with their debut album The Druid King. With only the name, title and album cover to go on, I expected folk-infused power metal, possibly in the vein of Elvenking (most elves are basically immortal druids anyway). Boasting to be a ‘new breed of American power metal’ on their website didn’t do much to change this “first impression” besides leaving me slightly skeptical, because how often does something truly new and different hit the shelves? As it turns out, my folk expectations weren’t warranted, but my skepticism was. Because if Niviane was such a new breed, why do they sound so much like Iced Earth?
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Iced Earth released a handful of undisputed classics even beyond their thrashier era, with Horror Show remaining a personal favorite as well as the closest point of reference to The Druid King. Vocalist Norman Skinner (Hellscream, Skinner) pulls off an admirable Matt Barlow, both in the lower register as well as the biting Rob Halford falsettos that feature prominently across the track-list. Compared to their idols, Niviane aim more for epic instead of pummeling, evident on the anthemic “Into Twilight” and the great chorus on “War of Immortals.” Add some sword-clashing intros and fantasy-oriented lyrics and you get a tasty, if occasionally cheesy, recipe. The thrash roots speak up here and there, like the riff on “Arise, Samurai” and the ballsy opener “The Berserker,” but generally they merely crawl just below the surface as roots are wont to do.
Superficially, the band consists of some fairly talented musicians. The twin guitar attack possesses some meaty riffs and enthusiastic chugging. The solos are commendable, producing a few of the highlights on the album. The drums are workmanlike, foregoing an over-abundance of frills and fills in favor of simple, driving rhythms. The execution is not where Niviane trips up. The songwriting, however, is uninspired. You won’t hear anything on The Druid King you haven’t heard before. There’s Iron Maiden leads (“Adrestia”,) a mid-paced Grave Digger stomper (“Gladiator”,) and a melancholic semi-ballad (“Elegy”,) each right on cue where you’d expect them. The album is laden with deja-vu inducing moments, and it eats away at the enjoyment fast. There’s good quality material strewn throughout, and the title track holds the tail of the album aloft with spirited epicism, excellent solos and some well-executed half-growls, but nowhere is it enough to overcome the ‘been there, done that’ the rest of The Druid King evokes.
One of the most common complaints here at Angry Metal Guy, by trolls and literate human beings alike, is our perseverance in discussing the production of sub-par mp3 files. Believe us, we’d love if all of our promos were 320 kbps minimum, but for various reasons (piracy among them) many labels deem us unworthy of receiving promos of proper quality. Case in point, The Druid King‘s 160 kbps files sound flat and compressed, the dynamic range score not reaching beyond a 5 across the board. The drums suffer the most under the compression; from the cymbals to snares and the toms, the result is flat and powerless, and it does drummer Noe Luna no justice. Suffering further from the rampant case of modernitis, the mix cranks the vocals and guitars up high while the bass gets snowed under. On the whole, it’ll sound acceptable on a crappy system, but it won’t hold up on anything beyond that, and the crushed leveling increases the overall lack of dynamics on the album.
Niviane pack plenty of talent, but none of it is allocated to writing original material. The claim of being a new breed rings subsequently hollow when the band wears its influences so obviously on its sleeves. Though many bands go through the motions of making a collage from their forebears, they can drag themselves up from the swamps of mediocrity with sharp and spirited material and the execution of a razor. While the performances are admirable, Niviane don’t make the cut on the other counts, and the flat production nails the coffin shut. I could make few predictions in terms of quality beforehand, but regrettably, The Druid King is unlikely to appeal to anyone but the most die-hard of Iced Earth fans.