Risking sideways looks around the break room, I harbor an innate soft spot for DragonForce. You can say what you want about their incessant need to beat their frets1 to death, but it still resulted in some damn catchy songs. Plus, I was that kid who was way better at Guitar Hero than everyone else.2 DragonForce couldn’t repel more girls if they wore orthodontic headgear with a d20 strapped to it, so naturally Teenage Mutant Metal Wvrm loved them. Novareign clearly feel the same way. Their debut Legends blends tour-de-force speed, dazzling solos, and progressive songcraft with a love of the British wank kings into the first great power metal release of 2018.
But how? That level of wankery should be behind us. We’re all about cohesion and songwriting now. Novareign firstly cross out DragonForce‘s most distinct drawback: Legends is not centered around fretfest solos. Don’t worry, posers: your guitar porn is still there, and in copious amounts. But for as thrilling as Balmore Lemus (ex-Exmortus) and Danny Nobel’s crazy technicality can be, the strength of the band lies with its compositions. In true power metal fashion, the Californians pile as many riffs into each song as they can, letting their creations regularly spill out toward the ten-minute mark. While you’ll still find moments like the open to “Beyond the Cold,” where the band emulates DragonForce with absolutely no shame, those moments are fewer than you might expect. Their compositions colorfully splash a Dream Theater progressiveness into their long-form digressions. This encourages the verse section of tracks like “Mace of a Fist” to do just as much as its choruses and solos.
Vocalist David Marquez mans the guard tower, ensuring that tracks stay on the rails for the necessary amount of time before the guitar duo wreak havoc on the song structure. Defying cheese-puff expectations, Marquez’s voice isn’t some pristine gem. His natural gruffness textures bend the music in a different direction than you might expect. It’s a nice change-up, especially considering that the alternative sees the higher-pitched wails of “Skyline” peak in shrill territory. However, Marquez has no trouble keeping up with the Celladorian catchiness of the shred. It seems in most spots that Novareign designed their record to be as catchy as possible. From the infectious solos, to the sometimes-pop quality of Marquez’s hooks, to the way Novareign twist the backbone of one catchy riff into two or three variants that lose none of the potency, the album sinks its teeth in early and often.
Lemus and Nobel earn a gold medal for their ability to naturally and cohesively sprinkle DragonForce fret blasts into the Symphony X technicality of “Heavy Heart.” Not to be overshadowed, drummer Paul Contreras’ pummeling performance adds eye-catching fills and catchy cymbal ticks akin to Aquiles Priester of Angra and Hangar fame. The result is Novareign‘s finest mix of tight songwriting, flying axes, and earworm permanence. The twinges of high-minded influences aid the record in its hour-long march, and it’s a good thing too. Legends‘ length is as close as it comes to a fatal flaw. Novareign almost always go balls to the wall – big shock, I know. But like most power metal, the music can wear you down if overstuffed. Legends never quite reaches that point, but only because the compositions clean up a lot of the mess before its made. Still, more of a breather than Obligatory Acoustic Interlude™ “To Wander the Stars” couldn’t hurt.
Instrumentally, I wouldn’t mind something more for bassist Moises Galvez to do, power metal be damned. Novareign might not be Lör in terms of progressive exploration, but they do too much with their composition and their developmental strengths to lump them in with the rest of the power metal pack. This, more than anything, makes Novareign stand out as a band all its own, rather than a power metal Frankenstein stitched together from blunted picks, dragon scales and a C- transcript from your local ESL academy. It also makes Legends a damn respinnable record, one I’m sure I’ll be playing all year long. The best part of this whole affair? Novareign are just getting started.3