Pagan’s Mind // Heavenly Ecstasy
Rating: 3.5/5.0 —Thank heavens they changed course!
Label: SPV Records
Websites: pagansmind.com/front | myspace.com/pagansmind
Release Dates: EU: 2011.05.23 | US: 05.31.2011
Every now and then I find myself sweating a new release and sincerely worrying a band may have already seen its best days. This is one of those perspiration inducing albums. After three platters of excellent progressive metal that reminded me of the halcyon salad days of Fates Warning and Queensryche, Pagan’s Mind really screwed the pooch hard with their last release, 2007’s God’s Equation. Ditching nearly all of the things they had working for them in favor of a stripped down and more commercial approach, it was one of those albums that leaves fans befuddled, bewildered, betrayed and generally in an foul humor (I won’t go into the David Bowie cover, but it was bullshit ass!). With my confidence and fanboydom thus shaken and stirred, I didn’t know what to expect from these Norwegian metallers. Would it be a return to the prog-tastic spacey glory of their Enigmatic Calling and Celestrial Entrance works or a dash further down the path toward commercial oblivion ah la Krokus (yes, Krokus damn you, they were good once!). After much consternation and intestinal distress, I can report their fifth album, Heavenly Ecstasy is way better than their prior misstep, though it doesn’t fully return to their previous levels of excellence.
After only a few seconds of listening to Heavenly Ecstasy, it becomes apparent Pagan’s Mind saw the need to make a return toward their previous proggy sound. However, they sought a balance between that style and the linear, stripped down sound from God’s Equation. While I would’ve preferred a complete about face, this is a happy compromise and things could have been much worse. What we end up with is an album loaded with immediate, SUPER melodic, polished, classy metal that walks the line between the traditional and power genres. The band’s secret weapon is the amazing vocals of Nils K. Rue. This guy has a huge and powerful voice with a great tone and style. He’s one of the best metal vocalists and I wish he did the Russell Allen thing (sing in fifty different bands) since I can’t get enough of the guy’s vocals. He takes quality songs like “Eyes of Fire” and “Intermission” and elevates them in a way few other singers could. He’s just that good. He shines on every track here, whether its the Queensryche Operation Mindcrime era styling of “Walk Away in Silence,” the huge chorus during straight up rocker “Intermission” or the big, emotional epic “Revelation to the End,” Rue delivers the goods (he even tosses in harsh vocals and screams here and there). What made me breath the biggest sigh of relief is the return to quality songcraft. While only half of God’s Equation was good, all the songs here are solid and some are exceptional (“Intermission” and “Revelation to the End” are the show stoppers).
Also in full force is the guitarwork of Jorn Lofstad. Mr. Lofstad has a knack from writing some high energy, catchy riffs and he can also deliver majestic and beautiful solo work when called upon. There’s plenty of that on offer here. Even when his riffs are more pedestrian, Rue’s vocals carry the songs just fine. On a far less positive note, Lofstad also unveils some decidedly nu-metalish riffing on several songs (“Eyes of Fire,” “Into the Aftermath,” “Master’s Voice”) and I don’t like that. No sir, not one bit! While it’s brief and doesn’t infest the songs to a high degree, its there, waiting like some loathsome disease and it must be isolated and eradicated! Get on that immediately Jorn. Of course, the Pagan’s Mind sound wouldn’t be complete without the omnipresent keyboards of Ronny Tegner and he does his job here, creating rich textures and moods.
While these guys probably aren’t going back to the righteous style of their early works, I can live with this middle ground. Hell, an album of high class metal with power and prog overtones is something Steel Druhm will never shake a stick at. If you abandoned ship after God’s Equation, I’m here to tell you, its safe to sail once again. If you never heard these guys, this is good place to start but their older stuff is superior. Check it out just for the vocals alone. A welcome semi-return to form.