In my personal pantheon of guilty pleasures, Power Quest reigns supreme. Formed in 2001 by ex-DragonForce keyboardist Steve Williams (lead songwriter and sole remaining original member), this band made a name for themselves in the early-to-mid 00’s by redefining the meaning of cheese, mashing Teutonic power metal together with synth-drenched glam rock—think Van Halen’s “Jump,” by way of Freedom Call, and you’ll have a reasonably accurate idea of what to expect. Power Quest‘s prior two albums, Master of Illusion and Blood Alliance, hinted at a heavier, more prog-oriented future, but the band’s subsequent break-up dashed my hopes of this evolution reaching a head. Three years on, the band reformed out of the aether, churning out Sixth Dimension hot on the heels of a damn good EP. Can these kings of optimism maintain their forward momentum, or is Sixth Dimension a victim of stagnation?
The answer is somewhat complex, but regardless of the band’s sonic evolution, Sixth Dimension is a damned solid power metal album. Power Quest fans have always come across to me as a particularly loyal bunch, and I suspect that Williams’ goal with this album after many years of inactivity was fanservice first, upward trajectory second. For fans of their second and third albums, in particular, this is totally fine; the band’s ability to channel power metal through an arena rock filter is as strong as ever, resulting in some truly bangin’ cuts of overtly happy speed metal (“Kings and Glory,” “Coming Home”) that pay homage to those records without stooping to the same level of hokeyness. That hokey factor gets heavy play, however, in “Pray for the Day,” a goofy, chipper (yet lyrically pessimistic) track that’s a surprisingly infectious throwback to hits like “Children of the Dream” from the band’s early years.
Though a tribute to what most PQ fans would call the band’s “golden age,” some of the modern power metal heft that defined the records prefacing the band’s hiatus receives a nod, making for a pleasantly diverse platter. “Face the Raven” and the lengthy title track deal with the inevitability of death and the desire to escape the deafening ignorance of the modern world, respectively, with the former sporting a huge chorus and crunch-tastic1 riffs, while the latter is perhaps the moodiest, most mature track the band has ever written. Yet aside from these two exceptions, Sixth Dimension dishearteningly falls back on one of the worst traits from Power Quest’s early material: it’s rhythmically simplistic. There are certainly exceptions such as the injections of DragonForce-esque speed in “Lords of Tomorrow,” but basic power chord progressions are by and large Sixth Dimension’s main mode of operation.
When I’m engaging with Sixth Dimension in full fist-pumping sing-along mode, the barebones rhythm section is all too easy to overlook, but certain performances cause Power Quest to occasionally sound as though they’re still finding their footing with this new, reworked lineup. Vocalist Ashley Edison performs with aplomb on several cuts (see: “Face the Raven”), but others, such as “Starlight City,” sound like they weren’t written to effectively utilize his range, making his broad voice sound strangely pinched. The same goes for new guitarists Glyn Williams and Andrew Kopczyk, whose solos on the reworking of “Coming Home” from last year’s Face the Raven EP feel inferior from both a melodic and technical standpoint, though their prog-oriented work is a great fit for the title track. These performances are wrapped up in an unnecessarily compressed mix that utterly invalidates the bass, but the tones are nice and heavy, with hard-hitting drums in particular (listen to those kicks!) offering an effective counter-balance to the pervasive, sugar-coated synthesizers.
While it’s far from a perfect comeback, I’m drawn so strongly toward what Sixth Dimension does right that its flaws are ultimately drowned out by my sheer pleasure that, goddammit, Power Quest is actually back, and still delivering the cheesy goods. It’s not their best release (I’d personally hand that honor to 2005’s Magic Never Dies), but it feels like one of their most consistently good efforts, even if this new lineup doesn’t gel as a collective as well as one might hope. I predict that one more album will see the band operating on all cylinders once again, hopefully in a direction that affords their sound new possibilities while still maintaining their unmistakable aesthetic.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Inner Wound Recordings (Worldwide) | Avalon (Japan)
Websites: power-quest.co.uk | facebook.com/powerquestofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 11th, 2017