Seven Kingdoms // The Fire is Mine
Rating: 4.5/5.0 — Now THAT’S a fire!!
Label: Nightmare Records
Websites: sevenkingdoms.net  |  myspace.com
Release Dates: Out now!

I hope you loyal readers aren’t sick of power metal yet, because there’s a lot more in the pipeline and Steel Druhm is gonna open the valve all the way! Next out of the spigot is Seven Kingdoms: a band I had zero awareness of until hearing the promo for this, their third album. Hailing from the very non-power metally environs of Florida, they instantly impressed me with their aggressive and engaging take on the classic power style. The Fire is Mine is loaded with the same hooky and lively type of metal that made the first few Hammerfall albums so endearing, but what really makes this excel is the combination of thrashy riffing alongside beautiful guitar harmonies very much like those found on Riot‘s amazing Thundersteel and Immortal Soul albums (seriously, there’s a big Thundersteel vibe to a lot of the material here). Putting things over the top are the big pipes of frontwoman Sabrina Valentine, which allow the band to employ the classical vibe and huge vocals hooks of a band like Kamelot. The end product is bursting with energy,  charm and a surprisingly high balls-quotient. Better still, there are no keyboards at all to fluff and puff the real metal!! While I concede there’s nothing new here musically, the songs are all razor-sharp, memorable, and the band plays the fuck out of their instruments. The Fire is Mine reminds me why I fell in love with power metal way back in the days of Helloween‘s Walls of Jericho. This is the real deal, people. Smile-inducing, fist-pumping stuff!

Once the brief intro runs by, “After the Fall” introduces you to the heavier-than-expected, in-your-face, but still vintage power playing of guitarists Kevin Byrd and Camden Cruz. They wail away with a real zest for the style and take pains to mix aggression verging on 3 Inches of Blood with truck loads of rich, addictive melody. As they shred themselves to death, Sabrina lays her beautiful vocals over the top like an expensive  silken sheet. She has a sound somewhere between the lush, crystal-clear style of Sabine Edelsbacher (Edenbridge) and the smokey edge of Marjan Welman (Autumn) and she knocks it out of the park with her rich, emotional delivery and great sense of vocal placement. The song is instantly accessible and the chorus is really great. The hits keeping coming with equally hooky chestnuts like “Forever Brave,” where Sabrina shows more of her range amid speedy riffs and flashy, guitar-hero solos; the Iron Maiden gallop and roll of “Flame of Olympus” with its interesting vocal tricks and twists and the hopelessly catchy and smoking title track.

Other moments worth noting include the startlingly beauty of mega-soft ballad “Kardia” where Sabrina shows a whole other side to her abilities; the Pagan’s Mind flavored riffing and bass rampage on “Fragile Minds Collide” and the Dark Tranquility-like thrash of “In the Twisted Twilight.” None of the nine songs are filler and all are ridiculously catchy. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this ended up on my “best of” list in a month or so.

While Sabrina’s vocals are designed to be the focal point, it’s the slick, fluid and precise guitar-work from Cruz and Byrd that turns this into the metal monster it is. Without making the material a wank-fest, they show their ability, shred when called for and do so impressively and memorably. Their riffing is just the right blend of thrash and power metal and every song ends up a powerhouse because of their lively playing. Sabrina is a very talented vocalist and while many still prefer a man behind the mic for metal such as this, its hard to argue with the results here (and who argues with a corset-clad woman anyway). She lends a ton of class and power to the music and has enough vocal chops to charm anyone. If there’s a knock against her, its how truly melodic and smooth her voice is. She never resorts to screams or growls and maybe a few change-ups of that sort would have been interesting to include (see Battle Beast for proof). I can’t go without mentioning the quality performances by Keith Byrd on drums and Aaron Sluss on bass. Together they provide a great anchor for the shredding and I found myself paying way more attention than usual to what the back line was doing.

The songwriting on The Fire is Mine is outstanding and tight beyond belief. The songs are all in the four-to-five-minute range and all blast by quickly, leaving you wanting more. There are no dead spots on the album and even the saccharine sweet ballad will stop you in your tracks and make you listen.

As power metal albums go, the production is pretty standard. Its clean and clear as you would expect, but thankfully the guitars have enough muscle and heft. The refreshing absence of keyboards gives more space to the riffs and solos and when they’re this good, you want them to have room to breath. Sabrina is up-front, but doesn’t overpower or drown out the excellent playing backing her up. Overall a nice mix that doesn’t get in the way of the quality music.

In my opinion, this is the big winner so far in the power metal sweepstakes of 2012. While it has the same classy, melodic gloss of Kamelot‘s latest, the very Riot-like shredding and speed make it a far more engaging (and less melodramatic) spin. Hell, it even has songs based on the Game of Thrones series (“After the Fall”, “King of the North”) for additional Power Nerd Points! I have no idea what their first two albums are like, but you can be dead certain I’ll be running to hunt them down based on the display of excellence here. If you aren’t convinced yet, let me say one more time, this thing is fucking good! The fire should be yours too.