If you were following the American metal scene from 1995 through 2001, you know there was a point in time where Steel Prophet seemed poised to conquer the metal world. With their prodigious productivity and an excellent run of releases including classics like The Goddess Principle, Messiah and Book of the Dead, they were often mentioned in the same breath as Iced Earth as the pinnacle of American power/traditional metal and everything was coming up black roses. Then came fractious internal struggles, revolving door line ups and a series of uninspired albums and just like that, they dropped out of the public consciousness, all their hard work seemingly undone. Now, ten years after their last album, they’re back to try to regain some of what they lost with Omniscient. Thankfully, both founding guitarist Steve Kachinsky and original singer Rick Mythiansin return to the fold as the band tempts fate by attempting both a major comeback and the ever risky proposition of a concept album. While I came in expecting almost nothing, I found much of the material here to be an enjoyably nostalgic throwback to the sound and style they rocked so well in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, a few ill-advised cuts and a regrettable cover tune conspire to partially derail a surprisingly solid reunion outing.
Things kick off with “Trickery of the Scourge,” which is an old song that’s been banging around since 2008, but it’s a good one and very faithful to the dynamic, polished style of muscular metal the band perfected during their Dark Hallucinations/Messiah era. Rick’s voice sounds shockingly good and Steve’s slick, noodley leads and solos are great to hear again. This could have appeared on any of their “Golden Age” albums and fit in nicely. The quality continues on aggressive, ballsy tracks like “When I Remake the World (a Key Flaw)” and “911” and that classic dark, moody Steel Prophet vibe is present and as effective as ever when fused with the traditional Iron Maiden gallop they’ve routinely appropriated (the chorus in the latter is especially memorable and haunting). Also enjoyable is the traditional Prophet rumble of “Chariots of the Gods,” which has a popping chorus and Rick sounds particularly cracking.
“The Tree of Knowledge” is the album’s “single” and it’s a nice representation of the quirky, moody, vaguely Maiden-esque charm the band is capable of when firing on all cylinders and despite some cheese factor, “666 is Everywhere (the Heavy Metal Blues)” works and grows with each listen and the tasty riffing throughout is a big selling point.
After that, Omniscient suffers some turbulence, with more forgettable tracks like “Aliens, Spaceships and Richard Nixon” and “Transformation Staircase” mixed with solid cuts like “Through Time and Space” and “Funeral for Art.” Making the back-end feel even more iffy is a pointless cover of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which although metaled up somewhat, only serves to highlight Rick’s time worn upper range and all I could think while listening to it was that they should have done this one in 2000, if ever. The album closes with a whimper on the awkward “1984 (George Orwell is Rolling in His Grave)” and unfortunately, the listener is left with a bit of a sour taste despite the preponderance of solid material.
Since this is a fairly long album at 56 minutes, it baffles me why they didn’t stick with their A material and excise the lesser songs, thereby insuring a more effective comeback. Regardless of poor choices, the music is mostly classy and impressively true to their best days. While Rick clearly has lost a step or two with time, he can still deliver when he stays in his comfort zone and his performance here reminds me why he was once considered a top dog in metal. Likewise, Steve Kachinsky’s playing is as fluid and technical as ever and he still excels at making things sound busy, full and technical without resorting to masturbatory Yngwie-isms.
Not a complete triumph, but Omniscient is a respectable and engaging return by a band I once worshipped, but ultimately wrote off as dead and buried. I suppose it’s tough to shake of ten years of rust and bad blood all at once, but I hope the guys can bury the war hatchets of old and keep this new venture together long enough to get us more material and maybe, just maybe, make a run at a new Pax Romana. I’m rooting for ya!