Theocracy // As The World Bleeds
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —On the seventh day, God rocked your socks
Label: Ulterium Records
Websites: theocracymusic.com | myspace.com/theocracyband
Release Dates: Out now!

Here’s a band I bet most haven’t heard of and some actively avoided due to their “christian metal” tag. Well, its time you heard of them and stopped worrying about such silly tags. However, for those diehard, anti-christian, pagan warriors of Wotan, try replacing “christian metal” with “white metal” or “good metal.” Okay, that probably didn’t help AT ALL but the point is, Theocracy is a really good band and their third album  As The World Bleeds is an exceptional dose of progressive power metal. Once a one-man project helmed by Matt Smith, Theocracy is now a fully functioning band and these altar boys can really play! Sounding like a mash-up of Avantasia, Axenstar, Balance of Power, Eden’s Curse and Shadow Gallery, they deliver hyper-polished, super-slick, technical, proggy power with a ton of melodic hooks and a fair amount of heavy edge to boot. Songwriting is first-rate, musicianship is very impressive and heck, God will appreciate you listening to it. When was the last time you hordes of miscreants could honestly say that? Yeah, that’s what I thought, sinners! In all seriousness, this is a great power metal album, regardless of religious inclination. If you dig melodic metal, follow Steel Druhm through the desert of this review and he’ll deliver you to the Angry Promised Land.

Whether you cotton to their divine viewpoint or not, there’s no denying Theocracy have some serious brass by leading off with the longest track possible. “I Am” clocks in at a whopping eleven minutes and most bands not named Moonsorrow would be loath to challenge the listener so quickly. However, Theocracy has a guardian angel on their collective shoulder and it really works! This winding epic really draws you in and introduces you to their songwriting abilities and musicality without feeling overlong or tedious. As you would expect from such a lengthy piece, it’s dramatic, features a boatload of moods and textures and allows the band to flex their chops. What makes it work is a combination of great lyrics, excellent vocals and surprising twists and turns. Matt Smith’s vocals morph from commanding to soaring, soft and powerful as the story unfolds and it all feels natural and unforced. The guitars are upfront, plenty heavy and scatter rich, fluid solos throughout. Song highlights include the unexpected lurch into a jaunty Irish jig-like piece at 5:20 and the progression into thrash territory as things unwind (including a cool Voivod-like stutter step thrash riff at 7:45). After the epic opener, there are brilliantly catchy, power-prog nuggets like “The Master Storyteller” (the guitars and vocals are both addicting), a sojourn into the crunchy and aggressive with “Nailed” (big chorus and insane guitar-work) and compelling guitar twists, turns and tricks on “Altar to an Unknown God” (I love the mega-cool string thingee that first pops up at 2:00).

Although this is a VERY melodic prog-power outing, there are plenty of heavy moments interspersed. Even the most mellow tracks like “The Gift of Music” and the title track eventually segue into thrash metal segments. This heavy/melodic dichotomy enhances the impact of the songs and gives them valuable metal credibility. No song is completely soft and all have diverse tempos. Matt Smith’s vocals are stellar throughout and the extensive use of vocal layering gives everything a big, rich, choral sound like late-period Savatage (but thankfully, way less Broadway jazz-handsy). The guitar mastery of Val Allan Wood co-headlines with Smith’s vocals and the man makes those strings burn like hades fire. Every song is bursting with his big leads and inventive riff-work. The whole ensemble brings a formidable A game and this is a technically satisfying release from start to finish.

The production is crisp, clear and polished, as is the music itself. The lyrics can, at times, be a bit pious, a tad preachy and slightly judgmental but how many HAIL SATANs have you listened to this year alone? Stop drinking the Devil’s Kool-Aid and give the other side equal time, for Christ’s sake! Steel Druhm ain’t exactly the biggest church-goer in heaven’s green garden but the lyrics didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this excellent material, so they shouldn’t for you either.

These chaps have toiled away in relative obscurity for years and with As The World Bleeds, they’ve released their crowning glory (their previous two platters are also very good). This looks to be one of the best prog-power albums of 2011 and a certifiable Myrrh Record. You would be stupid to skip this because of some anti-religion mumbo-jumbo, so Steel Druhm demands you open your mind and listen. But, DO NOT download this illegally! Most of you are in enough trouble with the man upstairs as it is. Blasphemers!