Wardrum - AwakeningWith few exceptions, 2016 sucked for power metal. Sabaton made their first real whiff, Rage dropped their worst album in ages, and Twilight Force tarnished an otherwise solid record with dreadful production. And then came Wardrum. Starting in 2011 this Greek band produced three albums in as many years, and while I’d previously encountered them, their brand of straightforward power metal never managed to get its hooks in me. Three years have passed since their third record Messengers and, after a successful Indiegogo campaign, they’re back with Awakening. And what an awakening it is.

In the past, Wardrum played prog-tinged power metal with a foot planted firmly in traditional heavy metal; think Crimson Glory meets Nocturnal Rites. While the formula has essentially remained untouched, it feels as though the band used every spare second between the release of their prior album and Awakening to hone every conceivable aspect of their sound. This is the rarest of power metal albums that are at once melodic, aggressive, and technical, and with an excellent, crisp and heavy sounding production to boot. Vocal and guitar harmonies dominate throughout to lend the tracks density without feeling overstuffed, and the choruses are melodic yet avoid sounding as though they’ve been drowned in a vat of queso. Awakening is perhaps the greatest balancing act that the genre has produced in years; it’s grand and bombastic enough for power metal devotees, yet should not alienate those hoping for a more traditional heavy metal record.

Yannis Papadopoulos, whose voice sounds like Midnight (Crimson Glory) crossed with Ben Soto (Heavenly), has morphed from an above-average singer to a world-class power metal vocalist who can hit any note you throw at him and beyond. His performance is powerful and genuinely emotive, and shows him capable of hitting any high note while never once straying out of tune. Meanwhile, drummer Stergio Kourou casually delivers the greatest drum performance on a power metal album this year. His complex patterns that utilize his entire kit make for some stunningly technical performances (see: “Shade of Hope”), and the sub-blistering paced tempos allow him room to experiment in a way that all-out speed simply wouldn’t allow. Kourou and guitarist Kosta Vreto make an incredible songwriting duo; I didn’t learn until the time of this writing that they evenly split songwriting duties (each contributed six tracks), as the songs are remarkably consistent in quality and tone.

Wardrum 2016

The only legitimate criticism I can aim at Awakening is that it’s a touch overlong. “Time Is the Enemy” and “Dreams In the Dark” are both very good cuts that don’t quite measure up to the rest, and if these tracks had been axed, the album would have benefited from a sweet-spot length of 48 minutes with nary a single weak link. Keep in mind that this is an extremely nitpicky criticism, though, as Wardrum has still produced what I believe is undoubtedly the best power metal album of 2016. It ticks nearly all of the boxes on my checklist of what I hope for in a power metal release and is one of the most universally accessible offerings the genre has produced in years. Don’t sleep on Awakening.

Tracks to Check Out: “Right Within Your Heart,” “Skies of Grey,” and “Shade of Hope”

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    “Sabaton’s first whiff” Yeah no, there’s more.
    “Rage dropped their worst album in ages” On par with Soundchaser/Unity, which is to say p great.
    “Twilight Force tarnished an otherwise solid record with dreadful production” I agree with the production, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the album.
    Now that we’ve established I don’t really agree with your assessment of those albums, I really don’t know if I believe any of the good things you’ve said about this album.
    EDIT: And the song is just okay too, figures.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      His comment on TF wasn’t really that negative if you just read it again. “Tarnished” doesn’t mean “destroyed”. He was just pointing out an unfortunate issue that could have been avoided.

      I don’t agree with a lot of stuff reviewers say but their job isn’t to hold a synonymous opinion to their audience. Did you listen to the album to any extent? It’s always worth forming your own view, regardless of expectation.

      • GardensTale

        See, and this is why you’re my favorite commenter.

      • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

        I did say that I did listen to the song above.
        And there’s a pretty damn strong implication that the author thinks all thee albums presented in the opening paragraph sucked.

        • AlphaBetaFoxface

          When I posted the comment, your edit wasn’t visible. Figured I’d check a few aggregate score sites to see what the general metal community thought about these records (Metalstorm, Sputnik, RYM, Metallum, etc) and here is what I learned:

          -The general consensus is that the last Twilight Force record wasn’t as good as Tales, and the production was a massive blow to the enjoyment factor (very evident on Sput/RYM/Metallum).
          -Sabaton’s worst record is actually Metalizer (see all sites listed) with their last record falling shortly behind when looking at the majority of opinions.
          -The last Rage record has divided opinions from site to site, but ultimately holds nothing to the band’s earlier works. Prior album 21 is basically universally considered to be a stronger record.

          This is just going by aggregate scores and bulk reviews but I can’t say Eldritch is entirely wrong with what he is saying in his first paragraph (seeing as a lot of opinions hold a tad more weight than just one). None of the three bands did anything they hadn’t already done better/considerably better in previous releases. Whats more, none of the three did anything close to fantastic for the power metal genre. Average relative to themselves, and average relative to power metal.

          I’d say when three of power metal’s biggest acts can only regurgitate prior material with less vigor, it isn’t harsh to say that 2016 was not a high point for the genre.

          TL;DR – And there’s a pretty damn strong implication that the author thinks all three albums presented in the opening paragraph were average-to-sub-par considering they were from some of power metal’s heavyweights and were released in a year already lacking in quality power metal because he doesn’t exactly say anywhere that the albums were terrible, rather just worse than stuff previously released by said bands.

          But idk.

  • TJ

    Really digging this so far. I missed this one as well, so thanks a bunch for the heads-up!

  • Martin L

    While the reviewer said this was power metal that could appeal to the more traditional heavy metal fan, this is hardly the case. This is full on overproduced, sanitized, pop-ified power metal with an extra dosage of cheese on the side. And I have to say that the track “Sometimes” is possibly the worse metal song I’ve heard in a long while and makes Rhapsody sound as gritty as Motorhead.

    I do agree however that the drummer shines. Definitely more creative than your average power metal album. The kind of drumming that Virgin Steele would have greatly benefitted from in the 90s and 00s.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      Hey, thanks for commenting. I figured with this particular write-up there would be a bit of backlash – Things You Might Have Missed serve as summaries rather than full reviews, so topics that should receive more discussion (ie: the production) can get overlooked.

      Typically I don’t like overly polished production, but in this case I thought it actually worked in the band’s favor. There are some fantastic performances and harmonies on this thing, and I felt that the “crispness” of the sound really helped them stand out without sacrificing too much in terms of heaviness. At any rate I think this sounds much better than, say, Amaranthe, or other bands that drown their music in disgusting layers of symphonics (*cough* Twilight Force). As for the cheesiness factor, I can see where you’re coming from (especially in regards to the choruses), but I thought it was far more palatable than the mega cheese of bands like Rhapsody. For me most of the melodies sound rooted in traditional metal, but you’re right that “Sometimes” has some definite pop leanings.

      Anyway, sorry for the novel, and sorry that the album didn’t meet your expectations based on my review. It’s interesting how divisive some of these TYMHM reviews have been.

  • Levly

    I actually liked the new Sabaton as well as Messengers (the 2013 Awakening album) but I fully agree with the review, this one is awesome too! Good balance of traditional and power metal, and catchy songwriting. The singer has a wonderful voice but I think he overuses his high register a tad. He truly shines on more lyrical tracks like Skies of Grey.

  • Thatguy

    ‘…2016 sucked for power metal…’

    At the risk of being a dick, I can’t resist saying that every year sucks for power metal because power metal sucks. So sue me SD.

    • [not a Dr]

      “being a dick”…
      “power metal sucks”…
      looks like a win-win situation.

      • Thatguy

        We won’t go there.

        The band photo follows Thatguy’s law of band photos. I knew I wouldn’t like this at the first glance at the clean windswept hair and plain black shirts. Where is the Unicorn when we need him?

        • [not a Dr]

          Undergoing an angsty existential crisis, since you told him to penguin photos.
          Look for him in the Sum41 or the A7X comment section.

  • Wilhelm

    More happy crappy euro power metal, just terrible.

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    Agreed on Sabaton, I’m one of the four people who liked “Heroes” better than the new one. I like the disagreements in these posts too; this is gonna be a fun few weeks.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      “Heroes” is very good. I tend to pick Sabaton albums at random when I want to listen to them, but I’ve been gravitating towards that one a lot lately.

      And oh man, I’m going to be refreshing the site every few minutes until *that* write-up goes live.

      • Mattias Niklasson

        Really surprised that people say the Last Stand was better than Heroes? Heroes is my favourite Sabaton Album, followed by Carolus Rex. I think the Last Stand was on par with the Art of War (My 3rd best)

  • Kryopsis

    Is that the red wizard from Magicka on the cover?

  • Jozo90

    Theocracy, Dynazty, Avantasia and Sonata Arctica all released solid Power metal albums this year if you ask me.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      Solid, but not spectacular. This year was missing the big genre surprises like Judicator and Galneryus were last year.

      I don’t get the hype behind Dynazty though. They’re like Powerwolf in that they recycle the same song ad nauseum with a few alterations.

      • Jozo90

        True, there where no surprises this year, here’s hoping for a better year next year in the depasrtment.
        I think the reason why people hype up Dynazty is because their style sounds fresh compared to many of the classic bands in the genre.

    • Piet

      I also love the new Avantasia

  • Simon

    Best Greek band and best album of 2016! In my opinion, it’s more speedy heavy metal than power.