As the metal universe impatiently awaits releases by the biggies like Amon Amarth, Symphony X and the Godly Amorphis, we metal reviewers have to make due with what’s available and try to conceal our girlish glee over the impending major releases. Unfortunately for the Steel Druhm, today’s selection didn’t do much to distract my geekish anticipation for what lies ahead. For consideration is Oblivion, the second full-length release by Swedish heavy metal/hard rockers Zero Illusions. Formerly known (to very few) as Pain and Passion and billed as a progressive/power metal unit, there’s apparently a lot of buzz in the Swedish underground around these gents as the next “big thing” [Though it’s fair to point out that said buzz may be entirely fabricated by the band’s bio which hails them as the next big thing and describes how everyone is talking about it. – AMG]. After repeated listens to Oblivion, I’m at a loss to understand either the progressive metal tag or the overall buzz. I’m quite sure these guys won’t be the next big or medium size thing out of Sweden and while Zero illusions isn’t going to blow the lid of any metal scene, it’s a respectable though somewhat forgettable slice of straight forward, traditional metal with pronounced AOR hard rock influences.
Sitting down to listen to Oblivion, I was expecting some prog-flavored power metal. As opening track “Alive” ran it’s course, I was left scratching my head since what I was hearing was traditional metal mixed with hard rock. Although the musicians are talented for sure, at no point does the material on Oblivion wander into progressive OR power metal territory. The Zero Illusions style is built around the guitar work of Janne Luthje, which is very much in the style of bands like Accept, Pretty Maids or Swedish scene-mates Fatal Smile. It’s heavy in a traditional way, riff-intensive but clearly leaning toward a hard rock ethos and doesn’t get too showy or adventurous. Most of the tracks are mid-paced rockers that let the guitars do most of the talking. While numbers like “Rise to the Challenge” get pretty aggressive, other tracks like “Who Are You” and “Follow the Sign” are much closer to hard rock. Still, when things come together for these guys, it works well and they produce catchy, memorable and accessible rockers.
A sticking point for me are the vocals of Bjorn Asking. Although he isn’t a bad singer and sounds a bit like Biff Byford of Saxon, he has a tendency to get very nasally and annoying at times and seems to strain when he ventures out of his hard rock mid-range wheelhouse. Also, some of his vocal choices hurt otherwise solid songs (the pre-chorus of “Enemy Within” derails the song’s momentum). Also a problem is the front loaded nature of Oblivion. The first three songs are the best by far and after that things are less intrinsically interesting. Tracks like “Honesty,” “Son of the Devil” and “Carpe Diem” are close to filler and give the album a hit or miss feel. In all honesty, only six of the eleven tracks are really worthwhile.
The production by Andy LaRocque is fine and imparts Oblivion with a big, fat guitar sound, heavier than one would expect for this style and that helps keep things in the metal realm even when the songwriting wanders closer to hard rock. All the instruments are clear and even the bass is fully audible which is always nice.
Albums like Oblivion really make me appreciate a world where one needs not commit to buying an entire album and can cherry-pick key track on iTunes (or whatever totally legal, legit and by-the-book MP3 service you utilize for tuneage). While there are quality moments here that show some potential, there’s enough average material to render this a “so what” release overall. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get back to my pathetic routine of clock watching and counting the minutes until the big stuff arrives. Tick tock, tick tock