Every metal-head has their watershed moment; whether that’s Master of Puppets, Symbolic or actually Watershed, that magic album taps you on the shoulder and says “young poser, let me show you the way to trveness.” After growing disinterested with the same six bands I was exposed to growing up (you can probably list them), I was on my way out of metaldom entirely… until I heard Come Clarity by In Flames. I know, it’s borderline butt metal, but it was exactly what I needed to smash the thrash barrier into extreme vocals and complex instrumentation. Like so many of you, I wouldn’t be the metal-head I am today without that moment. So when Chariots of the Gods bills itself as melodic metal with In Flames as its top influence, I’m cautious yet optimistic. I know there’s some bad there, but there’s definitely some good. Which brand of In Flames did I get: hooky melodic exploration or messy dreadlocked drivel?
Neither, as it happens. While 2013’s Tides of War introduced Chariots of the Gods as a thrashier cut of metalcore, Ages Unsung expounds upon that style with a newfound melodic stance that skirts the boundaries of metalcore and melodic death. Second-slated “Tusk” lands Chariots on metal’s shores but ensures its metalcore cred remains firmly intact, invoking Trivium or Orpheus Omega before In Flames ever comes to mind. Twin guitar work builds a thumping drum-and-chug intro into fiery riffs replete with standard metalcore pinch harmonics before a sublime solo caps the track. Rounded out with aggressive screams and foot-stomping rhythms, “Tusk” suggests Chariots possess the individual components for a successful album. Yet with less production to prop themselves up and no keyboard to anchor the melody, they lack the ensnaring passages and trademark hooks that stay stuck in your head for days.
“Tusk” is fairly indicative of Ages Unsung as a whole, matching good-but-not-great riffs with melodies that are just effective enough to get your head bopping. Unfortunately, the album’s success is restricted by that missing killer hookiness. The lack of variety in the melodic progression and song direction make Ages prone to repetition. Additionally, faulty track placement and meandering detours compound the record’s problems. After dragging through too long opener “Primordial Dawn,” and following up “Tusk” with the dawdling “Of Prometheus and the Sacred Flame” I was left checking my watch. Promising opens to “As the Sky Falls” and “Resurrection” tease album-defining moments but wedge in down-tempo cleans and breakdowns that derail their momentum. “Through Darkness and Decay” made me double take at my computer screen, convincing me that a different act stepped on-stage. A head-scratching hard rock ballad worthy of Nickelback (or dare I say X-Method?), not even one of the strongest solos on the album can save this one.
Chariots are at their best with all guns blazing, with “New World” and “Into Oblivion” providing the purest enjoyment on Ages Unsung. The former delivers on all of Chariots’ promise as it pins its ears back and blasts from a focused piano intro into the full package, featuring the best hooks and riffs on the spin. Lead axeman Mathieu St-Amour cuts quality solos that stand above the usual fare in both melodeath and metalcore camps, while new mic-handler Chris Therien’s punchy stylings are a welcome upgrade over his predecessor’s hardcore flavors. When he’s on the mark, Therien is reminiscent of Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid; still, he lacks Strid’s aptitude for cleans and his execution wavers over the course of the LP.
Ages Unsung is by no means a bad album. It’s tightly knit and solidly executed within its bounds. The average listener will undoubtedly find a couple of moments that weasel into their brain cavity and bounce around for a day or two. But after that initial earworm period, there is very little that warrants repeat visits. The proposition of uncovering some new tidbit or re-listening to a passage you might have overlooked simply isn’t there. Chariots of the Gods does their damnedest to entertain and ultimately succeed; however, there’s a clear gap between them and their contemporaries. If Chariots want to bridge that divide, they have some work to do.