Adrian Benegas, perhaps best known as the keyboardist and founder of symphonic metal act Tragul, is at the beginning of a familiar story: a talented musician and composer takes a step away from his band to attempt a symphonic power metal solo project, one in which the story, lyrics, and compositions will be done solely by himself. He will write a story and bring it to life in musical form, bringing in guest musicians and vocalists to play various parts of the story. In The Revenant, the project debut, a forsaken soul trapped in Hell embarks on a journey to self-realization in an effort to escape the prison that confines him. Intriguing concept? Absolutely. Talent? Yep. Is this sounding familiar yet?
I may as well get the most obvious comparison out of the way first: Adrian Benegas’ solo project has a distinctly Avantasian feel to it. Between the four vocalists, the orchestral overlay, and the inclusion of a cohesive story, it’s safe to assume that fans of one will enjoy the other as well. Fortunately, Adrian Benegas injects enough of his own style and personality into the music as to give his project its own feel. For the most part, the orchestral elements take the form of airy, layered strings, employed in an overpowering-yet-not-overbearing way that makes me think of Epica’s style. Most of the vocal work is performed by Herbie Langhans (Sinbreed, Radiant, Avantasia), followed up by Henning Basse (Firewind, Metalium), with occasional embellishments from Zuobera Aznáres (Diabolus in Musica) and a single track (“Servants of the Death”) featuring Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear). Guitar riffing and solos, courtesy of Diego Bogarín, are catchy and exciting, while keyboard solos that remind me of a touch of Kamelot’s are peppered throughout. In other words, there’s a ton of vibrancy, eclecticism, and earnestness to the project, a clear product of many years of work from Benegas.
In a lot of ways, The Revenant is exactly I want from my (symphonic) power metal. The vocalists are all superb, the riffs are consistently interesting, and I actually feel a sense of catharsis with the story (despite not having access to the lyrics). Choruses like the ones in “The Enemy Within” and “Inferno” are catchy, awesome affairs, with vocal hooks that last for days after listening. Despite the fact that the strings tracks are loud and at the front of the mix, they never sound overbearing, but rather add an appropriate sense of grandeur (“Carrier of the Sunlight”) or suspense (“Inferno”) as the story demands. Even the obligatory ballad track makes me happy; “A Change of Heart” begins predictably, with slow piano playing and Langhans’ mournful singing. I keep waiting for three dramatic hits of the drum leading to a melodramatic single power chord—it never comes. Instead, Langhans blows me away with his emphatic delivery: “‘Oh, God, don’t let me go, don’t let me go,’ he prayed.” Beautiful.
Complaints and concerns are few and far between for this one, but if there is one thing I wish had been done differently on The Revenant, it’s the production, especially around the guitars. Considering that Benegas is a keyboardist and this is a fairly symphonic-heavy release, perhaps it isn’t altogether surprising that the guitars are a bit buried in the mix. Still, The Revenant is produced (by Benegas himself) fairly thinly, and it sounds like it’s missing something. There is no thick, heavy, overpowering sound on The Revenant; everything is audible, if a bit quiet, and given its own space in the mix. The guitars are especially so, pushed back a little too far, and it doesn’t help things that I don’t care for the tone either. It’s a little too flat for me, and lacks the impact I would expect of a project with such a bombastic theme.
Fortunately, these production quibbles are not nearly enough to derail an album that is filled with strong, catchy, and earnest tunes. This is symphonic power metal in fine form at 44 minutes in length, no real filler tracks, and a fair bit of fun with a side order of contemplation. The Revenant is a sure sign that Adrian Benegas has a lot to offer, and I can only look forward to hearing more.
Adrian Benegas – The Revenant