Bloodbound – Creatures of the Dark Realm Review

As Lord Protector of the Dark Angry Metal Realm, Steel Druhm is entitled to the right of primo promo. He can often be seen pushing his massive haul of pre-picked albums around the AMG office in a giant flaming wheelbarrow, its spiked wheel crushing the skulls of failed n00bs littered about the floor as it rolls. His dragon’s hoard of promos is so large that some inevitably fall to the ground, where sniveling peons like myself snatch them up for our own reviewing pleasure. So it goes with Bloodbound’s newest release. In his 2019 review of the band’s eighth studio album, Rise of the Dragon Empire, Lord Steel recounted the transition that the band has made over the years, moving from a more traditional heavy metal sound to a syrupy-sweet Euro-infused iteration of power metal. That album had some good tunes but wasn’t particularly special, so I was a bit nervous when I found Creatures of the Dark Realm doubling down on the cheddar quotient. Could it possibly quench my insatiable hunger for quality cheese?

I’m happy to report that sometime in the last two years, Bloodbound stumbled upon a winning power metal formula. The choruses are even more yuge, the melodies even more bombastic, and the songwriting is much stronger overall. At eleven proper tracks and 45 minutes, Creatures of the Dark Realm is a powerful and varied adventure through kingdoms ruled by the likes of Avantasia, Theocracy, and Sabaton. All three of the available singles are strong, but two of them ride atop the backs of lyric videos, those hideous, metal-ruining abominations, so my choice of an embedded track was no choice at all. “Creatures of the Dark Realm” is a melodic monster with a chorus that has entangled my mind for weeks and keyboard antics that had me constantly whipping out and beating my air synthesizer. The first time I heard it, I muttered to myself — after checking to make sure that no one was within earshot — that Steel‘s loss is Holdeneye‘s gain.

And that’s just one style that Bloodbound employs on Creatures of the Dark Realm. “March Into War” is a stomping war anthem that feels like it should be sung by the Swedish Tank himself, Joakim Brodén. This is no knock on Bloodbound vocalist Patrik Selleby — a gifted singer in his own right — but a testament to the band’s ability to capture that victorious Sabaton spirit in the music, something they also manage to do on the hard-charging riff monster “Eyes Come Alive.” And then there are the songs that remind me of the effortless melodicism of Theocracy, like the transcendent “Ever Burning Flame” and the stellar “Gathering of Souls.” The latter also gives me a strong Avantasia vibe, a vibe that appears over much of the album thanks to Selleby’s voice bearing similarity to Tobias Sammet’s in both timbre and range, and thanks to the music incorporating seamless transitions between its heavier and softer parts.

The last few years have only delivered a few power metal albums that have really grabbed my attention, so Bloodbound’s transfiguration into the fullness of glory is a delightful surprise. Selleby has leveled up in the vocal department since Rise of the Dragon Empire. Whether his voice stands alone or whether it’s drenched in layers of harmony, Creatures of the Dark Realm is filled with memorable vocal moments. Guitarists Tomas and Henrik Olsson deliver both hard-charging rhythms and high-flying, acrobatic leads, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Fredrik Bergh and his keyboard antics that flood the album with melody. You can’t go wrong with any track here, but “When Fate is Calling,” the title track, “Ever Burning Flame,” “Death Will Lead the Way,” “Gathering of Souls,” and “March Into War” are some of my favorites.

I might kick myself later for underrating this one, because, frankly, it’s one of the best power metal platters I’ve heard since Bloodbound’s label mates in Brothers of Metal released Emblas Saga at the very beginning of 2020. I can’t get over how much the band has improved on Creatures of the Dark Realm. It is a beautiful journey that I’ve taken over and over again thanks to the quality of the songs, and I highly recommend it to all you cheese lovers out there.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM Records
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

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