In January of 2007, I received one of the best packages of my teenage years, purchased with a Best Buy gift card I received for Christmas. The box contained two CDs: The Best of Led Zeppelin, and Cellador’s Enter Deception. While the former helped kickstart my affinity for classic rock, the latter, an uncharacteristically high quality American power metal record that did Euro-power better than most Euro-power bands, cemented my newfound love for the genre. Many late nights were spent playing Final Fantasy VI in the dark with Enter Deception on repeat as every note and lyric was cemented into my long-term memory. Creative differences and unreliable band members almost totally dissolved Cellador before their planned second album For All or Nothing1 could ever be recorded, and now, ten years later, Off the Grid casually appears in the AMG promo bin. If there’s anything Final Fantasy taught me over the course of the past decade, though, it’s that long-awaited projects are often doomed to result in crippling disappointment. Off the Grid crushes this curse.
Where Enter Deception-era Cellador was essentially a keyboard-less, thrashier (and superior) DragonForce, Cellador circa 2017 is a lean and efficient power metal machine. Not a single second of Off the Grid feels wasted as new riffs flow forth at a brisk clip, and the solos are carefully crafted so as to feel like an integral part of the songs rather than an obligatory thirty seconds of guitar masturbation. There’s so much variety here; from thrashers (“Shadowfold,” “This Means War”) to X Japan homages (“Shimmering Status”) to the fucking Cyndi Lauper cover (“Good Enough”), this is an absolute blast to listen to, front to back, every spin. Lead songwriter and sole original member Chris Petersen could have been content with repeating his past successes, yet his dedication to refining Cellador’s approach has resulted in an album that is more varied and technical in its instrumentation and with more nuance in its emotive melodies.
My only minor reservation with Off the Grid on the songwriting front is that the songs aren’t ambitious from a compositional standpoint. The record sticks to traditional verse-chorus patterns, and while Enter Deception did this as well, the tracks on that album felt more complex because of the extended intro sections and huge, adventurous solos. This trade off means that Off the Grid is vastly more efficient and packs two extra tracks into a shorter runtime than Cellador‘s debut, and while it’s certainly a fantastic value, a part of me misses the epic feel of older tracks like “Seen Through Time.” That being said, Off the Grid is unquestionably the better album moment-to-moment. Cellador introduces surprises in nearly every cut to command my attention until each song’s end, whether it’s the second verse riff shake-ups on “Shadowfold” and “Off the Grid” or the eight measures of black metal that barge in before the solo of “Wake Up the Tyrant.”
Giving a fair assessment of Off the Grid‘s production is essentially impossible, as the 160kbps promo we received makes it sound like a muddy mess. Comparing its sound with the official release of the first single track “Shadowfold,” though, leaves me very optimistic for the CD release; the guitars possess a powerful metallic crunch, the bass is totally audible (even on my promo), and the snare and bass drum have a pop to them that’s totally satisfying. While the production is vastly superior to the prior album, the new performers had a difficult task in living up to the former line-up’s talent, and thankfully this new crew is brimming with talent. New guitarist Eric Meyers constantly and flawlessly harmonizes with Petersen, and the latter comfortably slips into his new role as the band’s vocalist. At times it can sound as though he’s straining to reach the upper registers, but his timbre has an appealing touch of grit to it, and his wide range introduces new possibilities for Cellador in terms of vocal melodies.
While many successful comeback albums are hailed for the band in question “picking up where they left off,” Off the Grid sounds like the result of ten years of secluded evolution: refined, concise, and consistently great. Fans expecting Enter Deception 2 might be a bit disappointed, but ultimately Cellador has produced one of the best power metal releases of the last couple of years. If you like your power metal crafted with speed, heart, and boundless energy, don’t miss this one.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: King Records (Japan) | Scarlet Records (Rest of the world)
Websites: cellador.com | facebook.com/Cellador
Releases Dates: JP: 2017.02.22 | WW: 03.10.2017