It’s difficult to shake the feeling that among all of metal’s subgenres, power metal remains the one that refuses to grow up, stuck forever in an adolescent state. Barring a few bands, the power metal scene might as well still be living in the middle of the nineties, when Stratovarius’ Visions had just been released, Nightwish were kind of relevant, and Symphony of Enchanted Lands, by that Italian band that used to be known simply as Rhapsody, lurked around the corner. Like I said, simpler times. In that context, the sophomore release The Modern Age by French metallers DarkTribe fits right in.
Their music, basically run-of-the-mill european, ridiculously melodic power metal, is not simply imbued with nostalgia nor retro leanings, but is completely frozen in time, trafficking in somewhat modernised, but generally tired idioms that lost their “cool” factor a long, long time ago. Couple that with naïve lyrics about the awful things humankind does to nature, suitable for an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and things start looking dire. Almost like a Michael Bay movie, it’s music that comes off as all explosions and no substance, but with a loyal audience always wanting more. Too bad though, because the musicians are obviously talented and as some tracks prove, they can craft some interesting riffs and truly catchy bangers. Still, a slight sense of progress exists, especially where the quality of songwriting is concerned, since The Modern Age is a better record than their début, Mysticeti Victoria.
With the negatives out of the way, there’s enough to be enjoyed here. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell and over the top, but where would the fun be with those traits? Aside from a few missteps like the instrumental intro “Humanizer” with its annoying orchestrations, the tepid ballad “Holy Water Day,” or the cheesiness-turned-up-to-eleven on “No Train to Earth,” the material is catchy, somewhat progressive and full of dramatic solos (“My Last Odyssey”). While the band never shies too far away from happy, lighthearted metal, it’s those instances in which they become darker and brooding, like during “The Modern Age,” “Wild Call,” or “Darkside Of Imagination,” that work best. Even the obvious pop melodies and Eurosong tendencies exhibited on songs such as “A Last Will” end up tolerable since they’re encrusted in multiple layers of warm, heavy sounding guitars.
Unfortunately, that same multilayered presence has a suffocating effect on the music when everything gets busy, causing the little details to get crushed and smeared. That’s not to say that the mixing and mastering under the hammer of Jacob Hansen is bad, quite the contrary. Disregarding the artifacts that can be attributed to the low bitrate (160 kbps) of the mp3s we’ve received, the production is actually pleasant, with an emphasis put on the best elements of DarkTribe’s sound – guitars and vocals. Vocalist Anthony Agnello really delivers the goods here, even if he sounds familiar and incites a sense of déjà vu. The rest of the band also put in a strong showing and manage to show off their admirable chops without sounding like they’re actually showing off.
While passable, The Modern Age fits so many stereotypes it actually hurts. However, this record is intended for those who enjoy high fructose syrupy sounds, regardless of how bad they are for one’s health. If you fit that description, this is an album you should hear. Considering how much of an improvement this is to earlier releases, let’s hope DarkTribe can create something even better next time.