As my musical tastes expand ever outwards, it becomes increasingly fascinating to revisit bands I once held in high esteem. This includes a countless number of power metal bands that have aged approximately as well as room temperature milk, as I was once immune to the effects of achingly derivative performances, awkward theatrical singing, and directionless guitar wankery. I hadn’t listened to Derdian in years before spying this familiar, silly name in the depths of the AMG promo quagmire, but upon revisitation, I still find much to like in at least a couple of their albums. Their sound, which I can only describe as “excessively neoclassical,” still manages to charm, a quality which made them a reasonably respectable alternative to [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire] back in the mid-00’s. And that’s what makes DNA so frustrating. Devoid of the infectious energy that defined their early works, DNA falls victim to all the power metal pitfalls outlined above in a needlessly lengthy platter of milquetoast cheese.
When it comes to what the band always did best — delivering speedy power metal offerings with a unique melodic flair — Derdian still has chops. The introductory title track makes this immediately evident by playing to the band’s strengths, fluctuating from fast to mid-tempos while delivering a fun, novel first-person narrative of alien abduction. Other tracks like “Never Born” and “Red and White” follow in a similarly speedy vein, but the tracks that stand out most take a stab at more progressive territory. The most notable of these is “False Flag Operation,”1 which, despite producing “yikes” levels of lyrical cringe on an album overflowing with the stuff, features a solid groove and one of the record’s stronger and more unique choruses. This track and others show a willingness to evolve on Derdian‘s part, which is more than I can say for most power metal bands.
Sporadic creativity is all well and good, but even DNA’s most forward-thinking tracks can’t muster the stamina to maintain a consistent level of instrumental ingenuity. This is an insanely talented set of musicians that use this record as a stage to squander their gifts, gluing together stray instances of decent hooks and solos with a seemingly never-ending supply of tired guitar gallops and cheap synth effects. I claimed earlier that Derdian is an atypically unique power metal act in terms of melodic prowess, and while that holds true, it’s clearer with each passing album that the same note progressions have been recycled for nearly two decades to the point of utter mundanity. Derdian’s cheddar may have smelled fresh as of 2012’s Limbo, but at some point in my six-year break from the band, it soured to the point of losing its former charm.
This combination of stale melodics and uninspired writing wouldn’t be especially offensive under normal circumstances, but DNA’s length, bloated to an absurd sixty-four minutes,2 is an absolute deal-breaker. Despite the aforementioned infrequent progressive curveballs, there isn’t a ton of variety here; with maybe twenty minutes of good ideas on tap, the full record feels comprised of roughly two-thirds of filler material. Then there are the vocals. Though delivered with appealing Italian flair by Ivan Giannini, they are awkward and forced on any track that demands a bit more emotional nuance, especially obvious in the shaky restraint exhibited in “Destiny Never Awaits.”3 Perhaps more impactful production could have assisted in differentiating the nuanced sections from the bombastic, but with rhythm tones as apathetic as these, the speedier sections sound about as aggressive as your average power ballad.
I sample and inevitably pass on many a mediocre power metal promo, but while DNA certainly fell into that particular bracket of quality, I still gave it a shot due to my positive history with the band. Needless to say, I feel burned. This feels like a time in power metal’s history where only the very best and most innovative records in the genre will stay in the fanbase’s consciousness for more than a fleeting moment. With bands like Galneryus absolutely crushing the field of neoclassical power metal year after year, Derdian feels entirely irrelevant. There are still a handful of good tracks and moments to be found on DNA that could contribute partially to a genre junkie’s playlist; for all others, I offer the following warning: do not approach.
- I’m sure it’s a total coincidence that the opening riff of this track feels very much like classic Megadeth. ↩
- It should be noted that, aside from their debut, all of Derdian’s records have clocked in at this exact length, give or take a minute or two. I don’t think this band is physically capable of writing a shorter album. ↩
- Really, Derdian? ↩