The smoke hasn’t even cleared from the battlefield that was the recent Sabaton opus, and here we go again with another over-the-top war-themed power metal album, this time by Israel’s Desert. It takes a certain amount of moxie for a relatively unknown act to drop their third album right alongside that of their nearest comparison point. Fortune Favors the Brave indeed. Desert does have a lot in common with Sabaton as far as thematic approach and overall bombast level, but they also sound a lot like Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. That’s quite a wicked trifecta, and though I’ve never heard of this act before, I’m quite impressed with what they bring to the battle. Catchy choruses, big, crunchy riffs and more keyboards than Big Jim Swede’s Organ Emporium. Sounds promising, no?
The best way to describe what you get here is Sabaton with Hansi Kursch on vocals and guitar lines penned by Iced Earth‘s John Schaffer. Opener “Fix Bayonets!” Is an ideal example, with the heavy, driving lead riff accentuated by keyboard dramatics as Alexei Raymar does his best Hansi impression, and it’s a good one. It’s a fist-pumping, adrenaline-soaked stomper with wicked guitar-work and a non-stop, go-for-the-throat attitude. The keyboards can be too much at times, but it’s a small matter, especially with that big, gang-shouted chorus working as well as it does. “Sons of War” is another winner with heavy, up-front riffs driving the music and keeping the energy level high as Raymar drops big, Blind Guardian-esque vocal hooks and a huge chorus on you. At this point of the album I was wondering why I’d never heard of these guys before.
The band is at their best when they go full out like on the riffy, no-nonsense title track, which surprises with the heaviness quotient at times, and the rowdy, uber-anthemic bombast of “My Black Flag.” These songs are just plain metal fun and very well executed. The standout cut is “I Gave You a Kingdom” which is like a weirdo blend of Kamelot‘s glossy, polished power metal and the meathead groove-metal of Pantera. There’s no universe where those things can coexist peacefully and successfully, yet here we are. The vocal lines are perfectly placed and the guitar-work is off the hook. It’s a strange but slickly done tune with Middle Eastern influences shrewdly woven in for extra oomph. All in all this is a surprisingly well-written and well-executed album, and no song feels under-done or unnecessary. They even manage to pull off a successful power-ballad on “Symbol to Believe.”
There are some minor issues however. The riffing in “Operation Thunderbolt” sometimes feels too funky and Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque for the song’s concept and it gets distracting. Another problem is how prominent the keyboards can become. On songs like the title track, “Fix Bayonets!” and “We Were Soldiers” they feel overweening and take away from the mood rather than enhance it. A lesser issue is that the drums sometimes sound a bit plastic-like. These are all fairly minor complaints considering the quality of the songs, but they do add up. Criticisms aside, I’m quite impressed by Alexei Raymar’s vocals. He brings a big, commanding presence to the mix and though he does sit a bit too close to Hansi Kursch much of the time, it works well on the material. Guitarists Sergei Metalheart and Alex Zvulun bring their A+ game, crafting crunchy, propulsive riffs and impressing with a ton of wild solo-work. These folks can shred and do so whenever the songs allow it, but they’re careful not wreck or derail the overall flow.
Fortune Favors the Brave is a cool surprise out of left field and I’m enjoying it a lot; even more so than the latest Sabaton outing. It falls just shy of a very good album and has me hunting down the band’s prior releases. Desert have the goods to be a much bigger name in the metalverse, and if they keep writing songs like these while smoothing out the occasional rough edge, it’s just a matter of time. Get in on the ground floor and check this out.