Now, here’s an interesting one: a power metal collaboration, formed of Helion Prime‘s Jason Ashcraft and Judicator‘s John Yelland, whose existence actually predates its more mainstream offshoots. For the uninitiated, these two bands are some of the most promising newcomers to the US power metal scene. While Helion Prime‘s latest effort was something of a disappointment, their debut is a stunner of a record, and Judicator‘s At the Expense of Humanity is my favorite power metal record of the current decade. High expectations surround Dire Peril, and as soon as I heard the first singles from The Extraterrestrial Compendium, little could be done to bring them down to realistic levels. Stomping, thrash-oriented power metal featuring John Yelland on the mic is already essential listening for yours truly, but when each song is themed around a different, classic science fiction flick? Welp, there goes No Nut November.
Given Helion Prime‘s penchant for Iced Earthian power/thrash riffs and Judicator‘s predilection for soaring Blind Guardian vocal harmonies, one might expect The Extraterrestrial Compendium to sound like an all-American Demons & Wizards, and one would be absolutely correct.1 At a base level, Dire Peril is essentially Helion Prime with Judicator‘s vocals, yet their melodic complexities take deeper roots. John Yelland has certainly translated his distinct melodic inclinations from Judicator, which in turn informs Jason Ashcraft’s guitar work. This allows for more dynamic performances from Ashcraft than either of the first two Helion Prime records, resulting in both some seriously ripping thrash-esque material (“Yautja (Hunter Culture),” “Heart of the Furyan”), legitimately affecting pseudo-ballads (“The Visitor”), and pieces that effectively splice aggression with emotive melody (“Enemy Mine”). It truly feels like each artist brings out the best in one another, and thus unquestionably justifies Dire Peril‘s existence alongside the members’ main gigs.
The Extraterrestrial Compendium is decidedly un-debut like in its songcraft and instrumental execution, but in terms of sheer length, it feels a bit overstuffed, if only by one song. “Total Recall” is somewhat lacking in the melodic and instrumental personality that defines the rest of the album. Given that its solo is the best of the record, it’s far from skippable; it just pales in comparison to the album’s best tracks. Speaking of things that are the best, there’s a track on here called “Blood in the Ice,” which is just the fucking best. Based on what might just be my favorite horror film (The Thing), this track is one TEC‘s most tonally dynamic, and is a fantastic illustration of DP‘s understanding of their subjects’ thematic intricacies. I’m enamored with its chorus in particular, which acknowledges the subtle brilliance of The Thing‘s timeless chess scene, and is catchy as all hell to boot.
On the more technical end of things, The Extraterrestrial Compendium excels, thanks to fantastically crunchy rhythm tones and a relatively spacious master that allows for great vocal and drum mixing. The excellent performances add instrumental technicality to the engineering finesse; Jason Ashcraft may not match Judicator‘s Tony Cordisco in terms of blisteringly kinetic rhythm work, but his leads here are the strongest they’ve ever been, resulting in the best power metal solos I’ve heard all year. Meanwhile, the reserved, melancholic nature of certain tracks means that Yelland is allowed to properly flex his range in a way that this year’s Judicator release simply did not allow for. His delivery can be utterly spellbinding in the record’s softest moments, yet his intense high range is as impactful as ever, with his performance on “Roughnecks” being particularly vicious in its high-flying lunacy.
As I wrap up this review, I realize that I haven’t even touched on the fantastic guest vocal contributions from Brittney Fucking Slayes (“Queen of the Galaxy”) and Arjen Fucking Anthony Lucassen (“Journey Beyond the Stars”). I believe this is because The Extraterrestrial Compendium is both so immediately gratifying and such an effective grower that the guest performances were the furthest thing from my mind during the analysis process. It’s the rare power metal record where the artist is as confident in handling its subtle, reserved material as it is its neck-thrashing, riff-centric centerpieces, and Dire Peril manages both aesthetics with more care than the bulk of bands in its genre. As far as straightforward power metal goes, this may well be the very best that 2018 has to offer.