The label’s press release for Obscurity states ostentatiously that the album will be the band’s “definitive consecration to the international scene.” Sidelining that this is a gross misuse of the word and concept of “consecration” on multiple levels, there’s no way to make me crankier right off the bat than with inane marketing bluster. Tread lightly, My Kingdom. As a third-line power metal act that’s trundled around in the Italian underground since 1999, Dragonhammer is remarkable mainly for its first pair of albums from the early 00’s, which caused a minor splash in the then still developing Euro-power scene. However, 2013’s The X Experiment was received with minor back-patting and a minimum of fanfare in most circles. Now, four years later, the boys are ready to prove that they’re ready to break out and attain some serious recognition…right?
Nope, ‘fraid not. For one, a major stroke is delivered against the band upon first listen: whereas The X Experiment and earlier albums exhibited at least a modicum of progressive (or at least non-standard for Italian power metal) songwriting, Obscurity is noticeably, and at times dreadfully, straightforward. Songs like gliding opener “The Eye of the Storm” and the processional “Children of the Sun” are quite satisfying and boast an improvement in catchy keyboard licks, but others like the completely banal and useless “Remember My Name” and the snore-inducing repetition of “Town of Evil” are some of the least noteworthy tunes that I’ve ever heard from the band. Also, when re-listening to sections of The X Experiment and comparing it to the new release, I swear it seems as if vocalist Max Aguzzi has actually regressed, his accent worsening and his words slurring as badly as on Time For Expiation. I’ll be honest: between this and the none-too-helpful lyrics, I can’t even tell what songs like “Town of Evil” and “Under The Vatican’s Ground” are supposed to be about.
There’s a bit of redemption to be glimpsed here and there, however. The album’s title track, along with those already mentioned in a positive light, really highlights the improvement of Giulio Cattivera as a soundly contributing member of the band (unlike his more reserved performance in 2013). About half of the tracks here can be ballparked as respectable, if completely unambitious, power metal in the tried and proven Italian national style. The remainder, however, is utterly forgettable, highlighting a behavior that I’ve been on my soapbox about for some years now:
It’s 2017, and by my reckoning, it’s now been about 25 years since power metal really became a “thing,” with greats like Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, and Helloween proving out and properly establishing the style in the early 1990’s. Granted, Dragonhammer has been an entity for a majority of that time period, but if you’re going to continue to play things very safe by genre standards, you’d better be doing it so well that your fans keep begging for it. There is literally nothing on Obscurity that countrymen like Highlord, Derdian, Labÿrinth, etc. haven’t done and done considerably better and/or earlier. And it’s for this reason that I get so hot-headed over garbage marketing like that which I quoted above.
Obscurity is bound to leave Dragonhammer in just that relative state, and given the nature of this album and the historicity of power metal as a genre, I don’t think the lack of a breakthrough here is going to be news to anyone – least of all the band. This album certainly isn’t poor by any stretch of the imagination, but taking a release that might have been “pretty good” twenty years ago and slapping a sticker that says “HEAVIER, MORE MODERN, MORE VARIED” (it is not those things) on the front is a surefire recipe for the bargain bin. Please, Angry readers, go to My Kingdom and pick up the reissues of The Blood Of The Dragon and Time For Expiation, but I’m afraid Obscurity won’t be worth your hard-earned coin until it’s on sale – even if you’re a fan of the band’s back catalog.