As the sweltering hours spent practicing annelid medicine in AMG HQ’s boiler room pile up, I’ve grown accustomed to the near-insanity that comes with operating only by inconstant light of the Coal Chamber. Mediocrity too has run its course. Like the trve snobs among you, my previous diet was strict 3.5+. The initial shock of my inability to immediately expunge all memory of “decent” metal from my tiny wvrm brain nearly killed me. Now? At least it ain’t Amaranthe. Last time around, Steel Druhm summed up both Emerald’s Unleashed and career with one line: “You’ve heard it a zillion times before from far superior bands.” Reckoning Day makes strides towards memorability, but old habits die hard as Emerald improve and backpedal in equal measure.
It’s tough to believe Emerald have kicked around since ’95, as their only claim to fame seems to be spawning Gloryhammer
vocalist cheesemaster extraordinaire, Thomas Winkler. At first, it’s easy to see why. “Only the Reaper Wins” and “Black Pyramid” plod in equal measure, offering a generic heavy/power-fusion highlighted only by flashes of catchiness in the latter’s switchblade chorus. However, “Evolution in Reverse” mercifully pivots into “Black Pyramid’s” previews of heaviness. Guest vocalist George Call (Aska) screams for vengeance while the rest of Emerald get off their ass and follow his lead. The result almost sounds like a different band – perhaps not entirely unique, but worth a damn.
When permanent mic-man Mace Mitchell steps back in for “Horns Up,” Reckoning Day is seemingly changed for the better. Its highs and the lows both recall elements of Edguy and Avantasia, especially in Mitchell’s vocals. Some cheesier elements run the 80’s gamut, even invoking Bon Jovi1 on the obnoxious (yet somehow enjoyable) power ballad “Beyond Forever.” But for once there’s an attempt to offer more than mediocre vocal hooks and lukewarm chord progressions. “Through the Storm” and “Ridden by Fear” span the distance from Metallica to Iron Maiden2, closing out the A-side with a commitment to actually playing metal that propels Emerald toward memorability.
35 minutes in, this doctor was content. Sure, a few songs failed to amaze, but the upside tracks grabbed my attention more than Emerald’s previous material. But of course, they just couldn’t call it a day. At the point where things should wind down, Emerald launches a seven(!) song conceptual arc about Charles the Bold.3 Mired in bloat, the back-7 relieves the record of its positive momentum. “Trees Full of Tears” sees Mitchell’s vocals, which were never great to begin with, take two steps toward camp. “Reckoning Day” mixes Sabaton gang shouts with “When the Ants Go Marching In,” Both embody the patent mediocrity Emerald nearly escaped. “Reign of Steel” and “Signum Dei” continue this trend, sounding far busier than they actually are as their combined fourteen minutes become very noticeable.
Part of the issue lies with how heavily Emerald turn to their vocals to push their concept. Mitchell’s sometimes effective choruses are still present, but they were never the sole selling point. With the album abandoning both what little self-restraint it had and the traditional pacing that elevated earlier tracks, it’s no wonder that the music reverts to flat-footed mediocrity. In general, Mitchell’s hooks stay with me, which is more than I can say about Unleashed’s, but not without occasional reservation or confusion. Personally, I prefer the smokier Dio-meets-Sammet tones of Call, who was at one time slated as Emerald’s permanent vocalist. He fits their sound well and his two guest tracks are among the album’s best. Likewise, guitarists Michael Vaucher and Julian Menth strike the right note when they put some grit and power into their writing. The improved first-half songwriting peaks thanks to their excellent solos. V.O. Pulver (Gurd, Poltergeist) improves upon his Unleashed production job, though he trades in flatness for busyness much of the time. The vocals still tend to be overtaken, but the rest of the production is relatively plump.
I’m almost tempted to forget tracks 8-14 exist and recommend Reckoning Day purely on its first half; after all, you still get near 40 minutes of surprisingly capable metal. But an album is a bloody album, and less is absolutely more. Despite proving they can stand out, Emerald return to their same uninspiring ways and expect a different result. If this isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Pure Steel Records
Websites: emerald.ch | facebook.com/emeraldmetal
Releases in UK: March 17th, 2017 | Releases Worldwide: March 24th, 2017