Emerald is a time capsule. The two years since our last meeting grayed the shit out of me, but their Swiss cheese popped out just as chipper and evergreen as I remember. I suppose I should appreciate knowing what to expect. 24 years on and 8 albums in, Emerald found their niche and niched the hell out of it. They’re the anti-power power band, the least dense of the heavy metals, sitting too squarely in the center of the palate to love or loathe. Vim without vigor, vinegar without piss, a good script but a poor adaptation. You know the drill—or do you? Might Emerald have finally unearthed a gem in Restless Souls?
Far be it from Emerald to reinvent the wheel now. But to their credit, their uniform, cookie-cutter heavy metal was never just that, and isn’t now. The trademark of tandem of Michael Vaucher and Julien Menth pushes the power metal potential of Iron Maiden to its limits, wielding heavy and power akimbo throughout opener “Freakshow.” Much like last time (and the time before that), little here impresses or evolves over its five minutes. The song, like follow-up “Valley of Death,” could be any track in Emerald‘s jewel case. Their -beats just aren’t up- enough, a lack of power metal pep resulting in choruses that skim instead of soar and riffs that trot instead of gallop. Between big Overkill vibes on “Digital Slavery,” the taut Bay Area-worship on “The Wicked Force,” and the Judas Priest-turned-shred of closer “Heaven Falls Down,” Emerald‘s heartier influences fare much better. Unfortunately, the record’s inherent makeup tilts towards the cut of Maiden castoff “Son of Sam”1 and away from the bits that succeed more naturally.
As you’d expect from a band older than a good lot of you, the clunk factor is pretty low. Even the painful lyrics of “Superhero” are balanced out. But with the record’s hobbit hole ceilings, the good, bad, and ugly fall within pretty narrow bounds. Any emotion poured into Restless Souls‘ creation fails to translate on this end; anger escapes me as wholly as thrill. The riffs never read half as well live than on paper, and experimentation exists only as far as yet another Bon Jovi talk box segment.2 The inexorable stench of safety pervades the entirety of the record. Too often do Emerald open with a nuclear riff only to settle into a restrained, neutered mid-pace that, like on “The Final Stand,” guts rippers and ballads alike. “Cad Goddeau” cleans out the stinky cheese it truly needs, “Valley of Death” lacks the energy it needs to make use of its choruses, and only highlight “Heaven Falls Down” commits to the pace needed for an ace banger.
Despite wearing influences up and down his sleeves, Mace Mitchell’s vocal performance lacks consistency. Shocking, I know. One song, he’s fire, the next, he’s ash. It’s hard to believe that the same guy strongmans “Set Me Free” and “Restless Souls” to success while fueling the ten toddler trike pile-ups of “Valley of Death” and “Cad Goddeau.” Even Mitchell’s better takes are more impression than homage, and he’d do better to settle on one instead of quantum leaping across Rob Halford, Dave Mustaine, Nils Patrik Johansson, take your pick. On the flip side, for all the issues I have with this record, V.O. Pulver’s production work is not one of them. Emerald‘s kaleidoscope offerings never sounded so good as they careen across the metal cosplay convention. Vania Truttmann’s bass presence plumps up a gorgeous offering punctuated by the ease with which Restless Souls takes on its many looks.
I don’t know if “disappointed” is really the right word; at this point, I’d be kidding you if I said my expectations for Restless Souls diverged greatly from reality. If anything, it features material Emerald are comfortable writing and seemingly enjoy playing. Sure, they won’t break any hearts or surprise anyone, for better or worse.3 But more than any band I know, Emerald do fine being fine. If that’s fine with you, maybe you’ll find it easier to be green than I do.