Eternal Flight is a more varied creature than most that have been crawling around in the prog/power underground for the last 20 years. Whether as itself or as Dream Child, Eternal Flight has been slowly leaking albums since 1996, with Retrofuture being number six in total and fourth under the new moniker. Certainly better acquainted with a darker lyrical and melodic approach than most of their “power metal” cousins, the band also plays a more sedate, slow-to-mid-paced flavor of occasionally slightly proggy heavy/power. This is teamed with greater emphasis on tonal and harmonic contrast and screamed vocal punctuation than definitive melody lines or riffs (something I associate with bands like Manticora). I reviewed the last release, Diminished Reality, Elegies, and Mysteries (heretofore referred to as D.R.E.A.M.S) back in 2011 on my own time, and liked it reasonably well. Years later, though I rarely revisit it, I can still recall a couple of its tracks without trouble, and so I came to Retrofuture with mild hopes for an equal experience.
Singer Gerard Fois has a voice that reminds me of Ian Parry (Elegy, Eternity’s End) at times, though Eternal Flight’s delivery is much different and less speed metal-infused, so that further comparison to Parry’s bands isn’t really possible. Instead, songs like “Machine God” and “Labyrinth” suggest a fairly heavy dose of prog influence that, when blended with Fois’ screams, might be more analogous with early/mid-era Lanfear than anything else I can think of. The band’s pared-back, rhythmically focused and often strangely dissonant songwriting style makes comparisons difficult – and honestly, that goes for memorability as well. This behavior is more stark and readily apparent than on D.R.E.A.M.S, which flaunted some lovely ethereal melodicism from time to time. The closest example I can find on Retrofuture is probably “Succubus”, which even (*GASP*) kicks off with a simplistic riff that quickly singles it out as one of the better songs on the album, despite being one of the most basic.
Let’s call out “Nightmare King II,” which is a direct successor in name, feel, length, and general attitude to one of the best and most unique tracks from D.R.E.A.M.S. Seeing this on the track-list made me cautiously optimistic, but also more than a little worried, as sequels don’t often go down well in metal. This one legitimately sounds like a power metal track…once you cut through a couple of minutes of fluff. This time around, however, things are just too basic, the transitions a little too jarring, and at the risk of sounding like one of our much grimmer writers, just not as authentically bleak and sinuous as the original1. As we all know, a half-cocked imitation is worse than an original flop, and this one clearly fits the definition of the former.
All round, Retrofuture just doesn’t cut it. Almost everything falls flat except for perhaps the overall production and sound. Where are the riff-driven hooks and scorching solos from “The Tower” and where’d the tranquil melodic shimmer of “Fantasea” evaporate to? The best songs here, like “Succubus” and “Danger Calling,” are substandard when sized against the band’s history. Almost all the material on Retrofuture is less ambitious and less inventive, but also can’t seem to work itself up to deliver anything truly interesting. It’s as if the band decided to scale things back and write an album with good fundamentals – except that when they took off the gloves, they found themselves fumbling with inexpert digits and faulty muscle memory.
It saddens me to say that this album is completely skippable. Devoted fans might find a few things to appreciate, since the music is not far from the earlier days of Positive Rage and Under The Sign Of Will (those albums can also be passed over by the general power/prog public), but the brief burst of realized potential exhibited on D.R.E.A.M.S looks not to be repeated. Disappointment is relative, but this is not something I’d choose to spin again.