When I was first testing the waters of various metal subgenres over a decade ago, in order to familiarize myself with the scene as a whole, something became immediately apparent: I do not like virtuoso-helmed acts. Though bands like DragonForce, that relied on high-flying technical artistry, were standbys in my early days of metal fandom, it was clear to me as soon as I encountered a seventy-five minute, single-track instrumental shred album that indulgence at the cost of songwriting was standard practice. This preconception is what makes the debut of Immortal Guardian—a band whose gimmick is a guitarist who can shred out guitar and keyboard solos in simultaneous harmony—so surprising. Refreshingly concise and engagingly written, Age of Revolution offers more thoughtful themes and exhilarating moments than someone like Yngwie Malmsteen could ever hope to achieve.
Though not the sole star of AoR, Gabriel Guardian is truly an impressive musician, and one who has found interesting ways to work around the barriers endemic to his America’s Got Talent-worthy gimmick. Limitations breed creativity, and the leads and solos that Guardian has crafted through having one hand apiece bound to the guitar and synthesizer are often wonky in intriguing ways, especially evident in the cosmic centerpiece riff heard in “Stardust.” Yet these moments are mere embellishments in the diverse array of tautly crafted pieces of progressive metal on display. From the aggressive, melodeath-adjacent grooves of “Zephon” and “Trail of Tears” to more melodically inclined fare such as “Æolian” and “Hunters,” Immortal Guardian uses this record as a playground to explore several tonal varieties of prog/power metal, and there isn’t a track to be found that I would not call a winner. Similar to last month’s Manticora release (yet shorter by around twenty minutes), AoR is an album that never fails to engage.
This consistent level of engagement is only possible because Immortal Guardian places strong songwriting before instrumental showmanship. Tracks endeavor to be dynamic whenever possible. “Trail of Tears,” for instance, smoothly transitions in and out of a slow, moody bridge that contrasts wonderfully with the otherwise propulsive nature of the song, while “Fall” begins as a Latin-tinged ballad reminiscent of Angra at their most reserved before building toward an explosive, Kamelot-esque chorus. The strong constructions are supported by the most politically conscious lyrics I’ve maybe ever heard from a power metal record. Neither historical atrocities (“Trail of Tears”) nor sensitive, modern-day societal issues (“Hunters”) are left untouched. As IG tackles these topics head-on without ever veiling them in metaphor, the bombastic, DragonForce-like nature of the latter number feels oddly fitting and makes it one of the most intriguing power metal tracks in recent memory.
AoR‘s lyrics are powerfully delivered by one Carlos Zema, who—and I say this without a trace of hyperbole—may be the single most diverse vocalist to ever grace the power metal genre. If I hadn’t noticed that he can transition between modes of singing in the span of a single line of lyric, I might have believed there to be four vocalists sharing mic duties. It’s hard for me to process that the guy who delivers the subdued, emotional verse of “Fall” is the same person belting out Halford-ian banshee shrieks on “State of Emergency” and death metal roars on “Zephon,” yet I’ve found no evidence to the contrary. Drummer Cody Gilliand is an absolute machine as well, navigating the wide range of demanding material with an abundance of smoothly implemented fills and blast beats, though I wish the over-loud guitar mixing has been toned down to allow both him and bassist Thad Stevens to stand out in the mix. The mixing could definitely use some re-balancing, and the kill-switch heavy rhythm guitars feel overly glossy. At least the tones are universally solid.
Aside from its so-so, overproduced sound, Age of Revolution is an extremely difficult record to fault; one or two of its choruses don’t quite hit home for me, but otherwise, I have no substantial complaints. Immortal Guardian has an amazing knack for arranging dynamic compositions in such a way that there is always some melody or instrumental flourish to latch onto, resulting in an album that is supremely confident and perfectly paced. AoR is also one of a small handful of power metal albums I’ve heard this year that actually gives a shit about doing something interesting with the genre, and is currently my front-runner for power metal record o’ the year. From where I’m standing, few albums have a shot at overthrowing its standing.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: M-Theory Audio | Bandcamp
Websites: immortalguardian.net | immortalguardian.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/igmetal
Releases Worldwide: September 26th, 2018