Immortal Guardian – Psychosomatic Review

Feats of sheer sonic escapism have defined much of my listening habits in the Covid era. The stronger an artist can nail a “larger than life” aesthetic in sound and concept, the better. My polyamorous affair with Bal-Sagoth and Galneryus has never burned brighter, while new favorites like Finsterforst have dominated my playlists. Immortal Guardian’s debut Age of Revolution fits comfortably into a similarly overblown mold, despite the political frustrations conveyed through its lyrics. But for a genre as topically stagnant as power metal, the lyrical departure remains a pleasant palette cleanser to this day. Its follow-up, Psychosomatic, heightens that lyrical thesis, and diminishes just about everything else. Psychosomatic, though ostensibly a power metal record, is the definitive opposite of escapism. Hell, because of its concept, I can hardly describe it as “merely fun” in its best moments.

Highlights do manifest, however, and they do so early enough to leave a reasonably strong first impression. The opening title track leverages its middling pace to allow for some of the most thoughtful and clever guitar work I’ve heard yet from guitarist-keyboardist hybrid Gabriel Guardiola, and grants considerable space for its towering, memorable chorus. “Read Between the Lines” follows with an Angra worthy bridge-chorus combo and a fun solo that can only be described as neoclassical swing. Later down the line, the intense and emotive leads of “Clocks” elevate a would-be ballad before it cleverly pivots to a burst of melodeath speed. Any of these tracks would have found a welcome home in Age of Revolution. But outliers they are; and when heard through the lens of Psychosomatic’s concept, even they are tough pills to swallow.

At first, when not paying close attention to the lyrics, the passing mentions of “quarantine” and “lockdown” feel innocent enough. Examining the album through a macro lens, however, reveals the troubling, groan-inducing truth: Psychosomatic is a concept album about the Covid-19 pandemic. If your eyes have yet to roll back and take permanent residence gazing at the back of your skull, consider the sheer blunt force delivery of the concept. “Phobia,” a piece of ho-hum Helloween worship, explores the groundbreaking notion that catching the coronavirus is a scary prospect. The terribly named “Goodbye to Farewells,” meanwhile, takes what would be a decent bout of speedy power metal, and ruins it by ruminating on those who lost the chance at holding a proper funeral for their loved ones due to Covid restrictions. Psychosomatic is an absolute fucking bummer to listen to, and with songs like “Candlelight” echoing the mundanity of late-00’s mainstream rock radio1, Immortal Guardian doesn’t provide much incentive to shrug off the concept and enjoy it for the music’s sake.

Instrumentally, I didn’t find much to latch onto here outside of Guardiola’s predictably excellent guitar skills. I believe the more reserved nature of Psychosomatic compared to its predecessor is to blame. Psychosomatic is handily the more diverse of the two currently existing Immortal Guardian records, but its slower pace fails to recapture the fire and urgency that ignited the band’s debut. The vocals of the immensely talented Carlos Zema lag as a result. I remarked in my review of Age of Revolution that he is unquestionably one of the most diverse vocalists in metal, and while I stand by that statement, Psychosomatic grants him far fewer opportunities to flex his range. At least Psychosomatic is an improvement in terms of production, its synthetic sheen dialed back just a touch to allow for a somewhat more natural sound without sacrificing the “hyper metal” aesthetic.

I don’t believe that power metal, for all its escapist trappings, should shy away from touchy subjects. Hell, Immortal Guardian’s last record tackled topics ranging from colonialism to institutional racism, and I loved it for that. Yet Psychosomatic misses the mark by failing to provide perspective on our current reality. It comes across as an unrefined outlet for the band to express base level frustrations, the sonic equivalent of doomscrolling through the social media echo chamber. With songs which mostly range from decent to instantly forgettable, there isn’t much reason to stick around for the tunes, either. Just write about a fucking dragon or something next time, guys. At least that would provide some semblance of fun.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: M-Theory Audio | Bandcamp
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: February 12th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. It took me a couple of weeks of soul searching to think of which song this reminded me of specifically, and I regret to inform you that the answer is Hellyeah’s seminal anthem “Alcohaulin’ Ass.”
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