When Gothenburg’s Big Three uncorked their defining early 90s works followed quickly by Finnish death misers, Sentenced releasing their groundbreaking Amok opus, the world saw that death vocals could be successfully integrated with classic metal in the vein of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Thus was melodic death metal created and in the preceding years, one billion copycat bands spewed out in a torrid frenzy of imitation and mimicry. Sweden’s Imperial Domain was one of the faceless horde of bastard offspring to drop from that overly fertile womb, releasing their debut in 1998. While their early material cleaved closer to the style heard on Amok, the influence of their fellow countrymen was present as well. The band only managed one followup release before vanishing as copycat bands often do. Now, some 18 years later, most of the original band has reformed to give it another go. Joined by new singer Andreas Öman (Lou Siffer & the Howling Demons), they’re still pedaling the classic melodeath sound as if it was still 1996, and that means the nostalgia factor will be crucial to enjoyment of what they’re offering in 2018. Can old dogs sell older tricks to young pups?
There’s a lot of poise and polish on display as opener “True Face of War” greets you like an old friend. It sounds like a lost track from Amok with the same trilling Maiden-isms alongside effective death vocals. It’s highly melodic but aggressive and these elements are perfectly balanced, as all things should be. The guitar-work is impressively slick and fluid and while you’ve heard this exact formula done many times, Imperial Domain does it well enough to make a positive impression while taking you back to the 90s for a pleasant visit. The incorporation of copious keyboards and some soft female crooning add an extra layer of fancy pansy which suits the melodic fare without sapping it of all the machismo. The title track borrows some elements from early Amorphis while upping the sparkle to the keys and Nightwish-esque choral pieces, and still the center holds and the construct retains its metal integrity (barely).
The rest of the album skips between the lighter and sorta-kinda heavier sides of early melodeath, with harder cuts like “The Future is Lost” winning the battle with urgent guitar-work and very pleasant harmonies, sounding a lot like Noumena as a result. There’s even a bit of Godless Beauty era Cemetery in the moody goth death of “Withdrawn From Life.” The sticking point is that while the band has obvious talent and a good handle on the era they were born in, some of the compositions (“Eternal” for instance) come off like B-side tracks from Jester Race or Whoracle, which have all the right ingredients except that special x-factor needed to make them stick. When you’re dealing in such a well-traveled style, this can be fatal.
The Deluge is a short, concise platter at just 38 minutes, which helps it all go down, though the songs suffer from bloat. While I wouldn’t say the album is loaded with filler, the front half is considerably better than the back, and by the three-quarter mark the nostalgic charm starts to wear thin as things grow increasingly stale. The production is nicely old timey, reminding me of Tales From the Thousand Lakes, with sufficient oomph to the guitars while the keys are wisely relegated to the back bench.
New voice Andreas Öman acquits himself very well, showing significant versatility considering what he does with Lou Siffer & the Howling Demons. He has that classic melodeath roar down pat and provides sufficient heaviness even when the music gets too melodic. Peter Laitinen and Phillip Borg are able guitarists with a decent ear for catchy leads and classic metal harmonies, and they manage some engaging solos as well. They definitely spent a lot of time listening to Amok and Whoracle and it shows here.
Imperial Domain is a talented bunch, and they very nearly pull off this return to yesteryear, but with some songs feeling more stale than vintage, and a stubborn refusal to bring anything modern or innovative to this strange old brew, they ultimately fail to reach the necessary escape velocity to emerge from the shadow of their influences. Not a bad little platter and fans of the ancient days of melodeath may feel more enthusiastically about it, but you’ve heard this before and already forgotten most of it.