One of the biggest water hazards in the reviewing game is tackling an unknown band with a decent sized discography already in place that you somehow missed out on entirely. Though I usually try to avoid these challenging situations, Argentina’s prog-power wielders Lord Divine made me take a risky play here. A prolific unit, they boast four previous albums in addition to today’s topic of interest, Facing Chaos. I’d never heard of them, but the promo write-up checked all the right boxes and mentioned all the right influences, so I took a cautious flyer. That was wise, because at times these cats sound quite a bit like classic era Symphony X if they were a bit more streamlined and linear. This is a very talented groups of unknowns led by impressive vocalist Diego Valdez (Dream Child, Iron Mask), who sounds a whole lot like a not so poor man’s Russell Allen (the righteous and proper Symphony X Allen, not the NJ thug nu-core Adrenaline Mob version). Interested yet?
Now, had I encountered this promo in the wild and without context, opening orchestral shit show “Overture (Dies Irae)” would have sent me running for the hills faster than the average AMG reader can make crappy “yer mom” jokes. It’s everything I’ve come to hate about symphonic/orchestral power metal condensed into a tidy 2:19 package that feels like an hour. Luckily, “Reborn” eventually comes along to rescue the album with the first dose of true prog-power, and it’s a good one. It sounds like an outtake from Divine Wings of Tragedy, and that’s the quickest way to my heart outside of a wengeful broadsword thrust. Valdez snarls and roars commandingly over some wildly cascading and corkscrewing riffs and everything feels slick, polished and well constructed – heavy but catchy, proggy, but not too wanky. It’s instantly likable stuff that showcases the band’s chops even as it gets your head moving. Followup “I Am” is more of the same: heavy, crunchy but highly melodic, with vocals full of grit, spit and machismo. When the chorus hits, Diego soars over simple, heavy riffing in a very effective way. The band is quite good at keeping their writing direct, saving their wankery for (mostly) tasteful duels between the guitars and keyboard. Even in these moments of excess they’re (mostly) careful not to weigh down the compositions with too much finger flying noodlefoolery.
“Beginning of the End” borrows a page from Brainstorm, crafting a simmering power ballad that builds to a highly memorable, addictive chorus that demands, nay, compels replays. “The Darkest Light” has segments that feel heavily influenced by Symphony X‘s V: The New Mythology Suite opus, with ample opportunities for the band to show their technical ability. Other cuts like “Be Afraid” and “Follow the Signs” are more straight-up heavy metal without much of a prog-sheen, and these work as well, especially when they hew toward a more aggressive angle. Things wind out with the nearly 12-minute “The Rage in Me” where all the band’s prog tendencies are unleashed. Crunchy riffs collide with keyboard runs and galloping drum-work through off-kilter time signatures and wacky start-stops, with Valdez holding court throughout with an impassioned performance. It doesn’t feel like an 12-minute song and avoids getting bogged down, which is quite impressive, though a minute or two could be trimmed from the back-end.
As enjoyable as Facing Chaos is, it isn’t without some issues. At just over an hour, it runs too long, and while no track is bad, a few could have excised to create a leaner, meaner album. Another issue is the band’s facility with the English language. I love the vocals, but Valdez is often stuck singing ESL lyrics that don’t always make sense. This is unfortunately highlighted in the lyric video the band unwisely released.
As you might have guessed, Diego Valdez is the star of the show, bringing his Russell Allen-esque pipes to the mix with great vengeance and furious anger. His rough-edged singing is a joy and he can hit all the notes necessary to keep up with his band-mates as they lustily shred and wank. When he dials his voice back a bit he reminds me of Apollo Papathanasio (Spiritual Beggars, ex-Firewind), which is quite a winning combination. Guitarists Hugo Galli and Manu Lopez mean business with a collection of heavy riffs and wild solos that keep the album driving and entertaining. These cats can play and some of the solos are quite amazing. Keyboardist Diego Palma keeps up with the Joneses, going to toe-to-toe with solos every chance he gets. Fortunately he also knows to keep his playing tucked behind the guitars when they aren’t actively embroiled in note wars, thereby keeping the music from sounding too cheesy.
Lord Divine is a very skilled band that seems poised to grab for greater notoriety, and Facing Chaos is a fun, rousing stomp through the prog-power genre. With some minor trimming and a touch more polish on the songcraft they could be a major force. If you’re tired of waiting for new material from Symphony X, you could do a lot worse than giving this a whirl. Now to their back catalog I must go.