Well okay, this is kind of cute. A power metal band that’s taken a skin-deep Lewis Carroll reference and run with it like the dickens. Adding to Mad Hatter’s adorability factor is its press sheet proclaiming that “The band produces high-quality power metal.” SOLD. This is all cause for some caution, but these guys are also Swedish, and Swede-power draws me like a moth to a flame — even when the bad stuff burns me (hello, Stormhold). I was turned on to the album by the involvement of vocalist Petter Hjerpe and drummer Alfred Fridhagen of Morning Dwell — which is, incidentally, PRECISELY the kind of power metal that I appreciate and which the greater AMG readerbase would undoubtedly scorn with abandon. Consider yourselves forewarned.
Mad Hatter is not as spastic or as messy as Morning Dwell, I will give it that, but it does struggle with just as many lyrical roadblocks and an equal number of musical inconsistencies which usually stem from awkward songwriting choices. In addition, both Hjerpe and the band’s general approach — frequent textural simplicity, medium speed, and percussively sparse compositions — remind me at times of Dreamtale and have a certain Finnish character to them, despite forgoing the dominating keyboard presence which often defines that nation’s style of power metal. Mad Hatter’s approach is a strange melting pot of zany lyrical themes and very standard-fare power metal, which indicates a high likelihood of clinging to the middle of the road unless it can come up with some excellent melodies.
Opener “Mad Hatter Shine” is a poor beginning for the album, and doesn’t do well at indicating what’s to come. It’s a mediocre power metal track at best, and the first among several that have very little to recommend them, including “The Gunslinger,” “Go,” and “Face the Truth.” It could be worse, however, and it is. As usual, when a power metal band decides to drop the tempo and energy, the bottom completely falls out — and “Dancing Light” is an absolute bore. This makes for a fairly tepid and off-putting beginning to an album. In fact, were I not reviewing it, I probably would have waved it off at this point. It’s not until three tracks and eighteen minutes of unimpressive power metal have passed that we finally glimpse something fresh.
At first, it’s no good either. “Fly Away” is unhinged enough to be an Edguy B-side, and Hjerpe milks his high end in this song pretty hard. The first verse is embarrassingly strained as he clearly reaches out of his comfort zone, but the pre-chorus and chorus are very good, and it’s here that Hjerpe and Mad Hatter conjure a comparison to Sammet and the German icons. By the end of the song, my attention is at least recaptured. “Phantom Riders” adds to that interest by finally experimenting with minor tonality, and the album hits its stride at last. “Vengeance in His Mind” is easily my favorite song on the album, boasting a big, energetic chorus and solid guitar hooks, while “Bring Me the Moon” is curiously relaxed and soothing for a power metal ditty, but offers another generous helping of memorability. “Mad Hatter Become” strikes a similar chord to its immediate predecessor, and so the album closes with what I’d consider a trio of high quality power metal songs. Bonus track “Death Angel Sings” hurtles along at unprecedented breakneck speed, and is another above average track, making it more necessary than the entire first half of the album. Why do power metal bands do this to themselves?
When’s the last time I reviewed, or even listened to, an album that was so heavily weighed down on the back end? I don’t know if I ever recall such an experience, and while there are a couple of songs here that I’d actually consider adding to my favorites playlist, there’s no way I could justify a purchase of the album as a whole. I don’t know where Mad Hatter will end up as a project, but this debut is worth a quick peek for power metal fans once it becomes available to stream, especially if you’ve got a high tolerance for nuttiness and less instrumental “oomph.” When it comes to Mad Hatters in my music collection, however, I’ll stick with Vorpal Nomad’s style of a mad tea party.