Ah, yes. Symphonic power metal fronted by an operatic leading lady. This is the stuff that got me into metal in the first place, and my love for it remains unflagging still. But great albums from this specific formulation of the genre made themselves scarce in recent years, with only Elvellon, Delain (shut up, entire AMG staff!), and Epica (shut up, entire AMG staff!) releasing albums I enjoy on a consistent basis1. So when I saw a promo that featured name drops from two of those three bands and Nightwish, I knew what I needed to do. I snatched it before anybody could even care to ignore it. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the fourth installment by an English sextet I’ve never heard before: Pythia‘s The Solace of Ancient Earth.
Your trepidation and skepticism are understandable. You don’t really want to click that button on the embed. You fear this will be just another lump of overripe brie oozing with saccharine radio-ready ersatz metal. Fret not dear reader, for Pythia bring one of the most guitar-forward, catchy and fun symphonic power metal albums I have heard in years. And yes, there is cheese, but it’s a nice sharp cheddar. If you imagine early Nightwish meets early Within Temptation meets The Divine Conspiracy-era Epica, you know what this sounds like. Thankfully, The Solace of Ancient Earth has all of the joie de vivre of those bands in their respective heydays, bursting with fantastic guitar leads and solos, blistering drums and a crystalline set of pipes.
I turn your attention to the opener “An Earthen Lament.” This be no flimsy orchestral instrumental. Rather, it’s an exuberant entrance exuding drama and verve. Ross White and Jamie Hunt know their way around a fretboard, and they saunter and gallop with all of the musculature of a purebred steed. Offsetting this unexpected level of aggression are the sweet and sirenic vocals of Sophie Dorman, who sounds right at home behind the mic, delivering a bodacious Sharon den Adel-esque performance that belies her ethereal tone (“Black Wings” and “Soul to the Sea”). Both guitarists and the vocalist maintain the energy across the record, with songs like “Ancient Soul” and “Black Wings” marching forth with forceful riffing, fun solos and elevating choruses. Marcus Matusiak’s keyboard embellishments are tasteful, playing the ever-important support character to the guitars instead of fighting for the spotlight at every turn. Plenty of twists and turns spice up the well-established symphonic power formula—the ominous midsection of “Spirit of the Trees” being one of my personal favorites, as are the blackened trem-picks on “Crumble to Dust.” The coolest of these moments is the entirety of album highlight “Hold of Winter,” ramping up the intensity with drummer Marc Dyos’ blast beats, a feature so rarefied in this genre that I rejoiced upon hearing them at all. It is a fantastic song, plain and simple.
Drawbacks are few and minor. The most notable is Ash Porter’s bass. Though much more present than expected, it could use a good boost as it gets lost a bit in all of the instrumentation. Aside from that, the biggest shortcoming comes in the form of the following two tracks: “Ghost in the Woods” and “Dawn Will Come.” Representing a measurable dip in quality, these two tracks come across as lacking in hooks and staying power compared to their immediate neighbors. They aren’t bad songs yet “Dawn Will Come” hurts the flow of the record more than it helps via a plodding pace, and “Ghost in the Woods” is simply a victim of being sandwiched between two of the best numbers on the record, and therefore feels lackluster in comparison.
Nevertheless, what could have been just another brick in a rotting wall turned out to be one hell of a pleasant surprise. Not only do I genuinely like/love every song on this hunk of sympho-power cheese, but I would also happily recommend The Solace of Ancient Earth to anybody with even the slightest interest in this subgenre. Those without such interests may cry and scream and claim I’ve lost my mind, of that I am certain. Such detractors are categorically incorrect. This record is very good, and you would do well to accept it.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Golden Axe
Releases Worldwide: May 17th, 2019