Retro Reviews: Adagio – Sanctus Ignís

Adagio Sanctus IgnisBack in 2001, when I was just a new heavy metal reviewing pup (Angry Metal Kiddy), I got a promo for a band I’d never heard of from Al Kikuras—my boss at the venerable (and NSFW) Unchain the Underground; one of the first webzines in existence (I assume). Being a young punk, I didn’t have much reference to cope what I heard at the time, but I loved it. The album was a clear progressive power record in the veins of Yngwie Malmsteen or Symphony X and it hit every single right button. It’s been a long time since I’ve even listened to it, though, what with the pace of reviewing. So I thought I’d break it out again.

“Second Sight” opens this record with a brilliant keyboard part, synthesized harpsichord, that does nothing to hide where the band is coming from musical. The crunch is good, and the drums sound very early-2000s, maybe a little tinnier and faker than I’d like today. But the ‘organ solo’ and British vocalist David Readman’s David Coverdale-impression fest performance got me addicted. Able to go high without getting annoying, Readman’s (who you might know from Pink Cream 69 or Voodoo Circle) chops on this record are stellar and he elevates the music.

There were two writing modes on this record that would be good on their own, but are even better together. The first was the straight up neo-classical power metal, like what you hear on “Second Sight,” “In Nomine” (an “Ave Maria” arrangement, weird, I know), title track “Sanctus Ignís,” among others. Here the band is pretty much double-kicks, 4/4 time signatures and guitarist Forté is worshiping Hr. Malmsteen’s glorious shred with his own style and flare. Fortunately, Mnsr. Forté had one talent that Yngwie didn’t: the songwriting craft. These songs stick, with choruses that rock and verses that made 19 year old me headbang.

AdagioThe other mode Adagio had is the thing that made me fall in love with Symphony X later: progressive sensibilities mixed with neo-classical wankery. Closing track “Panet et Circences,” the deviously addictive “Order of Enlin” and the major epic “Seven Lands of Sun” all throw out mind-bending rhythms and parts that make me feel stupid for ever thinking I could write music. The work is subtle at times, and the interplay of the virtuoso guitar playing with the keyboards and Readman’s amazing vocal performance creating a formula that wins every time. Throw in a vocal-less badass cover of “The Immigrant Song,” and the whole record is topped off nicely.

A special note, too. Unlike a lot of other very guitar oriented records, Forté’s guitar playing—which really is virtuoso guitar playing—is actually quite far back in the mix. It makes it more like a violin taking leads in an orchestra than the dominating character it often is in a lot of other work. Most solo guitarists in metal are ridiculous egomaniacs who want to be the loudest thing in the mix, but Forté doesn’t get mixed like that on Sanctus Ignís, to his benefit. This actually creates a really unique sound that I’ve never heard really simulated on any record before or since. The closest is Romeo’s approach on Symphony X records, but even he has a bit of ego in big bones.

Sanctus Ignís is still a remarkably cool record after 12 years. A hidden gem from an era that had some pretty great acts putting out some excellent music, Adagio has never gotten the attention they deserve in the scene. Its follow-up, 2003’s Underworld ain’t scoff-worthy either, and is definitely something you should check out. And for all of you who complain that I’m too mean to power metal: this is what power metal should sound like (hint: awesome).

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