Seven Kingdoms came out of nowhere in 2012 and caught nuclear laser lightning in a bottle on the unheralded The Fire is Mine, blowing me away with their righteously irresistible take on classic Euro-power (the Game of Thrones concept didn’t hurt either). That album is one of the best pure power metal platters in recent memory and one I still go back to with alarming frequency. It’s been an uncomfortably long wait for a follow-up, but now they’re finally back with Decennium and my expectations could scarcely be higher. Alas, with great expectations comes the risk of great disappointment, and my fear was they couldn’t possibly top the bombastic glory of their last album. Turns out they couldn’t, but Seven Kingdoms still deliver another collection of soaring power metal anthems hand crafted to rouse the spirit and raise the fist of triumph. That’s better than a poke in the eye from a White Walker any day.
Opener “Stargazer” immediately quelled my nervous anticipation with a real ballbuster of a power metal anthem calling to mind the very best of Stratovarius, Helloween and vintage Battle Beast. It’s instantly catchy and if there’s even a trace of metal in your heart you’ll be singing along in no time. Sabrina Valentine’s soaring vocals are once again paired with ripping riffs and tasteful yet aggressive solo-work and the emphasis on hooks is as strong as before. This is the kind of music I was hoping for and for the next 5 tracks, that’s exactly what Seven Kingdoms lustily dishes out.
Follow-up cuts like “Undying” deliver the same high-level power metal heard on The Fire is Mine replete with aggressive, virtuoso guitar-work and excellent vocal harmonies. “In the Walls” may be one of their finest compositions yet, managing to be surprisingly heavy but still so damn catchy you’ll have to scrap it off you with Nair® and a straight razor. Sabrina kills it with her vocal placement and powerful pipes and the whole song just smokes. The hits keep coming with little gems like “Castles in the Snow” and “Dragonslayer,” giving you a valuable lesson in how modern power metal should be done.
And if Decennium was merely 6 tracks instead of 10, we’d be talking Album o’ the Year material. Unfortunately, things take a noticeable dip in quality on the album’s back-end, and while no song is bad, a few sound pedestrian compared to the impressive cuts grouped on the album’s first half. Songs like “The Faceless Hero” and “Neverending” feel like they should stick harder than they do and though not exactly filler, they can’t measure up to the standout material. In an odd sequencing choice, the 4 weakest tracks run together to close the album out, which lessens the overall impact rather significantly. Considering things run 52-plus minutes, cutting two of these lesser songs and going with a shorter, stronger product would seem a no-brainer, but apparently the record business operates with a different set of priorities.
As with the last album, the music is based around the able vocals of Sabrina. She has a powerful voice and though she uses a very clean, almost-non-metal style similar to Sabine Edelsbacher of Eddenbridge and even Amy Lee of Evanescence, it definitely works and she carries the material surprisingly well despite a total absence of grit or rawness. This is because the heaviness and aggression are supplied by guitarists Kevin Byrd and Camden Cruz who spew out a collection of thrashy, in-your-face riffs akin to Iced Earth, while their wild solo work has more in common with Bay Area thrash than Euro-power puffery. They’re very talented players and I like their approach to a style that too often feels neutered, kid-friendly and devoid of sharp edges. The drumming courtesy of Keith Byrd is another plus, sounding full, powerful and in-your-face without being too dominant or overloud.
Though a disappointing step down from their last album, Decennium offers some super-slick, high-caliber power metal sure to please fans of the style and when the band is in high feather, they’re almost untouchable. There may never be another The Fire is Mine, but Seven Kingdoms is still one of the best at this style and others could learn a lot from what they do. Check this out, and definitely track down their last album and make the fire yours.