Legends of Human Spirit, the debut LP from Long Island’s ShadowStrike, does the unthinkable: it places the intro track second. The record’s opening track explodes forth with an instantly gratifying blast of power metal, and only upon its completion does the band indulge in 95 seconds of overwrought narration backed by symphonic bombast. I loathe intro tracks, yet this simple restructuring of Power Metal’s Worst Trope is one of my favorite moments on this record. The act of postponing the intro, while bizarre, exemplifies what makes ShadowStrike so successful. They excel through prioritizing what makes power metal so fun, cutting the anticipated fat of ballads and elongated track build-ups. The result is dumb—so, so dumb—but it’s also the biggest, dumbest fun the genre’s seen all year.
ShadowStrike, to tag them with a neat, marketable descriptor, is a splicing DragonForce‘s relentless speed with the flowery symphonic metal of Aquaria. Truly, there’s not much more to the band’s formula—and at an hour and five, that formula wears thin in spots—but Legends‘ songwriting is so brisk that the length is rarely felt. ShadowStrike gravitate toward long-form compositions yet rarely linger on ideas. They blaze through each verse and riff so as to maximize time spent on the ludicrous solo sections. The universally chipper (save for the vaguely ominous “Voice in the Night”) and reliably memorable hooks cement this record’s status as primo power metal comfort food. It may be more than you want to eat in a single sitting, but goddamn if it isn’t satisfying.
The array of talent on display is impressive, too, but it kinda has to be given the speed and technical scope. ShadowStrike‘s rhythm section is a bit stiff, much like early DragonForce, but the personality present in Matt Krais’ vocals handily compensates. He doesn’t excel through dynamism or nuance, but his unbridled love for the power metal genre is felt in every note of his infectious, heartfelt performances. The one-note nature of the rhythm section makes some sense when hearing what was prioritized during production. Vocals, keyboards, and lead guitars dominate the mix, to the point where the rhythm guitar can at times become almost completely obscured. Legends isn’t a terrible sounding record, but considering how much it must have cost an unsigned band to hire Jens Bogren and Linus Corneliusson for mixing and mastering, I can’t help but think ShadowStrike‘s money should have been spent elsewhere.
Production foibles barely qualify as a sticking point with music this fun, however. All criticisms melt away as soon as I hear the emotionally towering chorus of “Gales of Winter,” the glorious harmonized solos of “The Fiery Seas and Icy Winds,” or any of the countless other exceptional moments from Legends of Human Spirit. ShadowStrike have already proven themselves masters of power metal at its most joyously ridiculous, and with tracks like “Where Sleeping Gods Await” hinting at more complex and progressive aspirations, the band’s future holds exciting potential. However ShadowStrike‘s future plays out, I hope it entails a long, fruitful catalog. Anything less would be disappointing, as power metal which embraces excess and a sense of wonderment so wholeheartedly is a rare thing indeed.
Tracks to Check Out: “Heart for Yearning Journey,” “Where Sleeping Gods Await,” “A Dream of Stars,” “Gales of Winter”