No, it’s not Orden Ogan’s Gunmen: Part Two, but we’ve got another European power metal band going full-bore American west on us. This time around, it’s a lesser-known Italian power metal act by the name of Spellblast, which is well known to me for its release of a pair of strong, if rather unkempt, albums in 2007’s Horns of Silence and 2010’s Battlecry. In 2014, the band executed a crowdfunding campaign (which I contributed to) for its third studio album entitled Nineteen, which was based on Stephen King’s Dark Tower saga. Unfortunately, despite having the band’s best vocal performance, Nineteen suffered from some serious redundancy and creative regression, caused in part by lineup changes and a new preoccupation with “western themes,” which were much less apparent then than now. No longer presenting a fantastical front, Of Gold and Guns is simply an homage to the characters of the American old west. Making this influence more blatant was worrisome to me, especially since yet more lineup changes have taken place since 2014. Are we finally going to get a truly mature, and yet not too boring, western-influenced power metal album?
Nope, but did you expect otherwise? Something about this combination just doesn’t gel in my head, nor sonically for Spellblast: especially after the departure of Daniele Scavoni and his subsequent replacement with Dest Ring. An ample observation of Ring’s vocals can be heard in the band’s digital single, “Goblin’s Song (In the Saloon)” — an ill-fated reprise of one the band’s classic tracks from Horns of Silence married to the band’s new theme and vocalist1. I daresay the greater power metal fanbase is likely to agree with me when I assess Dest’s voice as extremely underwhelming by any measurement — not only in comparison to Scavoni, but also Jonathan Spagnuolo, whose Italian accent you could cut with a proverbial knife. Dest’s accent is perhaps not quite as bad as Spagnuolo’s, but it’s even more comical when paired with his over-dramatic baritone and worse overall vocal technique.
A lot of the “power metal” reviews I’ve written lately for this site have only tenuously qualified as power metal. This fact is not detrimental to my opinion of the music in and of itself, but it has helped me feel a little better that the bona fide power metal scene is not being watered down as much as I might make it seem. Spellblast, however, is a true offender in this case, as they still bears many of its conceptual power metal hallmarks: double bass, strophic structure with notable emphasis on choruses, dual lead guitar supported by harmonic keys, etc.; not to mention the band’s legacy. Of Guns and Gold suffers on a number of fronts other than the aforementioned vocal woes: a scarcity of strong lead work; a propensity for rhythmic syncopation rather than strong riffs from the rhythm guitar; predictable and unvarying tempos; and what I’d classify as an overall “dumbing down” of all of the musical elements that made the band’s earlier albums great. There are keys, but there’s no bombast; there’s some theatricality to the vocals, but no quantifiable energy; the guitar work is acceptable, but it completely fails to demand my attention and steer my emotion. Even many of the vocal melodies, delivery aside, seem limp and disinteresting.
The great exception to this rule is “Billy the Kid,” which sounds quite similar to a few tracks from Nineteen — and in a positive way, since that album was more even-keeled and decent, if still disappointing. The chorus just *works* on this song, with a solid vocal melody, keyboard flourishes, and a vitality that helps it stick in one’s head. Most of the album’s other tracks rise to the status of interesting, but ultimately unremarkable, and no further. Other tracks worth commenting on, for both good and ill, include “Sitting Bull,” where Spellblast channels Native American tribal chant, and the immensely disappointing “Goblins in Deadwood,” which sees the band aping the melody of “Goblin’s Song” for a second time (after the single mentioned above and featured as a video below) in an even messier fashion — though I’ll grant that the plunky piano does call to mind the atmosphere of a saloon.
For the third album in a row, Spellblast experiences a backslide in overall album quality — and this time, the prime culprit is the vocal delivery. The crowning achievement of this kitschy exhibition is the closing track: a moderately repugnant cover of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.” It’s really a pity, this release, as there are still occasional sparks of the melodic brilliance that made Horns of Silence so enchanting despite its flaws. Between the greasy spaghetti western motif, the frustratingly poor singing, and the largely ho-hum songwriting, Of Gold and Guns is only approachable by the most impassioned fans of the band and its chosen theme.