Written By: Dagg
Once upon a time, Christian metal was completely devoid of bands talented enough to make a name for themselves outside their very small niche [Except for Trouble, of course. — Steel Druhm]. 10 years ago, Theocracy changed all that, and today the budding Christian metal scene boasts supremely talented artists numbering… well, it’s pretty much still just them. Sure, the scene has cracked out a few good releases here and there, but by and large, there’s not a wealth of quality. Despite the relative lack of bands to follow in their righteous wake, Theocracy has still been a pretty significant force in power metal over the last two years, with their highly acclaimed Mirror of Souls and As the World Bleeds albums.
To the wider community, Mirror of Souls probably felt like the band’s true debut, considering that the actual eponymous debut was a one man project, which sounded only a small step better than a demo recording, and was followed by a hiatus of five long years. As a result, Theocracy has been mostly ignored by all except the most devoted (and devout) fanatics of the band. With the 10th anniversary of Theocracy looming, vocalist Matt Smith (who also serves as guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player) decided to rescue the album from metallic obscurity, fix the numerous production issues and have drummer Shawn Benson replace the awful sounding drum machine used on the original recording.
“Icthus” is still one of the catchiest power metal songs I’ve heard to this day, full of fast, melodic power metal with symphonic leanings. “Mountain” and the titular song, “Theocracy” are much in the same vein, with the former being a personal favorite of mine. The album contains a lone ballad, “Sinner,” which, despite feeling a bit obligatory, still packs some serious punch. Another point of interest are the longer, ‘epic length’ songs like “The Serpents Kiss,” “The Healing Hand” and “Twist of Fate.” While “The Serpent’s Kiss” was alright on the original release, the other two just seemed so flat. With the 10th anniversary edition, all that has changed. Hearing them in this re-recorded form, much closer to the way they were originally intended gives them a new life and makes them comparable to anything in Theocracy‘s later catalog.
What about individual performances though? This is metal after all. The drums are the biggest standout, not only because those familiar with the original recording are accustomed to the lousy drum machine tracks, but because they’re highlighted in the new mix. This makes sense, since Shawn Benson is a really talented drummer and showcases his impressive chops here. That said, the best instrumental moments revolve around the keyboards and rhythm guitars, though some songs are a bit sparse on inspiring leads. Vocally, Smith is stellar in the upper ranges, but when he drops down into the middle range, it can sound awkward occasionally. That said, if you’re a fan of vocal layering, you’ll absolutely love this album.