When it comes to metal countries, Slovakia won’t be the first that comes to mind (it didn’t even exist as a category on this site yet!). The little Eastern European country, sandwiched between Poland and Hungary, has scarcely become a hotbed for metal since splitting from its Czech twin, with the biggest name perhaps power metal band Signum Regis. The amount of you going “Who?” just confirms my point. Nevertheless, Within Silence is joining the ranks and dropping their sophomore album Return From the Shadows, a slab of heavy power metal that doesn’t pull the cheese out of their punches. With a band name that sounds like metalcore and an album cover that reminds of progressive metal rather than a platter of Rochefort, can the Slovak fivesome overcome such prejudices, punch upward and put their country on the map?
If they can’t, it won’t be the hooks that are to blame. Opener “We Are The Ones” and subsequent single “Heroes Must Return” are catchy, if a bit basic, Europower. Helloween trademarked lead guitars are the first thing you notice, including the galloping drum rolls and melodic noodling. Powerwolf inspired mid-range vocals with a frayed edge swiftly follow, backed by plenty of backing vocals for anthemic antics. “Calling From the Otherside” and lengthy closer “Return From the Shadows” have strong Iron Maiden flavorings in the riffs, with the latter sporting a lead around its halfway mark that seems a straight-up homage to “Afraid to Shoot Strangers.” Through all of this, the melodramatic epicism is kept at an appropriately high level. Martin Klein’s baritone soars with a commanding strength, occasionally joined by choirs for that extra burst of Emmenthaler, particularly on centerpiece “In The Darkness.”
This track is where we have to discuss the elephant in the tracklist. “In The Darkness” takes over 16 minutes to run its course, padding the album to an unwieldy 59 minute length. Although it’s a decent track, it doesn’t feel like it earns its length, particularly when compared to the closer which contains more compact songwriting and doesn’t make me glance at my watch even once. The total album length is similarly not problematic by itself, but in context of the music it feels unearned, specifically because of the lack of original personality. I’ve so far named a mere 3 bands for comparison, but there’s a plethora of “where have I heard this before” moments, from the mawkish piano intro to “The Final Victory” to the Eurovision-ready chorus of “You & I.” It puts a minor damper on the performances, which are solid across the board, and the catchy hooks. With a more identifiable personality, Within Silence would have liftoff without a hitch, but as it stands, Return hamstrings itself with too readily read influences.
The production is not entirely without its issues either. Return is a great way to demonstrate how higher quality listening equipment can reveal flaws that go unnoticed on a phone — or car speaker. The sound is quite clean and the mix is solid enough to be enjoyable on lower fidelity hardware, but better gear reveals a flat and underrepresented bottom end. The production lacks layers and depth, both crucial elements for a truly great listening experience, and as such left me underwhelmed on my best headphones. If your main music moments are in the car, however, these demerits go generally unnoticed, so your mileage may vary.
All in all, Within Silence are a decidedly mixed bag. On the negative side of Anubis’ scale, Return is overlong and the band struggles to stamp their own identity on the disc. Too many dejas are vu’d here, and as usual, that mostly awakens an urge to listen to the predecessors that inspired the album. On the positive side, the performances are solid and there’s plenty of enjoyable cheese and catchy hooks. If you have a heart made of dragonfire and a closet full of roleplaying manuals, you’ll likely get enough mileage out of the galloping riffs and wailing leads, but in a sea of average power metal, Return doesn’t do enough to set itself apart to appeal to the casual listener. For now, it doesn’t appear like Slovakia will be the birthplace of the real ‘next big thing’ in power metal land.