Dragonheart from Brazil (not to be confused with the homonymous Power Metal combo from England, later renamed Dragonforce) got to the fourth full-length after a ten-year silence, but received very few positive reviews on this occasion due to the fact that the three singers' performance was not acclaimed favourably in most of the cases.
The Brazilian 4-piece blends Heavy Metal, Power and Thrash in this album, yet not in every song and in different quantities, allowing the opus to be more varied and capable of being assimilated.
What reviewers failed to note is that we're before a concept album telling a story about a battle to the last blood drop, an appearingly indestructible demonic creature corrupting soldiers with a pure heart, the entrance to the demon king's palace of the combatants in fear, the alliance's king fighting although he's sure he'll die just to be an encouraging example to his soldiers-at-arms, a powerful sword whose strength lies in its metal and the will of its creator leading to the final combat against evil king Theodoric by the men at the behest of general Dragonheart, Theodoric getting closer to become the king of kings, the ancient oracles predicting the union's victory if its hope remains and the devilish majesty's head gets severed, all the enemies getting slain and yet general Dragonheart getting killed, too, the deaths of many brave troopers and finally the evil monarch being defeated with the story being kept alive through generations.
A flute and airy keyboard lines open "Far from Heaven...Close to Hell", then a three-voice attack starts: one is throaty, another mid-low and piratesque in the vein of Lonewolf's, the third is high and refined. Besides this, a vocal variation comes from the choir composed by the three singers without the help of any softwares. This track is for those whose discography includes Gamma Ray's, early Helloween's, and Running Wild's records abundantly.
A semi-acoustic guitar riff, a bass line reminding early Dream Theater and simple kick drums constitute the beginning of "Black Shadow", a composition growing gradually, veering towards a sombre mid-tempo structure and a gigantic, sturdy riff. Epic clean vocals dominate the chorus, while a melodic breakdown before the beefy tasty axe solo is followed by a strophe and the chorus before the initial reprise so as to increase the atmosphere and the contrasts.
Power Metal fugues, vocals alà Accept, cleaner additional vocals in the catchy Manowar-influenced odd mid tempo preceding the Iron Maiden refrain (Blaze Bailey-era) is what you'll find in "Arcane's Palace", as well as a piercing guitar solo before the reprise containing some elements akin to Blind Guardian and another six-string solo similar to the first.
Amazing thunder drumming kicks "Inside the Enemy's Mind" off, a vicious axe solo follows and then the vocals start. I really like the way the effected backup vocals were made as they do deliver an otherworldly aura added to the warrior screams, as well as the Thrash Metal main riff and the lick before the second strophe. Introductory bass lines anticipate the second guitar solo, a real Power/Thrash Metal solo first emotional, then going by tapping and in the end more and more acute. This is decidedly one of the rawest compositions you can meet in this CD.
"Forged in Metal" recurs to a majestic riff and soon after a frontal onslaught where the best bass lines are added. The adrenalinic vocals are matched by war chants and a tip-top refrain, whereas the tireless and smart drumwork enhances the value of the song, only to be interrupted by a martial break a few seconds before the conclusion. This time the guitar solo is slow and heartfelt and might remind some of Iron Maidenian tradition. If you want to have a quick sum of the Brazilian quartet's facades, use this as a reference, for in this song you can find almost all of their characteristics. Nice work and memorable vocal lines indeed!
Things change completely with "Battle Lines", containing the drunkest and most coarse vocals I've heard this year. Love them or hate them, there's no halfway, but if you're the type who loves them, it'll be impossible to remain indifferent to the involving rhythm of this track. Here too you can listen to an abrupt military time change coming before a Heavy Metal-styled axe solo and a Viking chant.
"Marching under the Stars", the only ballad amongst the eleven tracks, contains a very unusual instrument within Metal recordings, a triangle. Together with that, a drum and an acoustic guitar are utilized, as well as main singing enriched by two different kinds of chants, one aggressive and another elegant, while the flute reappears to donate further variety. The bass follows the singer all along its nuances, while there's a brief acoustic guitar solo paired by the flute before the last line repeated in company withe backing vocals.
Brutal drumming and keys constitute most of "Circle of One", a modern song reminding me of Fight; this track shines thanks to the hardest and most touching vocals available within the 57 minutes of the album; hard to be performed both in the low, mid-high and very high register; unquestionably one of the highlights of the disc, even though too derivative.
Tight Thrash Metal with two irresistible and assorted guitar solos and licks galore are the main ingredients forming "Kill the Leader". There are also dreamy vocals opposed to the annihilating vocal emissions of the refrain. Very appreciable is a successive segment of the song when you can hear the strikes in unison on the soldiers' shields preparing for the ultimate clash and advancing ahead of a Judas Priest-pillaged drumwork and later robotic dark sounds. These sounds seem to be enjoyable and well recorded but appear downright inappropriate in an album plot devoid of machines and sci-fi such as this.
What is lacking in the title track besides originality? Not much, as the awesome refrain, epic low-sung pre-chorus in the path of Fight, excellent use of heterogenous vocals mixed differently and at dissimilar distances. Could an old thrasher like me not adore the crushing riffs and the wicked drumming in the central frame of the song? Of course not, and that's why I vote this as peak of the album hands down!
The keyboards open "Time Will Tell", a song based on fast drums and recurring to only one vocalist, except the closing chunk. Congratulations are a must for the bass lines recorded here, since the bass player smartly goes its own way avoiding to echo what the guitarist is doing. Of course the guitarist delights the listeners with another stellar peculiar solo that won't go unobserved amidst experts. The finale is entrusted with a Folk Metal chant, in order to elevate the quality of the song still more.
The recording is not bad at all, it has the features of those that make you hear the bass almost always without making it predominant on the rest of the instruments; at the same time it has been able to maintain and keep audible almost every detail, in spite of this some vocals, some snare drum sounds and some cymbals might have been rendered better, but we have to keep in mind that the drums were recorded in a different studio and that's always an extra issue during the mixing phase.
The fourth effort on the long distance of the Brazilian act comprises a group of songs with several positive aspects and few negative ones that prevent it from becoming a masterpiece; surely it feels like an underrated and not understood enough album that will be rediscovered in the years to come, as it takes courage to deploy so many vocal styles unavoidably bound to divide the audience, especially the public that doesn't have patience to assimilate eleven songs and skips to the next track too easily.