Writing a negative review is never fun, but one thing that can be equally frustrating is reviewing an album that feels like it has huge album of the year potential, but ends up falling a bit short, due to some serious drawbacks. Such is the case with King of Persia, the second full-length album by symphonic power metal Symphonity. If anything, this album is a special kind of frustrating, because on paper it seems like it should be one of my top 10 albums of the year, but while it certainly shows signs of reaching that level, it doesn’t quite get there, due to reasons I’ll mention below.
Symphonity made their debut in 2008 with Voice From the Silence, a pretty nice album that fell on the more melodic side of the genre, and it featured moments of brilliance as well a very strong vocal performance from Olaf Hayer, who I’ve always been a fan of, especially during his time with Swedish band Dionysus. For unknown reasons, Olaf hadn’t been heard on an album since Magic Kingdom’s third album Symphony of War, released in 2010, so knowing he was back in the game was enough reason for me to be very excited for King of Persia. My excitement only grew more when I heard that the band had recruited Sinbreed vocalist Herbie Langhans to be a co-lead vocalist on the album, which is why I had such incredibly high expectations. Well, long story short, about half of the tracks are truly magical as I was hoping for, but the rest of the album leaves something to be desired, and unfortunately there is a predictable pattern that explains why some songs are better than the rest, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Musically, Symphonity tends to lean more towards the power metal side of their genre, with the symphonic elements mostly being secondary and more in the background, outside of the title track. There’s some much heavier riffing on this album at times compared to on their debut, and there’s also slight progressive leaning at times. For the most part, though, this is definitely still on the more melodic side of the genre, with a ton of soaring choruses and memorable vocal sections, and even the guitar work is still very melodic at times. This is quite the varied album, with a nice mix between faster and slower tracks, and there’s a pattern as well where Herbie tends to sing the most explosive tracks, while Olaf tends to only take lead on the more laid back tracks. This makes sense, as Herbie has a very powerful voice that’s well suited to faster, harder hitting songs, though Olaf has excelled at singing power metal in the past, and Herbie has shown himself to be capable of singing ballads before, so there’s already some mixed feelings there.
Moving on to the songwriting, we have the title track and then we have the rest of the album. By that, I mean that the title track is one mammoth of an epic where it feels like the band threw in everything they had to create the most epic song possible, and it truly is the highlight of the album and one of my favorite songs of the year. It opens with some atmospheric keys before giving us a brief preview of the heavy riffing that appears later on, immediately reminding me a bit of Symphony X with how the guitar sounds and the track definitely have some strong progressive leanings throughout. Verses are mostly slow and Olaf does a nice job with his more theatrical approach, but things really pick up once we get a first taste of the chorus, where guest vocalist Jana Hrochová provides some excellent mezzo-soprano vocals to go along with Olaf, and this makes for an amazing effect. The track also has some excellent instrumental sections where the guitars and orchestra take over, but it’s the speedy version of the chorus that appears later on where the track really reaches takes off, and while Olaf is the lead singer for most of the track, Herbie shows up later on and really steals the show with his powerful voice.
Speaking of which, the tracks where Herbie takes lead are without a doubt my favorites on the album. The first of these is “The Choice”, a speedy track where the guitars again have a bit of edge, though it’s certainly not as heavy or as complex as the title track. Instead, it’s a more straight-forward power metal track with an outstanding chorus, where Herbie’s vocals are the clear highlight. While he sounds as powerful as ever on this album, he also shows an ability to tone it down just enough to let the melodies shine through, and this is especially noticeable on more melodic mid-paced tracks like “Live to the Tale” and “Flying”, with the latter having a huge vocal section towards the end where Herbie provides the most powerful moment of the entire album and probably the best vocals I’ve ever heard from him. On the faster side of things, “Unwelcome” and “Children of the Light” are both instant winners, with the latter especially having yet another outstanding chorus, though it also has some extended instrumental work and there’s a slight neoclassical feel to the track. All in all, that track is definitely one of my favorites on the album. On the whole, I have to say this album may be the best performance I’ve heard from Herbie, and so at least on that front, the album delivered big time.
It’s been all positive so far, and things continue to look promising with “In the Name of God”, the first track where Olaf sings by himself. His more dramatic vocal style works very well during the mid-paced verses, and he does a great job of getting the lyrics through, while the chorus is great and overall it’s a very melodic track with some excellent guitar work. Perhaps the only negative thing I can say about the track is that it doesn’t quite have the same spark the tracks with Herbie have. After that, though, things go a bit downhill as “A Farewell Meant to Be” is the first ballad and while Olaf sounds decent on the chorus and the guitar solo in the second half is amazing and helps save the track, the verses are not so pretty, to say the least. This is the first case where we hear Olaf struggling a little bit, as his voice seems much lower than it did in the past and he’s clearly struggling to hit some of the notes here during the verses, his dramatic approach not quite working the way it should be, so as much as I’ve liked him in the past, it pains me to say he’s clearly the weakest link in the band at this point. Likewise, his performance on “Siren Call” is downright embarrassing at points, where his voice just clearly isn’t there anymore. I hate to say it, but I would have much preferred the album if those two tracks were either removed completely or if Herbie had sung them.
So in the end, Olaf Hayer’s big return ends up being a bit of a disappointment, though at the same time with how good he sounds on the title track, it really leaves me with mixed feelings on where Symphonity should go, as he still shows signs being great. That little bit of negativity aside, though, King of Persia is still a quality symphonic power metal album I could easily recommend to fans of the genre, and fans of Sinbreed who would like to hear more from Herbie Langhans have a lot to enjoy here, so it’s still a satisfying album overall, even if it feels like it could have and should have been even better.
originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2016/12/03/symphonity-king-of-persia-review/