Genre: power metal
Ashen Reign is a one-man power metal act whose sole member Brent McDaniel handles all instrumentation, songwriting and production. That in itself is a feat, to be sure, and this release also shows that not only is he a talented musician, he is also a gifted songwriter and metal composer.
While there can be no doubt that this is a power metal release, Ashen Reign also draw on more rock and traditional metal-oriented riffage, such as one of the transitions riffs of the title track, one of the main riffs of "Broken Heart", the chorus riff of "Fear of the Snake", and one of the chorus riffs of "Simple Things". As is conventional in power metal, there is an epic feel to the music, which is derived from both the use of keyboards and the intrinsically melodic riffage, and the choruses also tend to have the same catchy melodic feel as much power metal does. In addition there is also a slight sort of almost renaissance feel to the album with its use of acoustic guitars now and then as well as mildly neoclassical melodies.
The vocals are very different from what one might be used to in power metal. There seem to be two tendencies within power metal: the rough and powerful style associated with the likes of Russell Allen and Apollo Papathanasio, and the equally powerful but more operatic style associated with the likes of Michael Kiske and Tony Kakko. Brent McDaniel's singing style sounds very different from both of these, as his voice has a much softer quality and often sounds almost like a sort of chanting and is probably more likely to be encountered in alternative rock (sometimes his voice also reminds me of Dan Fondelius), which certainly is a refreshing change from the archetypical power metal vocalists. However, there are certain places where a more powerful singing would improve the listening experience of this album, and that is in the choruses. McDaniel has a knack for writing simple, melodic and catchy choruses, but I think they would come across in a more compelling and epic fashion had the vocals been more powerful.
One of the things that I especially appreciate on this release is the guitar work. This release is teeming with catchy guitar melodies - this is especially prominent in the instrumental track "The Sparrow", which also seems to inherit the main theme from "Fear of the Snake". And the guitar solos are quite varied, some being blazingly semi-shreddy while others are more rock-ish and melodic.
The production is not bad, and, although, it does have a certain DIY quality, it is still quite crisp and well defined. I also like how the keyboards are audible but not too prominent (one of the problems I have with much modern power metal is that the keyboards are given too central a role in relation to the guitars).
In all, this is a quite good release and contains some well-written and catchy power metal tunes, and, while appearing to take a lot of inspiration from European power metal, Ashen Reign fortunately take the American approach to power metal which is much less marked by cheesiness and much more true to its rock and metal roots. This is a different power metal release to be sure, and I think that it will appeal to many fans of the genre.
EDIT: The more I listen to the album, the more I start appreciating the vocals - therefore, I've added half a star to my original rating.