The Fire is Mine (2012) is the third full-length album released from United States power metal act Seven Kingdoms. So far in their career the band has gone through several changes, although they’ve always belonged to the power metal genre. Their first album, Brothers of the Night (2007), saw the most different incarnation of the band to the one exists today. The band, which is now female fronted, had a male vocalist in this earlier stage of their career as well as a full time keyboardist. Unusually for power metal the band used a lot of growling vocals to the point that several songs came across as much death metal as power metal. Power-death if you will. By the time of their second album in 2010, which was self-titled, the band had replaced original vocalist Bryan Edwards with Sabrina Valentine, who remains for The Fire is Mine, and additionally let their keyboardist John Zambrotto go as they didn’t see keyboards being a major part of the Seven Kingdoms sound any longer. Although their clean vocals were now sung by Sabrina the album did still feature growling vocals, this time performed by bassist Miles Neff, who has since been replaced with Aaron Sluss.
And so with another new line-up The Fire is Mine has the band changing again. Gone are the growling vocals. Gone also are the tendencies displayed previous for the band’s music to stray into thrash metal, which resulted in a sound not too dissimilar to Iced Earth. Apart from the seemingly obligatory ballad track (in this case, the seventh track Kardia) the album is pure female fronted power metal of the type that is musically mostly associate with the harder hitting German acts like Blind Guardian circa Tales From the Twilight World through to Imaginations From the Other Side but with female vocals and that’s pretty much what you get with The Fire is Mine. Speed is clearly the flavour of the day and honestly when it comes to power metal that’s just the way I like it.
For a time, I levelled a minor portion of criticism towards the ballad I mentioned above, Kardia, which features guest vocals by Matt Smith of Theocracy, since when listening to it I couldn't help but feel that the flow of the album has been disrupted, even though the song wasn't a completely non-metal ballad. Even so, I realised that it was very well performed, with some of the best vocals on the album, so my enjoyment of the album wasn't being significantly lessened by its presence, which I would then have described as something of a power loss. A few more listens though, and the song began to grow on me, with thoughts entering my head along the lines of "hey, this still isn't what I'd normally expect from a ballad in a power metal album, but this is starting to work for me!". It was at this point that I realised I'd misjudged the song, and although it was very different from the speed assault that is the rest of the album, it was equally as good.
Of course the more one directional approach the album has taken compared to the band’s previous releases might be seen as a turn for the worse by existing fans, although I think that The Fire is Mine sounds a lot more powerful an album which more than makes up for having less variety. Seven Kingdoms are clearly a band who by this stage know what they want to do, and that is power metal and as of this album it seems that they have pretty much perfected their craft and the majority of the album is power metal as it is meant to be played. There’s an intro and interlude track also present on the album, the intro, Beyond The Wall, being used as a build up into the first proper song, which is the lead song After the Fall and the interlude, A Debt Paid In Steel, being a theatrical piece with a trio of guests doing voice acting which in turn leads into the album’s closing track, The King In The North. The trio consists of producer Jim Morris, Patrick Parris (bassist of Theocracy) and Seven Kingdoms former vocalist Bryan Edwards. Some of the song names are no doubt familiar given the recent explosion of the TV series Game of Thrones; Seven Kingdoms are very much influenced by the works of George R.R. Martin, right from their name to some of their lyrics.
Changes aside, I think the band, especially Sabrina Valentine, have improved a lot between albums. Not that they weren’t good before; both Brothers of the Night and Seven Kingdoms are exceptional power metal releases, but on The Fire is Mine things have been stepped up a gear. I single Sabrina Valentine out though because she really shines on this album now that she is established as Seven Kingdom’s sole vocalist. And she sounds even more powerful than she did on the self-titled. If the phrase female fronted power metal makes you think you’re going to get a mezzo-soprano then you need to think again with Seven Kingdoms. Sabrina possesses a melodic voice, lacking the rougher edge displayed by Crystal Viper’s Marta Gabriel, but neither does she belong to the warbling operatic class of singer like ex-Nightwish frontwomen Tarja Turunen or Xandria’s Manuela Kraller. Instead she’s nicely in between, not lacking for power, but never leaving any doubt that it’s metal she wants to sing and her improved performance just makes The Fire is Mine even more powerful than the already good self-titled that was her debut with the band.
I think it is very clear that with The Fire is Mine Seven Kingdoms have excelled. Not only is in their best and most accomplished album, but it also stands as one of the best power metal releases of 2012. In fact it is insofar the best straight up power metal album of the year so far. They could still throw the ballad out and be none the worse for it, despite it growing on me after many listens, but in The Fire is Mine Seven Kingdoms produced a power metal album that stands up to the best works of Blind Guardian, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Kamelot and all the other big names of the genre you care to name drop. This is the sort album that, if power metal is your thing, will click right away and I can even see the genre’s detractors having a hard time finding a reasonable argument against this album with its guitar driven approach to the music, exceptional lead guitar, killer vocals and powerful song-writing. The Fire is Mine is, simply put, metal as it was meant to be. A perfect rating is given without reservation.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org) on 22/09/2012)