MMA Reviewers Challenge: July 2016
I have heard many power metal albums since I started fully exploring the genre around six years ago, and I've certainly been impressed by many of them, including classics from the obvious suspects such as Helloween, Stratovarius, all forms of Rhapsody, Blind Guardian, Kamelot, etc. But would you believe it? Out of all the power metal albums I've heard in my life, my all time favorite is not by any of those bands or any other big name band. Nope, it's Into the Enchanted Chamber by the unfortunately obscure Swedish band Timeless Miracle. Not only is this album their debut, but as of 2016 it remains their only release to date, though I'm happy to report the band is currently working on a follow up, tentatively titled Under the Moonlight, and that is obviously my most anticipated album at the moment. But sticking to the here and now, Into the Enchanted Chamber is an example of everything I love about power metal, with its unique sound and focus on speed and melody above all else, while still being quite varied and having several surprising elements as well as some twists and turns throughout. I'll admit it's tough to give this thing a detailed review without absolutely gushing over it, but I'll do my best.
Out of all variations of the genre, I tend to prefer Swedish power metal the most, as it's much more melodic, more flavorful and more epic feeling than most German or American power metal usually is, while also having more of an edge to it than some of the more keyboard driven Finnish power metal bands. Timeless Miracle not only represents everything I love about the style, but they go above and beyond with several elements I wouldn't expect to hear in the genre, but I certainly welcome them. Listeners can expect mostly speedy tracks, with a focus on huge and memorable vocal melodies, as well as some great keyboard work, excellent guitar leads and of course some absolutely killer choruses, some of the best I've ever heard, in fact.
One area where they differ from most metal bands is they actually have a surprising lack of guitar solos. In fact, before hearing the album I was told it featured not a single guitar solo, and while that isn't entirely true, it's not too far from the truth. Usually I'd consider that a warning sign, as songs without guitar solos often tend to feel empty, but with Timeless Miracle that isn't the case at all. Nope, instead they fill tracks in more creative ways, sometimes with the expected synth solos, but sometimes they'll throw in some violin, sometimes other unexpected sounds and on almost every song when you get to a point where most bands will just throw in a solo and move back to the chorus to end the song, they will throw in a mix of instrumental sections and extra vocal sections, managing to fit in a ton of content into songs that, with two exceptions, never go past 7 minutes. So needless to say, while they may not provide many guitar solos, they always come up with great and memorable ways to transition from the expected verse/chorus structure to the end of a song, without the music ever becoming anything less than absolutely amazing.
Another thing about the album is that the lyrics are often fairly dark, which is atypical for the genre. Several tracks deal with themes of death or turning into something evil, and of course there's “Return of the Werewolf”, which feels like a twisted take on a classic fairytale. These lyrics mixed with a slightly darker tone than usual to the music is part of what helps give the album such a unique feel. Epic Lycanthropic Metal, as the band likes to call their style, and that description fits quite well. Adding to this unique feel is vocalist/bassist Mikael Holst. He has a voice unlike any I've ever heard before, and it is quite something. It's really hard to describe and to do it justice, but basically he sounds like a power metal singer but with a very animated, much darker than usual tone to his voice, giving him a somewhat creepy, menacing sound at times, and yet he's capable of sounding very warm at times, and he's extremely emotive. He fits the music perfectly and really is one of my favorite aspects of the album, which is saying a lot.
Of course, it doesn't matter how unique a band sounds, how many unexpected elements they have in their music or how great their singer is if they can't write good songs to go with it. Thankfully, songwriting happens to be one of their biggest strengths of all, and every song here is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece. Starting off, we have one of the 10 best songs on the album in opening track “Curse of the Werewolf”. Beginning with an epic orchestral intro, followed by a calm but rather ominous sounding piano section, Mikael makes his first appearance early on and steals the show right away, before the guitars kick in, the tempo picks up and the song speeds away during its epic first verse, giving way to one hell of an epic and insanely catchy singalong chorus. After this we get an example of their brilliant songwriting, with an awesome quick vocal section to smoothly transition into the next verse, and then later on in the track we get an epic synth solo, leading towards the final run of the chorus, and an ultra epic closing vocal section, where layered backing vocals show up near the end and it just sounds stunning.
Next we have another instant winner in “Witches of Black Magic”, another very speedy track which introduces us to the violin, another highlight of the album. I love how the band mixes the violin so seamlessly into their music, and how they allow it to dominate many sections of the album, such as during the verses of this track, as it works really well along with the leading guitars. Later in the track we even get a really nice violin solo, which is a nice treat. Things only get better after that, with the title track. It begins with some super epic horns in the beginning, and it is certainly one of the more upbeat and happy tracks on the album. Again, the violin works really well when paired up with the guitar during the verses, and the chorus is definitely one of the cheerier and more exciting choruses on the album. Later in the track we get an absolutely stunning sequence where the violin plays a note, followed by the guitar, and it keeps going back and forth for a while, until eventually the track moves on, and not too long after that we get another great violin solo. Next is one of the more unique tracks on the album, “The Devil”. The violin is once again quite dominant in the main melody and the track has more of a folk feel to it than much of the album. It's mostly a more laid back, mid paced track, driven by melodies and vocals. The chorus is outstanding, and while the lyrics, which deal with Lucifer's fall from his perspective, are evil and not something I'd normally enjoy, Mikael is so emotive in his delivery I just can't help but be impressed and become fully invested in the song. A surprisingly speedy vocal section appears towards the end and is one of the highlights of the track.
While it may have a very tough act to follow, “The Red Rose” certainly does not disappoint. It's another fast paced, instantly engaging track with incredible vocal lines and great lead guitar work. Aside from the chorus, its highlights are a rather unique instrumental section about 2/3 of the way through, which starts out very dark and becomes much calmer at the end, the epic vocal section that comes shortly after, and the amazing synth solo towards the end. I've heard some say it's their favorite on the album, and I can see why. It's certainly one of my ten favorites. Next we have the only instrumental track of the album, the orchestral “A Minor Intermezzo”, which is a very nice and relaxing track, with a great use of marching drums towards the end. Speaking of which, those drums return towards the end of “Return of the Werewolf”, one of the fastest and most intense tracks of the album. It also makes great use of symphonic elements right from the get go, before quickly speeding up with some of the best guitar riffs of the album, epic vocals and of course an epic singalong chorus as always, with a great use of horns in the background. The second verse is absolutely killer and has some very twisted yet awesome lyrics. I'll admit, the lyrics here are certainly over the top and will probably give kids nightmares, but they're just so damn fun and addictive, in a really twisted and evil way. In the middle of the track is an epic speedy instrumental section, where the music gets very flashy and super epic, before slowing down and giving way to a much calmer, somewhat folksy vocal section, which then brings us back to the chorus in all its glory.
Yes, the band does know how to tone it down and be slightly less epic when they have to, and they showcase this on the ballad “Memories”. It starts off with a nice keyboard intro, before piano and vocals take over for a while, leading to, you guessed it, a fantastic and instantly memorable chorus. Guitars do kick in after a while, and the track is noticeable for having the one clear guitar solo of the album, and it's a really beautiful one. What follows after that song is yet another of my ten favorites, and for sure the happiest track on the album, “Gates of Hell”. Here we have another mostly mid paced track, dominated by keyboards and orchestra, and there's certainly more of a folk feel to it, especially during one particular instrumental section in the second half. I've talked a lot about great choruses in this review, but oh man, this track has got to have possibly the best chorus I've heard in my entire life! It's extremely upbeat and cheery, with an incredible melody and awesome lyrics, driven by a fantastic performance from Mikael. The track takes a bit of an unexpected turn into darker territory later on, before giving way to the folksy section I mentioned earlier, which then leads to a super speedy vocal section that is awe inspiring, and of course at the end of the track we get an even more epic run through of the chorus, which has to be one of the most epic things I've ever heard. Man, do I ever love this song!
Getting near the end of the album, we have “Down to the Gallows”, another very fast paced and heavy track, which has the distinction of being probably the most upbeat sounding song I've ever heard on the subject matter of a man being sentenced to death and repenting his sins at the last minute. As always, the verses and chorus are just perfect, and near the end we get an epic section where they add in clapping to it, and it's just awesome. After that we have the very brief track “The Dark Side of the Forest”, which continues with the theme of death, and it is unsurprisingly a very ominous sounding mostly orchestral track, with just a bit of singing near the end. It makes for an awesome transition into the final track, which leads us to.....
Grand finale time! Indeed, the band decided the rest of the album just wasn't awesome or epic enough already, and so they had to save the best, most progressive and most ambitious track for last. Here we have the 14 minute epic “The Voyage”, a track which begins with keyboards and a very classic prog feeling instrumental section to being, before the expected change of tempo around 2 minutes in, giving way to the incredible first vocal section. This basically works as a mini song in and of itself, with fast paced verses filled with great guitar work, and an epic chorus. After this we get a calmer section, driven by keyboards and vocals, before the guitars come back and Mikael sings “I feel something going on inside of me it's changing me”, leading to a part that while very brief, is perhaps my favorite vocal section of any power metal song ever, it's that epic. Following this, we get an amazing speedy instrumental section, which leads to several more awesome sections, continuously mixing between speedy sections and calmer sections, before eventually bringing us to the end. The final section is rather calm, and features a great use of symphonic elements, to go along with one outstanding mini chorus to end the album. As the album closes, we can hear Mikael as well as some marching drums in the background, and man is it ever an epic ending to an epic album. I know I probably broke the record for how many times I said “epic” in this review, but I really did mean it each and every time I said it. What I love so much about this song is how it manages to throw in so many parts in 14 minutes, constantly changing tempos and switching from section to section more than enough times to keep the music fresh over such a long time, while also including several memorable, super catchy vocal sections. It truly is my favorite power metal song of all time, my favorite epic length song of all time, and quite possibly my favorite song ever. I have a bad habit where every time I hear an epic length track on a power metal album I judge it against this one, and every time whatever track comes against it is found lacking by comparison, because this song can't be touched.
I've said a lot about Into the Enchanted Chamber already, so I'll keep this conclusion short: It's an incredible, super epic power metal album full of catchy choruses, memorable songwriting, great vocals, great musicianship, unexpected elements, and darker lyrics than one would expect in the genre. It's a Timeless classic and its existence should be considered nothing short of a Miracle, because albums of this quality are far too rare to take for granted. I'm both extremely excited and nervous to hear their second album when it finally comes, but one thing's for sure: I'll be along for the ride, hoping for nothing but the absolute best.