• Sammy O'Hagar


Metal faithful, perhaps you can explain to me how a genre more rooted in classical music than most rock – from the lower-than-low register compositions and general epicness of Wagner and Mahler to the virtuosity of Bach, Vivaldi, and Paganini – so often lends itself to mangled attempts at integrating keyboards into the mix. Whether it’s the silly attempts to nudge metalcore hacks like Bleeding Through and Winds of Plague into grandiosity, trying to create a macabre atmosphere that just winds up sounding like a Wal-Mart Halloween display like Abigail Williams or latter day Dimmu Borgir, or the occasional yet still sad missteps of Emperor and early Dimmu Borgir, incorporating synthesized orchestration into extreme metal more often than not results in over-the-top wanking for wanking’s sake and/or keyboard effects that sound embarrassingly dated before they’re even put to tape. Whether it’s interludes or providing a counterpoint to the rest of the band, it more often than not comes off more Danny Elfman than Beethoven. I can’t understand how one can think keyboard acrobatics sound remotely metal.

That being said, when presented in the context of metal with extra cheese, they usually put whatever band that’s employing them over the top, launching them into a land considered either fun or grating (see: Dragonforce). This is the case for the inclusion of keyboards in Swedish melodic power/prog/death metallers Skyfire, who are often swallowed up by cheesiness in both the good and bad senses on Esoteric, their latest.

While Skyfire do employ great melodic death metal and power metal riffs, they’re dropped into a stew just as prominently featuring the ridiculous aspects of the aforementioned genres. But even though it tests patience quite often, the overall payoff is admirable, proving that in order to succeed, one must try and fail first. The little failures that pepper the album most likely contribute to its modest success, and in a genre as tired as melodic death and in one as love-it-or-fuck-off as power metal, it’s good to see bands like Skyfire at least trying to do something a little different.

Skyfire are situated right at the intersection of melodic death metal and power metal, being picked up by a cab being driven by a guy in a Dream Theater shirt: they cherrypick from all those genres and use them to varying degrees of success. But while the bad makes itself abundantly known (overactive keyboards, the occasional sense of “weren’t we done with this ten years ago?”, overall sameness after a while), the good sticks out almost immediately (riffs, riffs, and more riffs) and ultimately, if not outshining the less desirable elements, works to do so. The epic and triumphant sounding guitars that ultimately provide the backbone for “Rise and Decay” and “Under a Pitch Black Sky” evoke power metal at its most bare bones and likeable, while “Misery’s Supremacy” and “Under a Pitch Black Sky” throw in some rapid fire black metal blastbeats to keep things interesting. Skyfire cull from a lot, but unlike Between the Buried and Me or The Faceless, you can’t see the seams. When something sounds random at first, it eventually makes sense in the grander scheme of Esoteric, which is a feat many bands can’t quite pull off.

Of course, the keyboards often overshadow what’s going on beneath them, and when not in the right mood, Skyfire sound a little repetitive. But the band manage to sound gigantic-epic than Dungeons-&-Dragons-epic more often than not. Despite with accompaniment that sounds like it’s ripped from an early ’90s Julia Roberts thriller, Skyfire manage to impress (all without employing clean vocals!). Even for those sick of melodic death metal and generally unimpressed by power metal, Esoteric is a surprisingly solid album.

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(3 out of 5 horns)


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