Monday, July 4, 2005

Review: Crystal Eyes - Confessions of the Maker (2005)

Crystal Eyes [ Website | MySpace ]
Confessions of the Maker
Heavy Fidelity

Sweden's Crystal Eyes  have been around since 1992, hovering on the fringes of the European power metal scene without generating enough momentum to be thrust into the arena among the genre leaders. Although their three previous releases have been good, if unremarkable, the band remained in the shadow of the likes of Hammerfall and Cryonic Temple. Confessions of the Maker, the band's latest release, looks to tip the scales in Crystal Eyes' favor. Besides an evident maturation in the songwriting process, mainman Mikael Dahl relinquished his vocal duties and turned over the mic to erstwhile Lost Horizon crooner Daniel Heiman. Am I declaring a coup among the top bands in the genre? Not hardly, though Crystal Eyes have certainly taken a step closer to that aforementioned arena.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Confessions of the Maker is the addition of Heiman to the lineup of Crystal Eyes. Those who are familiar with his amazing versatility while fronting Lost Horizon will find a quite different style on this album, with a more restrained performance being the norm. There are times when he reaches that uppermost octave, but they are few and if more numerous would probably do more to disrupt the music than compliment it. The vocal lines were, in all probability, written by Dahl as he himself would have sung them, and it is obvious that Dahl can't come close to matching the range of Heiman. Even still, as I said, Heiman's vocal performance fits the mood and melody of the music like a glove. Dahl does return to the mic on the closing ballad "Silent Angel", however, and will probably do so again for the next album since Heiman agreed to do only this one release with Crystal Eyes.

A defining characteristic of the Swedish style of power metal is a crunchy, crisp guitar sound. The dual guitar riffs and harmonies from Dahl and Jonathan Nyberg adhere to such a standard throughout the album, and in fact are the means by which Confessions of the Maker achieves the praise that it does. Never over-the-top or braggadocios, the twin-guitar assaults and solo leads drive home the songs without breaking stride with the mood and feel of the music. It's obvious that Dahl took the time to carefully construct each track, placing just the right amount of flair needed without falling into the trap of excessive shredding or showmanship. Dahl's attention to detail is a big part of the maturity that I spoke of at the beginning of this review. Equally important to the success of this album is the rhythm section of bass player Claes Wikander and drummer Stefan Svantesson. Up in the mix, both Wikander's bass lines and Svantesson's beat patterns are distinct, rousing, and well-executed.

While nearly every song on Confessions of the Maker is an enjoyable listen, none of them stood apart from the rest as a favorite. This is not to say that the album is without variation, because it certainly has enough of that to keep the listener's attention throughout. Highlights do abound, and those who enjoy the upbeat, optimistically bardic power metal style will find "The Fools' Ballet" a more than pleasing experience. Complete with an anthemic guitar opening and catchy chorus, this mid-paced track succeeds in emulating an '80s Teutonic metal vibe sure to satisfy fans of Blind Guardian and Helloween. For the aficionado of epic compositions, the 7+ minute "The Terror" has it all. Somber, acoustic passages linked by menacing riffs and rumbling bass lines provide the backdrop to Heiman's most diverse performance of the album. Reaching deep to growl a threat or hitting a soaring falsetto, Daniel shows why he's rated among the top power metal vocalists on the scene today. Of course there are the scorchers here too, "Panic" being a prime example, but I found the pure burners to be the least enjoyable of the songs. I'm sure shred fans will disagree, but I prefer more depth to my music. For that, "The Charioteer", "White Wolves" and "Northern Rage" highlight not only aggression but interesting songwriting.

Confessions of the Maker is certainly Crystal Eyes' best album to date, and a respectable addition to the European power metal catalog. Should Dahl continue his compositional maturation, I suspect that his outfit will find themselves sharing that arena before long.

Track Listing
1 The Charioteer 4:30
2 Confessions of the Maker 5:50
3 Northern Rage 4:49
4 The Fools' Ballet 3:44
5 The Terror 7:13
6 Panic 3:44
7 White Wolves 4:30
8 The Burning Vision 5:03
9 Revolution in the Shadowland 4:30
10 Terminal Voyage 4:47
11 Silent Angel 5:25

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