(My Kingdom Music, 2013)
#FOR FANS OF: Power Metal, Rhapsody, Timeless Miracle
Even though flowery Italian power metal tends to be scoffed at a lot by purveyors of more extreme music within metal, I actually kind of like it as a concept. Because it is referred to as "heavy" metal, some may be under the misconception that anything on the lighter spectrum of things within metal should be excluded due to the lack of the same grit or intensity metal is (apparently) SUPPOSED to have. However, I don't really have this preconception coming into music in general, in fact, I seek out the most delicate and beautiful sounding moments in music I can find most of the time. For this reason, I can listen to Rhapsody (of fire?), Balflare and Timeless Miracle among a few select others from time to time and they don't sound nearly as out of place in their poppy, saccharine splendor as they might for someone who primarily listens to black, death and heavier doom. It's also for this reason that my eventual problem with 'The X Experiment' isn't necessarily that it's too syrupy and flowery; no, my issue is actually that the album isn't quite flowery enough. The underlying structure of the album is well-crafted in its own right. The songwriting isn't anything revolutionary, but it makes sense, and that's probably a little more preferable for me when it comes to power metal. The guitars come out in a clean and clear tone and the bass is actually present, although it never comes into its own enough to be overtly recognized either way. The drums are a tad dry and clinical, but it never gets to the point where it really starts to annoy you. On the whole, this album is well put together; sure, there are a lot of references to common songwriting tropes of Italian power metal but, well, this is Italian power metal. What exactly were you expecting? This stuff is about refining and perfecting what's already there, not reinventing the wheel. The cliched nature of the album only becomes a hindrance to its quality when there's no speed and overblown energy to supplement the riffing, and Dragonhammer will only play something of a significantly faster tempo to either provide an enticing (and misleading) introduction, close out a song, or segue into a solo. The riffs frequently sound as if they're struggling to keep up with the drums and/or keyboards and often seem to have to resort to more simplistic riffing measures as a result. A good deal of the meat riffing in the verses is comprised of monotone tremolo with no extra dimensions to it. I'd like to say to say the melodically pleasing but sometimes trite and cliched guitar leads are just the result of an older guitarist comfortably playing below his skill level, but having not heard any of this band's previous albums, These songs don't make me very confident he has the chops to perform anything more intricately composed than 'The X Experiment' to begin with. The extensive focus on slower balladry and ominous, thorough intros by the keyboards into the choruses and solos makes the idea that this album is guitar-based come into question. When you stop making riffs the main feature of my metal, you're gonna start to run into some problems. Fortunately, the keyboards are handled well enough that Dragonhammer can get away with the guitars residing more in the shadows than a listener of this style might be accustomed to. They often provide much more to grasp at in terms of melodies with texture than the guitars do; just examine the beginning of "Escape" to see an example of this. The keyboards will often play the primary melody while the guitars become the rhythmic base. The reliance on the keyboards to carry the songs was a good decision to make, because the verses they craft are much more listenable and memorable than anything the guitars can put out. It's because of these keyboards that some of the choruses on 'The X Experiment' do get stuck in my head from time to time, although saying that they're the only thing making the album catchy would be giving not nearly enough credit to the vocalist. Over the time I've listened to this album, I've gone from thinking he has some good qualities to considering him outright awful to having some sort of weird fascination with his vocals to finally just considering him quirky and interesting but with a few really evident flaws. The natural rasp and vibrato that comes with his voice gives him a bit of character, but he's also really noticeably flat, especially when he goes into his higher register and lets out a wail that necessarily has to be at proper pitch to have its proper effect. Being consistently a half-step underneath the note he's trying to hit, a lot of Max Aguzzi's "big moments" on this album can fall flat as a result. The fact that I know they're supposed to be big moments is a result of good songwriting, but the choruses that get stuck in my head aren't always memorable for the right reasons. Sometimes the vocals stand out because his tone was significantly off, or perhaps it's because of his thick accent and odd lyricism. If we were being true to the pronunciation of the title in the actual song, this album would be titled 'The Sperimen Hex'. It's part of the reason Aguzzi has a somewhat adorable personality as a vocalist, but it also makes it much more difficult to take this album seriously. It's hard not to endlessly flip-flop when it comes to my enjoyment of this album. It's quite the infectious little bugger, but there's just not enough skill and personality present in the music to make it last and the honest enjoyment of the album can be somewhat deterred by how cheesy it is. If you can't get enough sappy ballads and galloping chugs in your life, you'll find 'The X Experiment' quite satisfying as it's a very professionally done album, but I can't bring myself to wholeheartedly recommend this to any group of people other than that.