They Came Over the High Pass
The Fragile Art of Existence
Much like the nascent black-metal scene (see Triumphator review in this issue), the current power-metal one has become something of a building dangerously crammed beyond fire code, nearly any and every band tossing its hat in the ring of quasi-Iron Maiden/Dio reconfiguring – pale imitation propagating post-preposterousness. Current case: Defender’s They Came Over the High Pass debut. The solo project of ex-Afflicted/current-Cranium bassist Philip Von Segebaden, Defender gallops along in a rather utilitarian way – meaning that the requisite chops are present but the charisma, memorability, just something/anything unique are not; to further confound matters, the proceedings are steeped in Dungeons & Dragons imagery just waiting to be snickered at by even the most diehard of such proponents. Evidently, Von Segebaden has stated that Defender “in no way resembles what Hammerfall and others are sounding like.” In a way, I tend to agree with him: Defender is nowhere near as good as Hammerfall (and select others: namely Primal Fear and Steel Prophet) is, even if the game at hand is said reconfiguring one.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Control Denied’s debut, The Fragile Art of Existence , which, in comparison, makes They Came Over the High Pass all the more clumsier. Arguably the most inventive and ambitious power-metal record in the past decade, The Fragile Art of Existence casts Control Denied as the King Crimson of the progressive metal scene – not entirely surprising, considering concurrent Control Denied/Death leader Chuck Schuldiner has increasingly waxed tricky with the latter during their last few albums. But fear not: Control Denied thankfully favors structural tension/exploration over virtuostic masturbation. Though the songs, consequently, may go all over the place (the “point,” more or less), the band often returns to melodic and/or rhythmic motifs that, when placed in the perfect context (e.g., the melodious trills in the title track and “What If…?”), are the quintessence of power. On top of that, their chops are beyond precise, their melodic sensibility almost too developed, their rhythms finely balancing the menacing with the mathematical. With all the above in mind, any comparison – even in passing – of Control Denied to Maiden is careless, shortsighted and, at the very worst, downright ignorant – a history lesson to be learned by all.