Review by Colin Steele
Let me be blunt: I’m not a huge power metal guy. Honestly, most North Americans aren’t. Power metal is huge in Europe due to the cultural/historical elements. This is music about dragons, wizards, magic, castles, and the like. Lord Of The Rings and Dungeons & Dragons. Not that I don’t like medieval settings. Hell, I played bass in a power metal band that bases most of its lyrical content on Arthurian legends. Its not that I don’t like or appreciate the genre, its just never hit me on a deep enough level that I seek it out. I have many friends whose bands straddle that line between power and progressive metal. Now I say all that to say this, Finnish power metal band Excalion is EXACTLY what I want to hear if I ever get on a power metal kick. These guys aren’t out there breaking new ground or doing serious experimentation. Its straightforward power metal done by Europeans (so you know its legit and good, lol) and its chock full of keyboards and soaring melodic choruses that make you want to sing along while riding on the back of a gryphon and drinking mead.
Excalion has been around since 2000, and with their fourth full-length, Dream Alive, they show no signs of trying to fix what ain’t broken. The album comes in full blast with “Divergent Falling.” A majestic lead guitar and keyboard pairing told me immediately that I was in for some serious power metal. Since my references in this genre are fairly limited, I’m probably not doing this band or album justice. However, that being said, I hear classic influences of Dio (big surprise there, I know), Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, etc…but I also hear the sound of very early Dream Theater (again, power and prog go quite well together). The second track, “Centenarian” is another great song. I really like the cymbal work and bass pairing for the intro.
Dream Alive is also the first album to have new vocalist Marcus Lång and new guitarist Aleksi Hirvonen. Marcus’s voice is a great fit for the band. He has a classically trained style that is practically a prerequisite for this style. He can give a little roughness for passionate emphasis, while still having a tenderness that compliments the more melodic music. It also helps that he is not a far cry at all from previous singer, Jarmo Pääkkönen.
The keyboards dominate the album but are tastefully done. Each sound and riff serve a purpose and when put together with the other instruments, Excalion is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The song “Amelia” I think is a great example of this. The keyboards accent the guitars and just increase the heavier feel of the song. “Deadwater Bay” and “Portrait On The Wall” are the two softer ballad-y tracks. To even use the term “ballad” isn’t right. I don’t know what to call them. However, having grown up a theater kid (my parents did lots of community theater during my life), these two songs invoke Andrew Lloyd Weber and have the same almost broadway gothic feel that one might find in a number from Phantom Of The Opera or Les Miserables. I love that.
I’ve always considered most power metal to be either taking itself too seriously or go to the opposite extreme and be almost humorous. Excalion sit right in between. The songs aren’t so serious that they aren’t relatable, but there’s nothing humorous about the chops these guys have. I don’t listen to a lot of power metal, but I’m going to be listening to these guys a lot when I do.
Top Tracks: “Centenarian”, “Amelia”, “Portrait On The Wall”
About The Band:
Excalion truly shows what shedding skin means. With a vibrant, aggressive, fast yet melodic new album, Dream Alive, Excalion steers to the forefront of Finnish Melodic Metal bands. The album builds on the storyline that was established with the Centenarian single (available through Spotify and iTunes), telling about a modern escapist who lives both the past and present, crafting his own realities. “Dream Alive” takes you through this journey, welcoming you through the pathways of the new century with stories that will not escape your mind.
Excalion’s new line-up combines the powerful vocals of Marcus Lång with the strong compositions of Jarmo Myllyvirta, setting the scene for the band’s signature arrangements, tight rhythms and flawless soloing. The album was mixed by Tuomas Kokko at Electric Fox studio (Trio Niskalaukaus, Ghost Brigade) and mastered by Brett-Caldas Lima at Tower Studio (Ayreon, Adagio). The outstanding artwork that captures the storyline of the album was created by a rising star from Poland, Piotr Szafraniec.