Written By: Lokasenna
I suppose this hokey shit is penance for my last review, which was of a great album. Here we have a third album following a sophomore release which was actually a Christmas album (no, really). West to East Pt.1: Frontier Vigilante is a Western-themed slice of Euro-power cheese, with members from Sweden, the US, and the Philippines. An international posse such as this usually brings a menagerie of influences to the table, planting seeds for great work, but whether that potential pays off is always uncertain. Now, I like power metal just fine, and in fact generally prefer Euro-power over the American strain, but it’s so very easy for a big ol’ platter of cheese to go moldy on the way to the listener’s table.
Opening track “A Hero Returns” lulls the listener into a false sense of security, starting with a decently hammy baritone intonation of the title and some drum hits, and the riffing starts just before vocalist/keyboardist Jacob Kaasgaard breaks out his earsplittingly sharp high-end, dashing all hopes of an enjoyable vocal performance. While the album has high points in the instrumental work, unevenly amateur attempts at tenor vocals are impossible to ignore, and they taint the whole album, most strongly reminding of Mark Vanderbilt (ex-Kamelot) sans the comical ineptness. Stylistically, the album is fairly typical keys-and-vocals-centric Euro-power a la Rhapsody of Fire or Stratovarius hybridized with, of all things, Old West piano standards. While potentially ripe for nurturing lactose-y goodness, the combination sours more often than not. “Gold of Klondike” is a standout example, with a melody that immediately brings Looney Tunes to mind. This is most painful on “Cheyenne,” which features a shockingly tasteless indigenous-stereotype melody. The additional vocal performance is better, as they seem to have gotten the snippet of Cheyenne language right, which is more than can be said for the aforementioned melody.
Admittedly, the band does hit the western sound they’re looking for, which deserves credit, as this would be so much worse than if they didn’t. The album also has a rather good sense of flow, which helps counterbalance the mammoth 70 minute runtime, but not sufficiently to forgive it. This thing is entirely too long, and the fraction of it occupied by Kaasgaard’s uneven vocal work is inexcusable. Also inexcusable is much of the lyrical content, what of it I was able to analyze through the pain. While most of it is forgettable, the drunken geographical meanderings of “Klondike,” “San Fernando,” and “Eldorado” foreshadow issues like “One, Two, Ready, Kill” quoting Dirty Harry Callahan for the main line of the chorus (Wrong Eastwood character, guys). Some of the problems with blandness might be forgivable, as attempting to avoid Sonata Arctica-style ESL problems is at least a decent idea, but having an American in the band provides an alternate route that seems unused. However, even inept map-reading could have told Kaasgaard that he was referencing locations thousands of miles apart on sequential songs of a supposedly story-based album, so no points there.
Some of the instrumental work is generally pretty solid. Andy Gentile’s drumming is workmanlike at worst through the whole album, and David Sivelind, while shackled to uninteresting backing riffs by the keys-and-vocals approach most of the time, does bust out some decent solos, even when they run too long, as on “Outlaw in the Wild West.” Further, Kaasgaard shows himself to be a solid keyboardist, and his vocal low-end is, while not great, leaps and bounds better than when he tries (and fails) to be both a tenor and remain in key. Perhaps he should step aside as lead vocalist to allow room for (guest?) vocalist Louiebeth Aratan; while no Floor Jansen, she has potential, particularly if she seeks some additional training and works to sound less like a Swedepop singer. As far as mix and production, this needs work – the problematic vocals are high in the mix, making them impossible to ignore, and they often overpowers the instrumentation even when it’s not awful. This is further exacerbated by the squashed production, which has instances of sharp clipping.
In spite of the decent instrumental work, this is not worth your time unless you have a deep masochist streak, as nothing on this album rises out of the mycotoxin-drenched pit of mediocrity. The band have two more albums in this series planned, and they desperately need to up their game for this future output. Kaasgaard, most critically, needs his microphone taken far, far away.
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