Axenstar - Far From Heaven
Axenstar are back with their second studio album with Arise, named Far From Heaven. Just as with their debut, Perpetual Twilight, the new album was recorded at Underground Studios in Västerås, Sweden. But here we're dealing with a band that has been heavily criticised for shortages in individuality and of sounding just like any other Helloween metal inspired copy. This kind of bullshit and ignorant opinons are really starting to annoy me. The metal scene of today is bigger than ever and as good as every month you discover new bands you haven't heard of before. This means that it's practically impossible not to sound or remind of some other metal act no matter how hard you try.
I am of the opinion that those critics and so called knowers of metal seem to forget the most important thing- the music. If the songmaterial is good and the band consists of good musicians I don't care for a God damn second if it sound exactly like group x or y. The power metal genre is narrow enough as it is and that's such an obvious and well known fact that it's almost a shame that it needs to be expressed so bluntly. A band should of course play like they want and focus on what they do best instead of chasing a sound that (perhaps) pleases the general opinion creating corps.
Getting that out of my system let's focus on this latest installments from this Bollnäs based band instead. If there's one thing that Axenstar deserves serious praise for it's the brilliant guitar work from Eriksson and Johansson. The debut was packed to the limit with some really impressive melodies, leads, harmonies and solos and Far From Heaven also contains loads of that amazing stuff. The dual guitaring continues in grand form and the just mentioned factors have been developed even further since Perpetual Twilight. The amazing guitar playing hits with full force and this new album can be regarded as a natural continuation to last years debut. Far From Heaven is one of the more melodic albums released this year and If Axenstar ever would release an entire instrumental album I would be among the first one in line that's for sure.
The vocals must be considered the weakest link in the chain though. Winterwild's got a pretty narrow register and sometimes he feels very strained taking higher notes. His voice also makes the music feel very "nice" although it's delivered in a way that really puts speed up front. This is taken care of with some very good backing vocals but I really wish for some more aggressive and a bit rawer vocal delivery for next time. I also wish for a slightly more varied songwriting for the next installment too. You can of course clearly differ one track from the next but they tend to be slightly too similar in build-up. I know - I'm hard to please completely.
But what's lost in a little sameness in the song construction and a little too weak vocal performance in some cases is gained in the outstanding melodies. Main songwriter Eriksson has really managed great with the compositions here. There are lots of real extraordinary intros, dual leads, highly melodic vocal lines and super catchy refrains that make this album a very compatible one in the melodic speed/power metal genre. There's a very good flow in all of the tracks and vocal lines and instrumental parts merge into each other in a very digestable way.
The use of keyboards is also more or less perfect. It provides that little extra on many of the songs and despite that I prefer it when the guitars are on the job without support of the blacks and ivories, it gives the album a very nice atmosphere. Another great thing about Far From Heaven (which is also the biggest difference from Perpeutal Twilight) is the production. This time it's a much better one and the sound is crystal clear and very sharp without feeling too clinic and overworked. As good as top mark there!
So if you appreciate the work of bands like Sonata Arctica, Nocturnal Rites in their earlier days, Celesty and so on, Axenstar has loads of magic moments to offer. Far From Heaven may not be the release of the year but taken more literary it doesn't end up that far from entering the more divine metal realms either.
Many other reviewers will probably totally send out Axenstar to the penalty box and state that this has been done hundreds of times before. As far as I'm concerned those opinions are of the very ignorant sort and will give Axenstar a very undeserved bad grade. Not only fans of previous mentioned bands but also followers of the melodic power metal scene in general shouldn't go wrong with Axenstar and Far From Heaven. A serious check up is well worth the effort and I hope this band begins to get a more positive response from the media than they have so far, 'cause they truly deserve it!