Domain - Last Days Of Utopia (The Epic Journey)
Even though some bands have been around since the mid 80's they seem to avoid coming to your attention. German Domain are one of those escaping my knowledge and released their first album already back in 1989 and under the name Kingdom records even earlier. The band took a time out after only three releases to resurface again in the early second millennium. This latest effort Last Days of Utopia is their seventh studio release but the first concept album in their career. The background story to this is a fictive fantasy tale thought out by vocalist Carsten Schulz while guitarist Axel Ritt has come up with the music and lyrics. The storyboard goes like this for you interested in the curiosa: "A New Beginning takes the hero of the story on a voyage On Stormy Seas to discover a new existence, during which he is stranded on The Shores Of Utopia. In this Ocean Paradise he at last discovers The Beauty Of Love, causes The Great Rebellion, before the Gods destroy the paradise with Endless Rain. As the only survivor our hero fins himself Underneath The Blue, floating in the sea, Left Alone."
Classifying the sound picture here however isn't the easiest job since quite many styles can be identified as Domain's music drifts between light progressive, semi symphonic power metal and more traditional eighties melodic hard rock. The use of keyboards is very evident as can be expected with a band involved in those affairs but luckily it never gets out of hand or too obtrusive. I especially feel that the guitar/keyboard interactions work splendidly and really give the songs a special touch. Carsten Schulz (also in Evidence One) is a vocalist that doesn't really stand out but he's got a very clear and soothing delivery which sends thoughts to icons like Ian Gillan and Graham Bonnet. But the light also has to fall on guitarist Axel Ritt. Now there's a name to remember if you're into guitar virtuosos of the finer calibre. When this guy gets down to business and commits the vast resources of his abilities into especially the solo sections you frantically begin searching for the repeat button. Even though the solos and a few introductory finger fretting efforts are all quite similar in style and sound and definitely along lines already displayed on many metal albums before it's a terrific addition to the songs.
The band's deriving in the eighties is still very present and show an almost AOR/melodic hard rock oriented approach on some occasions and this is specially pointed out in A New Beginning. This song consists of a great blend between melodic hard rock and heavy/power metal. A great atmosphere is immediately set and clear traces of especially Avalon are found here, both vocal- and song structure-wise. On Stormy Seas is a very progressive metal inspired tune that sends more than one nod to iconic genre bands like Dream Theatre again vocally and sonically showcased. This song is also the longest track on the album with over nine minutes of playtime. The semi symphonic aspects are clearest identified on the more power metal driven tunes, The Great Rebellion, Endless Rain and the title track. These three tracks combined with the more heavy metal oriented Edguy-ish Ocean Paradise also represent the absolute highlights of the release. The introductive keyboard theme on Ocean Paradise that is right along Europe's The Final Countdown and Edguy's Vain Glory Opera to mention a few is just awesome. Two thumbs up for this feature although it unfortunately only appears once throughout the tune.
The Great Rebellion and Endless Rain bear strong Rhapsody influences in many aspects with some quite pompous and dramatic instalments in mainly the choruses and the instrument arrangements. The title song Last Days of Utopia has a chorus as memorable and great as they come and the double tone harmony solo can be repeated a thousand times over even though this type of guitar playing has been heard numerous times before. If the album had consisted of more songs of the same calibre as these four though, the utter masterpiece quote definitely would have been within reach. However some of the remaining material stops that from taking place. The ballad The Beauty of Love is actually quite bearable as is the closing melodic rocker Left Alone. The two instrumental intros Harbour of Hope and The Shores of Utopia are also very digestible inputs but put in comparison the gaps are a little too big between highs and lows. A little more even album next time out would therefore be very pleasant.
But Domain really put much attention to detail that encourages to further listening and The Last Days of Utopia is quite a painstaking craftsmanship altogether meeting precision and passion. The songs are very cohesively linked to the story and the band has formulated a very wide range of musical capabilities with this epic journey. But the chances of really appreciating the album in its entirety basically come down to how deep your metal affection runs. Those with more exclusive preference for solely one of the aforementioned genres probably don't get their mouthful shares. Metal adherents with a wider appreciation for the genre as a whole on the other hand should really give Domain a closer check up since Last Days of Utopia is a good investment despite its lack of the final means to start a more rioting commerce.
See also: Song By Song Commentary