Axenstar - The Inquisition
Lack of individuality has probably been a very common verdict on many occasions for the Swedish six-piece Axenstar. But if you want to really stand out of the crowd and the genre spectrum what use do you have of individuality if your material is really crap? So it all virtually comes down to the song writing itself if your career is going somewhere or not. And in that department Axenstar continue to deliver.
With their third album so far Axenstar begin to sound more and more like a real seasoned band even though they seem to stay quite boundlessly loyal to their roots. Still identifiable somewhere between Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and early Nocturnal Rites, The Inquisition takes us down the familiar Axenstar memory lanes where sceneries like dual guitar leads and harmonies, keyboard harpsichords, great solos and overall impressive melodies dominate the sound landscape. A change since the previous Far From Heaven and Perpetual Twilight though is that the main song writer here is vocalist Magnus Winterwild instead of guitarist Thomas Eriksson. That hasn't affected the quality or the recognizable Axenstar metal approach in any unrecognisable ways. It still feels energizing and fresh sounding despite that they are basically still ploughing the same old furrow.
The Inquisiton is namely a natural sequel to Far From Heaven but is above all generally a little darker, a little sharper and less atmospheric album which also reflects in the more shadowy lyrics. The production is of the same high standard as on the previous release though and the darker touch sort of fills up the space and thickens the sound. Song writing wise Axenstar as usual keep things relatively uncomplicated along the standard intro/verse/bridge/chorus way but with an immensely smooth flow and high enjoyment factor. The whole deal at times contains almost criminally catchy songs of blistering pace from the European metal scene.
The twin guitar attack by Eriksson and Johansson really shine this time around as well as they intertwine extremely pleasant melody passages, harmony solos and interesting hooks. The keyboard delivery by Winterwild isn't at all abusing but brought into play with moderation and well thought out arrangements. As a singer Winterwild has improved his vocal abilities since the first two albums which I feel was a necessary change to the better. He still sounds a little restrained in higher notes but overall he's monitoring a more powerful performance this time and the support of backing vocals doesn't feel as mandatory.
Downsides with this release are that I first of all don't think it quite reaches Far From Heaven's class even though it comes very close. It's not so much the song writing I'm concerned about but instead the atmospheric feel that's missing and that Far From Heaven contained a little better and even more amazing guitar melodies. The darker touch is far from bad but at the end of the day Far From Heaven just feels a little more-well- perhaps more solid and slightly more genuine.
The album could also have provided a little longer playing time. The 39 minutes easily qualifies as time well spent but I'm sending out a query that these guys deliver a little longer and perhaps even more epic album the next time out. They have the capacities for sure and I think that would really lift this band even higher. Then we have the almost always reoccurring ballad issue. Some bands should have this instalment and others should not. Axenstar should not. The only example here is Drifting that luckily only is a 2.30 minute affair but please let us be excused from this in the future.
Tracks that on the other hand lift the album are definitely Under Black Wings, Daydreamer and The Burning. Those songs easily qualify to the champion's league of Axenstar material. Under Black Wings changes the gear to among the highest on the album and has a melody that any Axenstar fan should warmly and instantly accept since it contains as good as every aforementioned band trademark.
Daydreamer's got quite a flare of Hammerfall actually but I still (a bit surprisingly ) have to regard this one as one of the most infectious Axenstar songs ever. Outstanding melodies here and of course one of the more memorable solos result in that the song really sticks and continues to repeat itself in your brain for a long time. The Burning is besides the longest track (around 7 minutes) another real highlight. A frantic introductory riff instantly sets the tone and the calmer middle section before another great solo some moments after is another very enjoyable instalment.
More positive statements are also that Axenstar finally have started to receive little better praise and more well deserved good reviews. This new album has already been highly acclaimed on other sites and in metal magazines which really lightens my mood. I still feel that the metal Axenstar delivers divides the metal community in two camps though- those who love it and those who hate it.
So basically, if you're big on the bands mentioned among the similar artists and what Axenstar have recorded so far, The Inquisition will satisfy your needs to the fullest but if you aren't a follower the new material won't change your mind and hold you to that opinion. Belonging to the appreciators I'm still saying that this is yet another sterling venture by Axenstar that generates much musical joy and melodic power metal honey in the up tempo sense. Sound samples of The Fallen One, Salvation and The Burning are available on the band homepage for those of you still in doubt.