|Review: Dragonland - Starfall|
Label: Century Media
Year released: 2004
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Review online: July 2, 2008
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Rated 3.59/5 (71.76%) (34 Votes)
Come and sit 'round the fire, now, I'm gonna tell you kids a story. Progression can be a wide pitfall that many bands fail to leap, but sometimes there are...exceptional stories. I once knew a feisty young Power Metal band whose creative energy and instrumental talent seemed to know no bounds, roaming their fantastical plains of dragons and dwarves and devils with a steely sword in hand and a shield in the other, mounted on white horses with their heads to the clouds, which were opening up in a grandiose display of heavenly light. Basking in this orangey white glow, the young Power Metallers seemed to know their true calling, breaking free of their fledgling skin and into a new beast, a celestial creature with wings that could touch the cosmos, and eyes that held the very power of the stars themselves...
As you might already be able to guess, the band's name was Dragonland, and it took them only three albums to achieve such a glorious transformation. Where there was once catchy, entertaining Power Metal trappings that encased the music like a fine-lined electric fence, there is now a vast, fruitful arena of musical delights, personified in a dense, acrobatic guitar base, deep, wide-ranging symphonics and keyboard trills, and the soulful, emotive meanderings of Jonas Heidgert's powerful voice - and here, the man gives a performance of a lifetime.
Dragonland's ascent to the celestial bodies above is clearly defined in the stunning, moody opener "As Madness Took Me" - and note the absence of a preliminary intro track, as was used on the band's previous outings - with its stuttering keyboard trills and heavy riffs, and a chorus that manages to be catchy despite its more complex vocal lines. The title track is next, and it seems to reside on a whole new plane of existence, with a stirring keyboard line setting an ethereal, spacey atmosphere that will warp your mind away to the very end of the world; a white, sandy beach that goes on for all eternity, with a bloody red sunset overhead, casting a strangely beautiful glow over all below - that is what this song evokes. "Calling My Name" and "In Perfect Harmony" are darker, more epic tracks, and people who dismissed the old Dragonland as too generic and flowery won't even recognize them now - the former has a brilliant chorus that builds up like a shooting star, before finally exploding with the titular lines, and the latter boasts an exceptionally well done synergy between guitars and synths, accented by a very catchy chorus. "The Dream Seeker," "The Returning" and "To the End of the World" are all excellent compositions in themselves, and Heidgert's vocal lines are better than ever here. Just listen to the titular lines in the beginning of "To the End of the World," ("We have ARRIIIIIIIIIIVED...") or the "No! I can't just break / I have to keep on going to the EEENNNNDDD!" bit in "The Dream Seeker." Truly amazing stuff.
I could list several more little gems to be found here, such as the electronic slant on "To the End of the World" or the Stratovarius-esque synth melodies that speed by you like flaming asteroids in "The Returning," but the true centerpiece of the album, and the best song Dragonland have ever written, comes in the form of the six minute epic "The Shores of Our Land." The band ventures deep into a catacomb long forgotten by time, and comes out riding a monolithic ship flanked by dragon heads, sailing on into a blinding white abyss as the slow, mysterious intro segues headlong into a majestic, rattling clash of guitars and booming symphonics, with Heidgert sharing vocal duties with Robert Englund of Evergrey fame. There's even a viking choir chant in the middle of it (!), before the ship reaches the shores at last, as the song fades out with a breathtaking horn melody, layered over with delicate female singing and finally ending with the sounds of the seashore. Moving, powerful, unique and epic.
Dragonland know better than to rest on the laurels of that one fantastic song, though, and they have one final blaze of glory to go out in. They open the Book of Shadows with hesitance, but not without flair and class, as here is the deepest buried roots of their newfound progression, and perhaps the most delicious fruits of their labor, as well. The band abandons conventional song structures and digs deep, finding treasures beyond man's understanding. The three "Book of Shadows" songs flow as one, layered with rich classical arrangements and deep, sea-wide trenches of emotion and grandeur, and the album comes to a close with a truly arresting display of talent.
I haven't much more to say about Starfall, other than that it is truly one of the best albums of its kind, and that few bands in our modern day and age manage to create such an innovative and powerful work of art. If you are a fan of Progressive Metal, or just of melodic Metal in general, I see no reason why you wouldn't find some form of enjoyment in this album. Truly essential.
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