Axenstar – Where Dreams Are Forgotten
Reviewed by Graham Henry
When I was asked to review the new Axenstar, I was excited. I love Axenstar, and they were one of the first bands I really got into when I first started exploring power metal over a decade ago. Far From Heaven is a staple of the genre, and pretty well exemplifies the type of driving, quick moving, catchy power metal I like. The heavy use of keyboards, straightforward melodic songwriting, and competent vocals all combine to make most Axenstar albums a terrific listen. So, it is safe to say I was looking forward to the new album, and I wasn’t disappointed.
What I didn’t expect was to be blown away straight from the start. The album opens powerfully and bombastically. “Fear”, the first track on the album (no instrumental intro!), starts with a blistering guitar lick before building with keys and double bass. The vocals meld seamlessly from verse to chorus, always with a premium on melody. The chorus, while not the best on the album, is nonetheless catchy and well executed. I was hooked immediately after just one listen.
This sound comes to describe the album. It is relentless from beginning to end, with nonstop melodic hooks. I found myself singing along on multiple occasions to a host of memorable songs like “Inside The Maze”, “The Return”, and “Greed.” I found myself headbanging to the riffs in “Fear”, “Curse Of The Tyrant”, and “Sweet Farewell.” But really, every song contains at least one moment where the listener will find themselves singing along, pumping their fists, or headbanging. Perhaps all three!
My biggest qualm about the album is how quiet the keyboards are. They are present, but often as a background instrument. I would have liked to hear a few throwbacks to old Axenstar, with loud keyboards hitting you over the head on track after track. That said, the keys are not non-existent. They can be heard and fit the music as well as ever. They are just quiet in the mix, and I would have preferred a stronger representation to match how capable they are. My only other hesitation is the cover art – yet another Felipe Machado Franco piece that too-closely resembles all the other Felipe Machado Franco pieces I’ve seen, but that isn’t something I hold against the band.
Overall, this album is quite good, and one of the highlights of the year. It has crisp, clean production, vocals that are as strong as ever, and a well-placed emphasis on catchy, melodic songwriting. There are songs with riffs, songs with keyboards, and songs with great vocals. Most of the songs have all three. It is both a throwback to old Axenstar, and an attempt to modernize the band’s sound. There isn’t a single mood-killing ballad break, and the entire album rolls from beginning to end quite fluently. Most of the songs are around 4:30, which helps keep the album from feeling too long and keeps the band focused. The keyboards are noticeably quiet, but it doesn’t detract from the overall superior quality of the album too much.
I highly recommend this.
4.0 // 5