Dark Moor – Shadowland
Dark Moor – Shadowland (1999)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Dark Moor had been drifting in the Spanish power metal aether since 1993 when with some abruptness, the band became extremely productive beginning in 1998. After demo Dreams Of Madness, founding guitarist (and only permanent member) Enrik Garcia recruited the talents of the then-unknown Elisa C Martin, destined to become something of a genre darling over the next several years. With a stable lineup, the group proceeded to pump out the band’s debut Shadowland, an album that is often overlooked in favor of its masterful successors, but which laid the groundwork of Dark Moor’s sound.
Opener “Walhalla” is a rougher version of the kind of Dark Moor song that every fan longs for. There’s speed, double bass, Garcia’s ICBM-like guitar leads, and Elisa’s extremely unique vocal approach. Even here, however, Dark Moor shows a tender side, with a gentle last minute and a half of acoustics and soft singing. “Calling On The Wind” is a clear highlight of the band’s early songwriting, and stands as a remarkable tune even to this day, with its captivating (if rough) vocal melodies and gently rambling keyboard lines during the verse. Bonus track “The Call” proves to be a bit darker than the album’s usual fare, with more clutch keywork accentuating an almost eerie verse and chorus, accompanied (unsurprisingly) by some hazy sound effects and good old Lovecraftian lyricism.
While no track from this album is a straight throwaway, there are definitely fewer standouts than in later years. The band’s softer tunes are not its strong suit this early on, and “Walhalla”, “Magic Land”, and “Calling On The Wind” more or less dominate the album, leaving the later half adrift in comparative mediocrity (unless you’ve got the bonus track mentioned above). “Dragon Into The Fire” and “The King’s Sword” are perhaps a bit too generic even for a debut album, however, and serve only as an illustration of how the band evolved from this point.
Aside from the more threadbare production, which lends this album something of a messier, more raw sound, the chief difference between Shadowland and follow-up The Hall Of The Olden Dreams is Martin. Her timbre is most certainly recognizable, and she doesn’t lack for energy, but her delivery here is even more sloppy than usual (and, let’s face it, Elisa has never been exemplary when it comes to technical proficiency). The edge in her voice, lack of steady pitch, and occasional sliding is almost directly at odds with the sheer smoothness of the band’s melodic work on guitar and keys in many places, making Shadowland come off as rather unrefined, though filled with all sorts of promise. At this point in the band’s career, and in comparison with much of what was happening in the scene, Shadowland was certainly not formulaic, avoiding much of the Rhapsody-borrowing that seemed to be happening at that time. In some way, this album manages to come across as less pompous and cheesy than many of its fantasy-oriented counterparts, and is therefore a little easier to take seriously.
Seeds sown on Shadowland would ripen and bear fruit in very short order, but the album still stands pretty comfortably on its own, if slightly apart from its formidable younger brothers in the discography. This is most definitely not the album that I would recommend to power metal fans looking to get into the band, as either of the two subsequent albums are far better choices. However, for those that enjoy later works, coming to Shadowland for the first time is like looking at awkwardly familiar high school graduation photos: imperfect, but nostalgic and charming all the same.
3.5 // 5