Dark Moor – The Hall Of The Olden Dreams
Dark Moor – The Hall Of The Olden Dreams (2000)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
If ever there was an ‘overnight’ explosion of talent being realized, it was Dark Moor’s transition from Shadowland to sophomore release The Hall Of The Olden Dreams. Don’t believe me? Sit through the full first album and then switch over immediately to “Somewhere In Dreams”. I’ll be damned if that switch doesn’t elicit a reaction at least so strong as “Ah, that’s more like it!” While the lineup is identical, the compatibility of band members, the growth of individual skill, and the overall improvement in songwriting is nothing short of staggering. As long as I’m pumping this album up, let’s just call it a towering epic of searing power metal majesty that has rarely been equaled, and never in the same way (with the exception, of course, of successor The Gates Of Oblivion).
If you’re reading this review, hopefully you’re nodding your head in agreement, but if you’re not (and not just a philistine), I assure that I absolutely endorse that statement. After a brief 91 seconds of ambient introduction, Enrik, Elisa, and company launch into a whirlwind of neoclassical fury that doesn’t abate until track 7. Five straight face-tearing, voicebox-shredding fireworks in a row, and you’re all but guaranteed to have the stupidest grin of your life plastered to your face by the end of the first. “Somewhere In Dreams” remains an iconic opener of power metal to this day, with a pre-chorus and chorus among the best that the band has ever composed. There’s no respite, however, as “Maid Of Orleans” opens with a blistering salvo of lead guitar that leads into another iconic chorus. “Bells Of Notre Dame” begins only slightly less brazenly before plunging into a composition charged by harpsichord, flute and string samples, and the striking of the eponymous bells, of course. “Silver Lake” and “Mortal Sin” could both dominate albums in their own right, especially the latter’s sequential guitar lick during its bridge and solo break.
It’s not just the first five songs that place The Hall Of The Olden Dreams on such a coveted platform, however. Ballad “The Sound Of The Blade” offers a touching and actually-appreciated reprieve from the sonic fury before we’re hurled right back into the thick of it with “Beyond The Fire” and “Quest For The Eternal Flame”. Closer “Hand In Hand” might sound like another ballad, but it’s a banging wrap-up, albeit a touch slower and with a bit of dreaminess.
I remember hearing this album when I was early into power metal, and how badly Elisa Martin stole my heart. Though I may have drubbed her just a little bit in my review of Shadowland, no single element of the band has improved more noticeably between that album and this than her voice. Throughout The Hall Of The Olden Dreams, Elisa sobs, shrieks like a banshee, and cries out power metal anthems so powerfully that, until the debut of Ancient Bards in 2010, I was convinced I’d never find a woman in Euro-power that was her equal. The improved production on this album does wonders as well, as Elisa is much clearer and always heading the vanguard of the band’s neoclassical charge.
If I could put my finger on what makes these early Dark Moor albums so special, it is the aspect of neoclassicism. While there’s plenty of metal that incorporates classical techniques and sounds, In The Hall Of The Olden Dreams features the perfect blend. There’s no self-satisfying Malmsteen sort of wankery here, nor is there the same brand of faux-operatic, synth-laden symphonicism that Rhapsody embraces. Fast, memorable, and technically proficient guitar playing that frequently calls to mind classical favorites (though sped up considerably) is balanced neatly with Elisa’s powerful vocal delivery, some of the strongest keyboard support in power metal, and a sprinkling of bass solis and drum fills. This whole formula actually differs substantially from Dark Moor’s later work with Alfred Romero because it is not only generally faster, but relies less upon the smooth, emotionally-invoking tendencies of romanticism, and more upon the less subtle (but equally impressive) sum of speed and virtuosity.
In short, The Hall Of The Olden Dreams is necessary listening (Owning is, alas, somewhat more difficult nowadays) for any fan of European power metal. There is good reason that this album is so highly regarded among genre fans, as it has done its share to influence a younger generation of fans and composers alike. Falling right in the middle of the huge European power metal revolution, it helped put Spain on the map, even if Dark Moor was often brushed aside in favor of its Italian, Swedish, and German counterparts. The band’s strength was only quickening however, as it would prove a couple of years later…
4.5 // 5