Kerion – Cloudriders Part I: Road To Skycity
Kerion – Cloudriders Part I: Road To Skycity (2012)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
As anyone who has been following the site for a while can tell you, Kerion has yet to impress me. This band has had numerous self-inflicted problems since the outset, and has been only for the easy-to-impress side of symphonic power metal (which, unfortunately, usually means the femme-metal and fans of stuff like Skylark). Why you ask? Well it’s not really because of how “light” Kerion is, nor because the lead singer is female. There must just be something about the formula that I can’t get my head around.
Upon first listening to CloudRiders Pt. I, I thought for a brief minute that I was going to come around to this band at last. The intro track and “The Map” combine the best part of Kerion’s previous formula, but turn the density and symphonic dials up to 11. There’s narrative, big strings, brass, flutes, and choirs all around, complemented by some good sleek production. Even singer Flora Spinelli is reasonably stomachable here as well, mostly made possible because of some rather ripping guitar work combined with a catchy and well-composed wall of symphonics. However, after the intro riff to “Everlasting Flight”, I knew there was going to be some serious trouble. Any song that starts off with a lyric like “Let me tell you a good story about sci-fi and fantasy” indicates to me that the band either doesn’t actually know what its talking about, or isn’t bothering to make an effort to write reasonable lyrics. There are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to preface the ages old “let me tell you a story…” introduction effectively, but this surely is not one of them.
Also troubling is the shift of focus from the rather good guitar, key, and choral work…and back to Flora. An abominably long and crabby story made nice and short: this girl still cannot sing. Not only does she struggle pathetically to pronounce things coherently in English, but her tone is flat, dead, and emotionless, particularly when she sings in her lower register (this happens a lot). A band putting on a vast and breathtakingly bombastic metal album needs an equally competent singer (Hansi of Blind Guardian, Phillipe D’Orange of Sound Storm, and Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards, to name a few). This has always been my chief complaint with Kerion (except for Holy Creatures Quest: no one in the band knew what they were doing there), and will likely continue to be so.
Otherwise, on the upside, the album does have a number of listenable qualities. Despite the completely inane lyrics (“I’M A BOUNTY HUNTER!”), “Bounty Hunter” is worth a listening for the excellent guest vocals of Raphael Dantas (Caravellus). In a few short minutes, Dantas introduces himself with a whispered snarl, rages malevolently over Kerion’s solid background (and boy can he ever scream), and throws the whole song over his shoulder on his way out. Additionally, the choral arrangements (courtesy once again, I believe, of the talented Philippe Giordana of Fairyland/Magic Kingdom) are often the vocal highlight, despite perhaps being a bit overused. Lastly, “Tribal Vibes” is quite an odd song out, losing some of the density of other tracks to be replaced with some interesting flute, percussion, and tribal chant-like vocals. Points for experimentation here, but other than the introduction, it isn’t very gripping.
There are a few other places where the album falls short as well. With a title like “Fireblast”, one would expect a powerful and explosive track. However, not only is the guitar a bit subdued (and not nearly heavy enough), and the vocals carried somewhat feebly by Flora, but it is here that the album begins to sound redundant to me. We’ve established that the band is using its keys, strings, and choirs effectively- but that doesn’t mean you should never deviate. “Fireblast” and several later songs see the band sticking a bit too closely to the neo-classical “symphonic” approach without varying much of anything else. This ends up sounding like say, a poorer version of Fairyland’s debut album. Even songs like “Never More” that start with superb riffing wind up inevitably with the band’s trademark: A verse featuring Flora’s dead low/midrange vocals and supported by nothing more than bass and drums. I can’t stress how much this destroys the great energy of even the most screaming opening lead, and Kerion has a singular knack for shooting themselves in the collective foot.
Now that I’ve started, there’s so much more for me to complain about. The ballad isn’t interesting, the band’s attempt at a large, multi-part concept song isn’t as clever or successful as they’d like to think, and despite some very good dramatic metal near the end of the album (including some rarely good high-register work by Flora and a second round of Raphael Dantas), I’m rarely going to make it this deep into the recording. Similar to my comments on the band’s second album, The Origins, Kerion has improved in most ways except one: they keep writing their music for and around a nearly one-dimensional lead singer with poor diction and no emotional dynamic (only volume and pitch knobs). Recommended absolutely for fans of previous Kerion, Skylark, and other mediocre power metal, and with reservation to those interested in hearing an orchestral concept album: there is some good material here, but it requires a lot of sifting and skipping.
Dan’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5