Last Bastion – The Road To Redemption
Last Bastion – The Road To Redemption (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
A (comparatively) new fantasy power metal project from Seattle, Washington, Last Bastion is a fivesome of lads continuing the good work of bringing the melodic, predominantly European brand of power metal to US soil. The band’s logo and the cover of The Road To Redemption make the band’s aims abundantly clear – and don’t be fooled by the archetypal cries of “defying classification” and “eliminating stereotypes” – this is guitar-driven, key-embellished power metal of the type that fans of the genre know and love.
Last Bastion’s greatest and most immediate strengths include the musical merits of its individual members, the flashes of brilliant cohesion between these members, and the pure energy that is exhibited throughout The Road To Redemption. This album features some hefty and totally cool bass guitar work courtesy of Larry Barnard (formerly of Skelator), who leaps in to fill the void in sections throughout the record, as well as cutting through the mix with ease to pronounce his contribution to the rhythm section. The dual guitar attack of Joe Lovatt and Matt Lahr is unflinchingly adept and supportive, but doesn’t tickle my virtuosity receptors beyond a few shiny leads here and there. Keyboard player Matt Bethman is the curiosity of the group for me. In some places, the synth work is borderline stunning, and plays the band’s compositions up to heights they’d not reach otherwise. Sometimes, however, the tone of the keys is so strange and out of place that I perceive it as a strangely-pronounced element of the band’s otherwise well-melded formula (see opener “I Know When I’m Home” and “Northern Kingdom” for examples).
Last Bastion’s compositions have a tendency to heavily emphasize orchestral hits – as much or even more so than well-known acts like Rhapsody Of Fire, who have occasionally built entire albums out of this practice. It’s an incredibly effective tool in moderation, but Last Bastion has an unfortunate tendency to use this as a crutch for songwriting – though I can’t tell whether this is intentional or otherwise. Consequently, choruses and dramatic vocal sections are predisposed to sounding a little bit disjointed and heavy-handed, rather than flowing and natural. All this is to say that I don’t find many of the band’s melodies and refrains to be particularly memorable, and I think they’re often more than a little bit formulaic and/or basic to boot.
This criticism goes hand-in-hand with my biggest sticking point concerning The Road To Redemption: Lovatt’s vocals. The man’s screams are largely proficient, and he doesn’t struggle too much with pitch, but he is somewhat sloppy in his delivery (although not so much that it detracts significantly from my enjoyment of the music). No, my problem here is tone. Lovatt’s sung middle/high register sounds extremely forced and strained, so much so that I imagine him to be in considerable pain after a few songs. Likewise, by the time the album’s run time has elapsed, his singing has become quite grating and unpleasant. Though I consider my opinion to be reasonably well-founded, I’m vindicated a bit here by having twice experiencing other listeners asking “what’s up with the singer?”
The Road To Redemption is a fairly good, admirably-paced debut album, and is particularly well-executed instrumentally. Structurally, thematically, and vocally, I am left wanting, and there’s no doubt in my mind that some further work is necessary in order to flesh out a more pronounced identity for the group. Fans of fantasy-themed power metal should check this out regardless, and despite my reservations, I appreciate another solid power metal act from the US doing things largely right. With a little better keyboard integration, more natural songwriting, and either a dedicated lead singer or re-tooling of Lovatt’s delivery, Last Bastion could be a serious force to be reckoned with.
3.0 // 5