Pathfinder – Fifth Element
If there’s one thing Pathfinder has in spades, it’s ambition. With their eye-raising debut Beyond The Space, Beyond The Time, they took the genre of symphonic power metal, put it into overdrive, and skyrocketed it to the stars. I myself took issue with some of the album’s more busy and pompous passages, but the larger part of it has grown on me considerably, enhanced by seeing them live mere months ago. Fifth Element had a lot to live up to, and room for improvement, so it rapidly became one of the most anticipated albums of this spring ever since it was announced.
As it stands, this sophomore record does not disappoint. Some problems of the first one have been addressed, e.g. there is a noticeable rise in restraint, while others have not, like the often still too scattered quality of the compositions. However, the overall sense is that Pathfinder has gotten its act together a lot more. The online singles “Elemental Power” and “The Day When I Turn Back Time” ooze confidence and control, both melodic and moving without betraying the band’s bombastic and experimental nature. I would argue that the latter is their finest song to date and it definitely tops my scoreboard for this album.
But Fifth Element has more yet to offer. “Ready To Die Between Stars” is a big, cosmic hymn to heavy metal, silly in all its Manowar-esque imagery, but endearing and catchy beyond belief. Despite any reservations about this kind of worship, it’s hard not to be swept along in it and after a few times I just plain gave up. “March To The Darkest Horizon” has an eerie Fairyland-like quality of courageous determination and adventurous spirit, boasting huge choirs and orchestration. With “Ad Futuram Rei Memoriam” Pathfinder tests the speed barrier Dragonforce so often pushes against and almost gives the Brits a run for their money. The chorus seems like a riff on Sonata Arctica’s “FullMoon” with its repeated “run away!”, yet it morphs into something with far more intensity and devotion than anything I’ve heard from those Finns in recent memory.
Problematic as some other tracks may be, Pathfinder is nothing if not utterly devoted to what they do, perhaps to a fault. There seems to be very little space for subtlety and with the infantile cursing in the opening of the title track, they undermine their own seriousness and cross a line they perhaps shouldn’t have. A minor complaint for an otherwise meandering song that culminates in a chorus from the heavens. At times Pathfinder almost sounds “elemental”, as if they transcend the limits of music like I have only heard Lost Horizon do before. The influence of the Swedish heroes is clear here, even if the Poles are still a few steps removed from that particular power metal pinnacle.
As I have said, other parts of the album appear more troubled. “Chronokinesis” fails to deliver a really compelling idea and the ballad “Yin Yang” mostly falls flat. By the end “When The Sunrise Breaks The Darkness” rolls around and it’s just a little too melodically similar to “Ready To Die Between Stars”. While more concise and focused than Beyond The Space, Beyond The Time, the follow-up perhaps loses some of the novelty and melodic brilliance. Fifth Element is certainly a grower and will reveal more and more of itself over time. Pathfinder has made a big splash once again and they seem to be building to some all-time symphonic power metal masterpiece, even if this is not quite it yet. And even if this turns out to be their magnum opus, they can be very proud of it nonetheless. We don’t always need the next big thing to be the “best album ever”, right?
Arno’s Rating: 4.0 out of 5