Theocracy – Theocracy
It’s New Year’s Eve, of some year or another. I’m spending it with my family, which I’m largely ignoring. Keeping me company is a mix CD I made (yeah, you can guess how long it was ago just from that), featuring many bands known and unknown to me back then. One of the unknowns was Theocracy, with a self-titled song from their self-titled album. A song that blew me away and made me a fan before I even bought an Iron Maiden album. Theocracy went on to be one of the most important albums in my musical evolution. And now I can finally buy it.
Re-masters, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em. As any collector crazy as I am will know: sometimes there just isn’t another option. Which summarizes my stance on these re-releases quite well. As Irish comedian Ed Byrne aptly pointed out, “re-master” means “they turned it up”. In some cases that makes for a crisper sound to an out-dated alternative (Helloween’s Keepers come to mind), in other cases it loses some of the original charm (Blind Guardian e.g.). Concerning Theocracy, it’s nice Shawn Benson is not a computer, but even with digital drums this was already a stellar debut.
Surely Matt Smith comes off as a sixteen year old Tobias Sammet did on Kingdom Of Madness (with a cold), but he has become an incredible vocalist, and the seed of that is here. Some of the lyrical subtext may initially seem a little bit in-your-face, but Theocracy was never about outside politics, but inner struggle. Take the title track or “Sinner”, and you will see what I’m getting at.
Let’s talk about that track, “Theocracy”. For me it summarizes everything Theocracy stands for, while also being my favorite (and, as is the case many many times, first) song of theirs. Energetic melodies over potent riffing, vocal lines that go everywhere, especially inside your head, and a chorus like a burning castle. Raise the kingdom indeed. Noticeable is the absence of a solo. Notice that I say “absence”, and not “lack”, as I have never bought into the trope that every (power) metal song should have a solo. Take “A Tower Of Ashes” and “On Eagles’ Wings” from Mirror Of Souls as examples of other songs that do just fine (and way more) without one. The lyrics are personal and inspiring, never preachy, and again: castles burning.
Similarly gold are soaring opener “Ichthus”, the – um – soaring-er “Mountain”, and the celebratory “The Victory Dance”. Even the epics hold up, especially “The Serpent’s Kiss”. “The Healing Hand” and “Twist Of Fate” both have their moments, but are not up to par with later examples as “Lay The Demon To Rest”, “Mirror Of Souls” or “I AM”. Nothing’s up to par with “I AM”, honestly, so we can forgive Theocracy the growing pains.
Ten years after its initial release, Theocracy holds up like a robber in a bank lobby (yeah, it’s Sunday). Whatever wonders Smith and company would go on to accomplish next, it all started here, and this re-release is a nice reminder. It’s turned up and everything, but the main thing is that I can buy this now and I’m happy for it.
4.25 // 5