Friday 2 August 2019

Narnia - From Darkness to Light (2019)

Country: Sweden
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 2 Aug 2019
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When I decided to wrap up this first week of August with a couple of albums from Swedish bands, I honestly expected the high note I aimed to finish on to be from Narnia rather than Children of the Sün. After all, the latter are new, their debut album coming out of nowhere, while Narnia have been around since 1996, releasing six studio albums before they split up and another two after they reformed, with most of the same line-up too, only bassist Jonatan Samuelsson being new.

Album nine is certainly good stuff. It's melodic and it's catchy and it has enjoyable solos and plenty of riffing that feels a little safe because evil isn't a good sound for a Christian rock band. They do couch their preaching on tracks like Has the River Run Dry? and From Darkness to Light, though it is there if you listen carefully to the lyrics. On other songs, it's rather up front, especially on MNFST and I Will Follow. But hey, I review plenty of bands who write songs about Satan, Odin or their favourite elder god from the Cthulhu Mythos. I have no problem with a band who sings about Jesus.

I especially have no problem with a band who sings about Jesus when it puts songs as glorious (for want of a better word) as The Armor of God. It stands out well, kicking off with swirling keyboards and solid riffs but continuing with catchy vocals and catchier guitars to drive the song home. It's easily my favourite song on offer, even though it arrives after the opening track, A Crack in thy Sky, which is the single, and You are the Air That I Breathe, which probably should have been.

Those are good songs, but The Armor of God is better and has everything you could possibly want from a melodic power metal song, from killer riffs all the way to a soft piano outro. The only catch is that I was thinking about Sammo Hung rather than the son of God, but that's me. I'm a film critic too. On my first time through, it was my obvious highlight and I was disappointed that the other tracks were unable to match it.

In fact, on my first time through, I felt that the rest of the album fell a little too overtly on the side of safety, perhaps trying to be a bit nice, a great attribute for an evangelical Christian but not a great attribute for a power metal band. I'll have to go back to whatever early Narnia albums that I vaguely remember, because I thought they were heavier than this but not so steeped in prog rock.

On a second listen, however, I got into the album a lot more, because of a host of moments that started to stand out: some of the guitars in MNFST, a melody here in A Crack in the Sky and a prog rock section there in Sail On. Some that had leapt out on the first listen, such as the Hallelujah vocal midway through The War That Tore the Land, bookending a strong guitar solo, stood out even more. Some, like the instrumental sections within the rather Iron Maiden-ish From Darkness to Light, coalesced better. It's good stuff.

White metallers will already have picked this up, but you don't have to be religious to enjoy it. So the blind conformity in lyrics of I Will Follow might feel anathema to the rebellious nature of metal; it still sounds good and it's one of the weaker songs on the album. And, at the end of the day, sounding good is what matters.

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