Monday 22 February 2021

Labyrinth - Welcome to the Absurd Circus (2021)

Country: Italy
Style: Progressive Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Jan 2021
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Also on Frontiers Records and not light years away from Joel Hoekstra's 13 in style are Labyrinth, the Italian power metal band, formed in Massa in 1994 and on their ninth album. They have all the same instrumentation, though these keyboards are too buried in the mix, and they share a solid grounding in melodic rock, but they're harder and heavier and they also have a progressive edge that leads them to more solos, more vocal layering and more dynamic play. But hey, these two albums play excellently next to each other.

The Absurd Circus is a strong opener but I like Live Today even more. It's faster, really stirring up the blood, and it does a lot in under six minutes, even if I wish I could hear the keyboards more. It sounds like Oleg Smirnoff is playing in the next studio over and someone just left the door open so we could catch a hint of what he's doing. It's a really odd decision because everything else is well mixed, with a good balance between vocals, multiple guitars and drums. I'd like to hear more of the bass too but I'm used to not hearing that nowadays. Struggling to hearing keyboard solos is something new.

The problem with Live Today is that it's such a powerful track that One More Last Chance seems lesser just by comparison and the album suffers for a while. Live Today's a real go getter, speed power metal during the verses with slower dreamier sections to really keep us on the hop. The extended solos are engaging and upbeat and the whole thing just works. However, One More Last Chance is often a softer and more passive song and, with our blood now up, it feels like it unfolds in slow motion.

The album does pick back up again. As Long as It Lasts starts that with some neat intricacies and Den of Snakes does a lot more with some more overt melodic riffing bringing us mostly back on track, but I was questioning the album at this point while realising that I was being utterly unfair. It isn't that One More Last Chance is a bad song; it's actually a pretty decent one that merely struggles to follow such a stormer. It would have been better anywhere elsewhere on the album. Den of Snakes would be a better choice to follow Live Today and slow us back down gradually.

There's a cover nestled in here eight tracks into eleven and I have to call it out because it's an unusual choice but a good one. It's of an Ultravox song called Dancing with Tears in My Eyes, which I'd say was an old song if only I hadn't bought the single when it came out. It does feel a little different to what's around it but a lot less so than I would have expected. It sounds good and it's actually good to hear a Scottish vocal sung with a slight Italian accent.

This is a solid 7/10 album, consistently above average European power metal but without much that's leaping out for special attention. Live Today is about it on that front. I was tempted to drop a point for the buried keyboards but decided against it because this is a generous album that runs a breath beyond an hour and never really drops the quality. So imagine I dropped that point and added it back again.

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