Style: Symphonic Power Metal
Release Date: 20 Jan 2023
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OK, here's something I need to be careful with my wording on, because there's a trigger word I can't avoid that might put a lot of people off, possibly unfairly. That word is Disney.
Twilight Force are a Swedish power metal band in the grand European tradition, who have making music since 2011 and still have half their founder members in place. It doesn't take much distance into the opener, also called Twilight Force, even though this is their fourth album, to see the nods to Helloween and Gamma Ray. This is grandiose and flamboyant and we can just tell how blissfully happy the band is being grandiose and flamboyant.
So far so good, and Twilight Force is an absolute belter of an opener. It's almost a checklist of what you might want in a power metal song, with every box checked off a minute in. The tempo is quick, albeit not Dragonforce quick, but everything is melody and I mean melodies layered on melodies, grandiose melodies at that. There are also a whole slew of flamboyant solos, keyboards passing a baton to the guitars and back and forth until we forget which is which. It's a serious rush and it's a strong candidate one month in for power metal song of the year.
However, it's impeccably clean power metal and I mean crystal clean without a speck of dirt and a conspicuous lack of shadow. As the album runs on, that started to weigh on me. There are bells on At the Heart of Wintervale, large bells rather than the tinkling Christmas sleigh bells on Twilight Force. The instrumental stretch in the second half is clearly influenced by classical music, though I didn't catch any particular homages. Dragonborn kicks off with a playful string quartet leading an energetic jig and it grows into a slower song that sits on top of a what feels like a metal take on a classical take on a folk tune.
It's all incredibly well done but I wanted to know where the darkness was, especially given the art on the cover with a huge dragon bursting out of a crystal cave. That screams danger, but the blues and whites are where this is at and that comes to a head on Highlands of the Elder Dragon. There are a lot of dragons in Twilight Force's world, but they're cuddly animated pet dragons who would never slice into your flesh even by accident. Everything here is safe, including the danger. You can't even stub your toe here. Try it and see.
Highlands of the Elder Dragon is where it gets too sugary for me. It's saccharine sweet all the way down to the narration by some genial grandfather with a twinkle in his eye. It's like the intro to an animated Disney movie but it does ramp up nicely, going full choral at one point. This is the first of two ten minute epics and it doesn't outstay its welcome, even though it's so quintessentially nice. I caught a line in Skyknights of Aldaria where "the people smile and dance the night away" that has to be telling. I imagined them continuing to do that as the dragon from the cover art soared over their village, because he's only there to breath fire on the huge bonfire they plan to keep them as snug as bugs in a rug on a chill winter night. It's just a grand lighting ceremony.
To be fair, there is a dark voice on Skyknights of Aldaria, even if I have no idea what it's saying, as effects-laden as it is. Maybe it's providing a recipe for the best cocoa. That would fit the tone, not least because it's followed by a mediaeval interlude, A Familiar Memory, a palate cleanser just in case anyone got scared by that wicked voice, all welcoming pipes, flutes and hand drums. There's another dance on Sunlight Knight and more bells and a particular grandiose classical finalé. What I want to call out is the calypso section, complete with steel drums, because it's delightful, but it's also overwhelmed by everything else.
This is far too safe for me and I really ought to despise it but somehow it's too likable, even when it leaps into drama towards the end of The Last Crystal Bearer, the other ten minute epic that closes out the album. Our genial grandfather shows back up, to sing this time, and a strong female voice joins him at points, before it all descends into full on animation with a host of voice actors in the house to make us visualise this like a two dimensional cartoon.
And so this is a peach of a power metal album for your six year old niece who aims to grow up to be a Disney princess with a ballgown the size of a house, make-up that never fades and hair that never moves except to dramatically flow in the breeze, but who also wants to ride her very own dragon, wield a flaming sword in battle and kick the boy three doors down in the nuts because he's stinky. If you have one of those, add two points to my rating, but, if you despise Disney even more than I do, then drop a point off.
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