Metal Review – Skyconqueror: Under the Pentagram

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Metal Review – Skyconqueror: Under the Pentagram
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Skyconqueror: Under the Pentagram
Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Thrash Metal
Self-release
July 9th, 2014
Release length: 47:31
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Skyconqueror was forged back in 1996. Since then, then German throwback to the glory days of Heavy Metal and Power Metal has put out only a handful of recordings themselves. Three demos were issued between 1998 and 2003, as well as vocalist Daniel Hiller (Antifreeze, former Knight Errant) replacing Niko Saloustros. Guitarist Christian Kahlau (former Dark Embrace) had also parted ways with the group in 2004. After a few more years of silence, the band finally took it upon themselves in 2008 to unleash their debut full-length effort, Hellstory. It’s been about six years since then, and the follow-up album Under the Pentagram is upon us. But is this new release one that will give the long running band a wider audience, or will it quickly drop the ball?

Under the Pentagram does keep with that analog sound common to the Heavy Metal Revival movement, though handled quite well compared to many others that make it more a novelty than a crucial piece of the puzzle. The drums sound crisp all around, perfectly accentuating the thick mid-range tuning of the guitar with a distinct hum at about the same level on the bass guitar that adds a little more edge to the sound overall. However, the greatest conflict ends up being the way the vocals are handled. “Monolith” presents a catchy eighties vibe right away, leaving an introduction that sounds reminiscent of “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straights, though the bass lines and drum patterns do help separate the two beyond that section. The easy going music has just enough bite to hook the listener, even when the simpler held notes kick in during the chorus. But, while the clean singing works well enough when you give it time to grow on you, one can’t help but wish there was a rougher tone to them at times to better accentuate the vintage Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal approach, much like the range found on Godiva‘s debut album, instead of an odd mixture of that and Doom Metal grade singing.

While that vocal approach can seem out of character to the music at first, you’ll find it does have its place on the album the deeper you go. “The Dusk” is a cleaner ballad that sounds cold, creepy and barren musically. There’s a few things that seem a bit overkill though, which includes the delayed echo on the vocals early on that thankfully doesn’t appear again afterwards, as well as the near rapid-fire distant cymbals from the drum kit the take away from the intimate environment. The only other slower track here is “Through Different Eyes,” which sounds like a mixture of Progressive Metal with some early Rock elements thrown in to work the barren wasteland atmosphere harder. “Under the Pentagram” has a little more speed behind it, making the performance a lot tighter and far more energetic. There are some rougher moments to the vocals scattered about too, which sounds fantastic as far as building tension goes. The only thing that would perfectly compliment this song is the gang chants that are absent everywhere but on the largely eighties Rock inspired “Blade of Black.”

“Demon” shows off the band’s Thrash Metal roots nicely at times, especially at the very start. Aside some bridges that throw back to that tighter shift in style, the main verses become simpler riffs with held notes above a steady drum rhythm that pushes the song along with the bass guitars efforts, hinting at an explosion that doesn’t quite hit from the highly melodic chorus and its haunting, near Occult Rock atmosphere. The main drawback again ends up being the vocals, as there are times such as at the start, where a hearty falsetto or high pitched scream would work perfectly. The same goes for “Horsemen of the Grail.” The somewhat flat lower singing works for most of the song, but there are times you wish there was a little more emphasis, or even some layering at work. Even at the very end another hearty shout like what was missing on “Demons” would fit perfectly at three minutes and forty seconds in after the brief moment of silence and quick notes from the drum.

Skyconqueror has a lot of talent and good ideas going for them, and they would be a powerhouse overall if they didn’t end up an acquired taste. Musically, they hit the right spot on just about level with Under the Pentagram. The sound is fantastic, the levels are all just right, and the analog elements feel natural and genuine without treading into gimmicky territory. The right atmospheres are always set and perfectly suit the often foreboding or fantastical lyrics and themes. Vocally, however, you get a somewhat flat sounding clean singing style that has a very limited range, as well as can sound out of place in some songs that require a little more attention for you to accept them for what they are and not what they could have been. What could have been a strong recording winds up something from a band playing it safe along the lines of Ghost‘s Opus Eponymous. Thankfully, with an open mind and the ability to sit down and give this more than just a single spin, you’ll still find an album that could have been stronger, but is still catchy enough to be well worth your attention.

01. Monolith – 4:19
02. Demon – 4:49
03. The Sanctuary of 83 – 5:18
04. Horsemen of the Grail – 4:14
05. The Dusk – 5:44
06. Under the Pentagram – 3:41
07. Fallen Rainbow Warrior – 4:43
08. Bells of Fate – 3:05
09. Through Different Eyes – 4:02
10. Running High – 3:33
11. Blade of Black – 4:04
Initial Pressing Score: 7/10

Skyconqueror
Skyconqueror

Digital review copy of this release provided by Skyconqueror via Metalmessage PR.