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Formula for an amazing epic melodic power metal band: creative songwriting, stellar vocals, outstanding solos, mood enhancing but not overbearing keyboards, and more hooks than a coat rack. Enter ShadowQuest with a pedigree worthy of any metal fan’s attention: vocalist Patrik Johansson (Bloodbound), guitarist Peter Huss (Shining/Sinergy), Ragnar Widerberg (Witherscape), keyboardist Kaspar Dahlqvist (Dionysus/Ride the Sky), bassist Jari Kainulainen (MasterPlan/Stratovarius) and drummer Ronny Milianowicz (Dionysus/Saint Deamon/Sinergy). I dare not give the stigma of being a “supergroup,” but it makes no difference. There is so much good about this album that it defies the usual baffling zone of mediocrity that comes with the tag. If you come into ShadowQuest expecting that European power metal has now been completely overhauled, you will be sadly disappointed. What you will find is that elements borrowed from the band members’ past history and those of the greats who came before make “Armoured IV Pain” an incredibly enjoyable, memorable, and exciting debut.
On its face, you may gloss over “Armoured IV Pain” with the thought that it’s all been done before and there aren’t enough new ideas brought to the table. Technically, you would be right…this is unapologetically European power with not even a scintilla of material that would please fans of extreme metal. However, for those power metal fans that drone about how mediocre the style has become, if you dissect the songs even further, there are clear nuances like beefier grinding riffs that create a heavier atmosphere, fluid natural time changes, and highly memorable melodic bridges and choruses. The entire album is bound together by Dahlqvist’s ear popping – but not mega-overpowering – keyboard work and Johansson’s vocals that transcend any other singer not named Rob Halford.
First off, the outstanding: “Where Memories Grow” – with its punchy riff and symphonic power chorus tops the list of the album’s best tracks. “Blood of the Pure” is a perfect opener – providing power and speed that sets the tone for the album. “We Bring Power” is the heaviest of the lot, showcasing those beefier power thrash riffs from Huss/Widerberg. “All One” is the prototypical speed metal tune, borrowing so heavily from Johansson’s Bloodbound that its nearly indistinguishable…not that it’s a bad thing. His vocals on this track alone are a clinic on effortless delivery, perfect pitch and outstanding range. Patrik is by far in the upper echelon of vocalist both present, past, and likely future.
“Live Again” is so ridiculously over the top Stratovarius sounding that when it starts listeners will swear that Jens Johannson is on keys playing the beginning of “Hunting High and Low.” However, there is intent to this, as it represents the band’s tribute to ex-Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki, who had assisted drummer Ronny Milanowicz – also the producer of the album – during the production. Internally, the band calls the track “Anima Mundi, Part II.”
“Armoured IV Pain” is a stellar debut, with a stellar cast of musicians. While they don’t break many boundaries and stick to the European power metal formula, they don’t apologize for it…and pull off incredible performances to boot. With masterful production by Milanowicz, there isn’t much a fan of the style won’t find interesting. The real weapon is arguably the best voice in metal today, Patrik Johansson – who instantly makes every band 10x better.
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