It never ceases to amaze me how the world of heavy metal knows no boundaries, no borders, no politics, and no geographic limits. Latest case in point: Strident, who are billed as South Africa’s premier power metal act. When I ordered the CD from the band, it occurred to me that despite the scores of music-related parcels I have received from around the world over the years, I had never previously received one from the continent of Africa. Wow. Any preconceived notion I might have had that the music, production, artwork, packaging, or overall presentation would be amateurish, hamfisted or underdeveloped because Strident created this album in such a remote part of the world, far removed from the heartbeat of the heavy metal genre, could not have been further off the mark. ‘When Gods Walked the Earth’ is an utterly professional, skillfully executed slab of melodic power metal that can hold its own against the rosters of esteemed metal labels like AFM, Napalm or even Nuclear Blast.
Led by vocalist/guitarist Deon van Heerden, Strident have actually been a going concern for the better part of a decade. ‘When Gods Walked the Earth’ is the band’s second full-length album, and it fits squarely in the Euro power metal mold. The album is pompous, it’s bombastic (sometimes overwrought, even), and it’s propelled by huge melodies and layers of keyboards over fleet-fingered guitars that could benefit from being louder in the mix. The vocals are particularly noteworthy, as van Heerden’s voice is crystal-clear, distinctive, expressive and dramatic, sitting in a comfortable mid-range without ever straining, wavering or losing control. An intriguing feature of ‘When Gods Walked the Earth’ is the fact that the material is diverse, while remaining under the Euro power metal banner. Want a faster, feel-good Gamma Ray / early Edguy type song? Look no further than “The Light in the Darkness.” A shameless pirate song that would make Alestorm blush? Your answer is “A Pirate’s Life for Me” (sample lyrics include “A young lass may be pretty / but my mistress is the sea” and “Hi-dee-dee, and a fiddle-dee-day / a pirate’s life for me, hey!”). A somber, pounding, midtempo epic? Check out “Pro Patria Mori,” probably my favorite song on the album, with its “march” chants, wicked soloing, and relentless groove a la some of Sabaton’s better moments. “Blood of the Sun” takes on a little of that Angra tribal influence, “Oblivion” is a Kamelot-style dramatic, brooding duet between van Heerden and female singer Grethe van der Merwe, and bonus track “Broforce” sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon anthem, with silly lyrics about “kicking ass for justice and for liberty.” So there’s a little something for everybody in Strident’s 9-song, 55-minute attack, provided you like Euro-style melodic power metal with lots of keyboards.
On the one hand, it’s impressive that Strident have demonstrated such proficiency at so many sub-genres. On the other hand, I can see how some listeners might be frustrated at the chameleonic approach employed here. ‘When Gods Walked the Earth’ comes across as something of a pastiche, a cross-section of the Euro power metal style, without ever committing to a particular flavor. Honestly, there were times I found myself wishing that the guitars were louder, the vocals more aggressive/ powerful, the songcraft more cohesive, and the arrangements more streamlined (all seven proper songs exceed five minutes in length, with three topping out above seven minutes). But none of this takes away from Strident’s fine accomplishments here. ‘When Gods Walked the Earth’ should put South Africa on the global power metal map and raise some eyebrows in the USA and, especially, in Europe. Maybe Walt Disney had it right all along when he said it’s a small world after all.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~