Conquer & Command
It’s always exciting to see a band put all the pieces together. Hailing from Perth, Australia, melodic power metallers Silent Knight already made a very favorable impression with their debut album, ‘Masterplan,’ in 2013. Songs like “Silent Apparitions (In the Night)” and “The Curse of the Black Rose” are top-notch examples of riffy, melodic, uptempo power/heavy metal. That said, while Silent Knight’s talent and enthusiasm were obvious, ‘Masterplan’ definitely showed room for improvement. The band ratcheted up the quality and excitement another notch on last year’s ‘Power Metal Supreme’ EP, which featured an ambitious and jaw-droppingly awesome cover of Helloween’s “Keeper of the Seven Keys.” Honestly, the boys nailed that 13-minute song to perfection, not only hitting the notes but capturing the spirit, the energy, the wonder and the glory of that challenging track. Elsewhere, the EP included one new song (“Prisoner of Your World,” a taster for this new full-length album), and four live ‘Masterplan’ cuts recorded with new singer Jesse Onur Oz.
Fast-forward to September 2015, and Silent Knight have finally unveiled their magnum opus in the form of ‘Conquer& Command.’ Again, I liked everything they had done before. I *love* what they are doing now. Silent Knight have stepped up their game in all respects. The songwriting is absolutely riveting, with tracks like “Empty Threat,” “The Raven’s Return” and the title track being catchier and more focused than the band’s previous work. Oh, and “Power Metal Supreme” is a furious headbanging guitar anthem for the ages, a surefire candidate for song of the year. Across the entire listening experience, energy levels are pegged to the red line, with Silent Knight cranking out the speedy, even thrashy tempos and Schaffer-styled galloping riffs with nary a pause for the listener to catch his breath, save in the short interlude section of the battering ram that is track 6, “The Strike of the Sword.” Singer Jesse fits the band perfectly, possessing the necessary range, conviction and high-pitched screams that these songs deserve. Guitarists Stu McGill and Cam Nicholas put on a clinic of supreme power metal guitar brilliance so compelling that I could spend the entire 46-minute running time just listening to their riffs, harmonies, and scorching solos. Production feels brighter, clearer and more powerful this time around, with choral arrangements that sometimes recall fellow Aussies Dungeon, which is a good thing. The cover artwork is fantastic. Hell, even the intro, “A Call to Arms,” is 83 seconds of heavy metal bliss that sets the stage perfectly for the frenzied melodic metal mastery that is to come.
I will confess to being more than a little skeptical when I saw that the tracklisting for ‘Conquer & Command’ includes a bonus track, in the form of a cover of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” Why have such an overplayed, commercial, AOR tune on a blistering power metal album? Hell, corporate America uses this song to sell car insurance nowadays (ever see that Geico commercial with the dude standing by the microwave in the office breakroom while Tempest & Co. burst into song?). Then I heard Silent Knight’s version, and all doubts were silenced. Woah, this is killer! The keyboard melody sounds 1000x more awesome played on electric guitar, and the double-bass passages and galloping riffage transform the wimpy ‘80s song into a bona fide metal beast. For real. With this power metal makeover, “The Final Countdown” actually ends the album on a high note.
So here’s what you need to know: On ‘Conquer & Command,’ Silent Knight channel the very best of Iced Earth, German power metal masters like Gamma Ray and Helloween at their fastest and heaviest, and the Australian sounds of Lord / Dungeon / Taberah / Darker Half. In doing so, however, Silent Knight avoid coming across as a cheap copy-and-paste tribute to their influences; indeed, they have managed to forge their own sound and style. That sound and style scream awesomeness. It’s an old-school headbanger’s dream come true. My only niggling criticism is that the band go to the alliteration well a few too many times in titling their compositions (“Conquer & Command,” “The Call of the Crow,” “The Strike of the Sword,” “The Raven’s Return,” “One by One”). The question is not whether ‘Conquer & Command’ will make my top 10 list for 2015, but how high in that list it will be. Top 5 seems probable. Listen, I know Australia’s a long ways away for those of us in the USA or Europe. I also know that international distribution of self-released albums can be a tricky proposition. But if you call yourself a fan of speedy, classy, riff-oriented power metal in 2015, then ‘Conquer & Command’ is mandatory listening. Period.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~