Regardless of whether you think the name is kitschy or cool (I’m still undecided myself), the fact remains that Don’t Drop the Sword have released one of the more exciting debut albums I have stumbled across in some time. The Bavarian quartet has made remarkable strides in a very short period of time. Indeed, Don’t Drop the Sword formed in 2016, released an excellent self-financed EP entitled Into the Fire in early 2017, and followed that effort with a full-length album called Path to Eternity in December 2017, all without formal record label backing. Although many fledgling acts struggle with carving out a musical identity and settling on a creative direction, Don’t Drop the Sword display a formidable laser-beam focus on their chosen sound and style, which is stripped-down, guitar-oriented, vintage ‘90s-era German power metal not far removed from the sonic territory occupied by their contemporary countrymen Evertale. The Into the Fire EP offered glimmers of brilliance, but Path to Eternity is a bold step forward in all respects and shows the band hitting its stride and ready to ascend to the elite level.
The obvious signpost band here is Blind Guardian, circa the Tales from the Twilight World to Nightfall in Middle Earth period. Vocalist Anti has a characteristic young Hansi Kursch timbre to his voice, albeit generally smoother, cleaner and less strained than the bard from Krefeld. And it’s impossible to hear a song like “Rotten Wings” without being instantly reminded of Blind Guardian, particularly the infectious swelling repetitive chorus which captures the magic of tunes like BG’s “Nightfall.” The band even try their hand at an acoustic folky BG-styled ballad (a la “Bard’s Song” or “A Past and Future Secret”) in the form of “Jester’s Tears,” with considerable success as evidenced by the goosebumps it induces. Many of the songs include guitar and vocal melodies in that trademark Olbrich/Kursch vein. Lyrics are steeped in traditional fantasy themes, including such familiar but welcome source material as The Dark Tower (“We Deal in Lead”), Lord of the Rings (“To the Proud a Grave,” about the mines of Moria), Homer’s Odyssey (“Siren Song”) and Game of Thrones (“Blood will Decide”). All of that said, it would be unfair to write off Don’t Drop the Sword as a mere clone. Their songwriting is generally straighter and more direct and to-the-point than Blind Guardian’s, the style of lead guitar playing is markedly different than Andre Olbrich, and elements of bands like early Running Wild (“Blood Will Decide”) and Hammerfall also crop up in Don’t Drop the Sword’s writing. Thankfully, the material on Path to Eternity leans heavily in favor of speedy numbers, as evidenced by the likes of “Path to Eternity,” “Guardians of Light,” “Wastelands of War,” “Hero of All Times,” and the ripping middle section of “Banished to Nightly Realms.” Perhaps the crown jewel of the entire album is track 12, “King of the Dragon Age,” a sub-4 minute adrenaline-rush hammer of a track, with torrents of speed, a brilliant chorus, a devastating mid-tempo bridge, a stirring solo section, and a magnificent vocal performance throughout. Assuming the drummer could get through the track without collapsing from exhaustion, “King of the Dragon Age” would surely bring the house down in a live setting. Wow! This is German power metal at its most exhilarating.
If there’s a knock on Path to Eternity, it’s that the prolific Bavarians just might have overdelivered here. At 14 songs and nearly 64 minutes, this album (which was released a mere 10 months after the 5-song Into the Fire, with no overlap in tracklisting) is a bit of an endurance test. Not all the songs are diamonds, although none are throwaways and all have merit. With judicious editing (say, 11 songs and 50 minutes), Path to Eternity could have packed an even more potent, concentrated punch than it did. But don’t let this minor nit dissuade you. Fans of German power metal, classic Blind Guardian, and current bands like Evertale, Rocka Rollas, Blazon Stone or Judicator just might fall in love with Don’t Drop the Sword’s take on a timeless sound. I know I have.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~