The late ‘90s and early 2000s were an amazing time to be a fan of European power metal, with a plethora of bands, both renowned and obscure, mastering and even perfecting the sound; however, that style fell out of fashion, leaving a trail of casualties in its wake. Today, there are precious few purveyors of Euro power metal in its purest form, with most of the originators being either dormant or transmogrified into something inferior. Thankfully, there have been a few glimmers of hope in the last couple of years. Perhaps the most exciting new name to emerge from the primordial ooze is Lancer, a Swedish quintet who proudly proclaim that they are influenced by classic Edguy, Helloween, Gamma Ray and Iron Maiden (in that order). To add to the intrigue, Lancer’s mascot is an ostrich. Not just any ostrich, either. A battle ostrich.
Still with me? I certainly hope so. Don’t be scared off by a battle ostrich. As the title suggests, ‘Second Storm’ is the band’s second album, and their first release on the upstart Despotz Records label (home to Crucified Barbara, Tad Morose, and formerly Civil War). Lancer have a remarkably firm grasp of the Euro power metal sound, with a knack for capturing the feel-good singalong choruses and the “happy” melodies, but also the urgency, the vitality, and the energy for which that genre is renowned. Vocalist Isak Stenvall is often compared to the likes of Bruce Dickinson and Joacim Cans in the metal press; however, I think he’s got his own distinct voice. To be sure, Stenvall is a gifted singer whose pipes are perfectly suited to his chosen style, but he doesn’t sound to me like a clone. The swelling choral arrangements and sugary melodies often sound like the kind of thing Tobias Sammet might have come up with back in the days of ‘Vainglory Opera’ or ‘Theater of Salvation’ (i.e., before Edguy completely lost the plot and became a hollow shell of themselves). The twin guitars are spot-on in terms of melody and harmony, but also retain enough of that Kai Hansen bite to avoid the neutered sound that hamstrings so many power metal bands. The rhythm section shifts deftly between double-bass burners and midtempo pounders with Steve Harris flourishes aplenty. Keyboards are present, but only in the background.
The ingredients to Lancer’s power metal recipe are enticing indeed, but it’s the songwriting that puts them over the top. Not only does the band maintain a ridiculously high level of quality throughout the 9-song, 50-minute running time of ‘Second Storm,’ but they also succeed in achieving an admirable degree of diversity within their chosen stylistic framework, ensuring that the listener can never become bored, even for a second. Want a ripping speedster? “Behind the Walls” is the song for you. A happy anthem guaranteed to put a goofy smile on even the most hardened metalhead’s face? “Masters and Crowns” and “Children of the Storm” should be on your playlist. What about a sprawling epic that’s nearly 10 minutes long? “Aton” is the track you need to hear. The point is simple: On ‘Second Storm,’ Lancer establish themselves as masters of the very best that the European power metal genre has to offer. Fans of the aforementioned bands, plus the likes of early Nocturnal Rites, Steel Attack, Hammerfall, Nostradameus, Morifade, Freternia and Heavens Gate owe it to themselves to check out Lancer without delay. Their self-titled debut album was very good, but ‘Second Storm’ is better; indeed, it is a very strong contender for power metal album of the year. So hop on your battle ostrich and give it a listen, won’t you?
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~