(Skol Records 2015)
Here’s an interesting story. Back in the summer of 2004, a quintet of talented German musicians holed themselves up in a studio in Hamburg and recorded a polished, skillful batch of 13 guitar-oriented melodic heavy metal songs under the moniker of Gothic Fate. The band included in its ranks bassist Uwe Wessel, who had been a member of Gamma Ray in the early 1990s for the ‘Heading for Tomorrow’ and ‘Sigh No More’ albums, with five songwriting credits to his name on the latter disc (including sole music credit for “Start Running,” for example). For unknown reasons, however, the Gothic Fate album was shelved, despite the strength of the material and performances, the totally pro recording job, and the stylistic alignment of the material with the heavier, more serious Euro power metal offerings of the day. More than a decade later, Bart Gabriel and Skol Records have dusted off the tapes, tweaked the sound with a proper mastering job, and released the Gothic Fate recordings to the world.
Because Skol Records has predominantly focused on old-school traditional metal releases, it bears noting from the outset that, while Gothic Fate’s music embedded hints of that sound, the band were mostly cut from a different cloth. Indeed, the most apt comparisons that come to mind in listening to ‘Illuminati’ are bands like Nocturnal Rites, Breed-era Tad Morose, Heavens Gate and more intelligent/refined Dream Evil output, with a smattering of Gamma Ray here and there. No, this definitely isn’t musty early ‘80s sounding stuff, but neither is it happy, tralala German metal a la Edguy or something either. The midrange vocals of Darius Schuler are clear, powerful, smooth and confident, reminding a bit of guys like Niklas Isfeldt (Dream Evil) and Anders Zackrisson (Nocturnal Rites) in places. Songs are mostly in the 4-5 minute range, propelled by the superb twin guitars of Stefan Harder and Markus Brune, with few traces of keyboards to mar the proceedings. Things shift nicely between mid-tempo and faster songs, with nearly all of the 13 tracks sporting memorable hooks and strong choruses. There’s a trilogy of “Illuminati” songs; however, these numbers work equally well as standalone songs, so you need not get bogged down in the concept to enjoy them. There are no ballads, no fluff, no bloated pomposity, just one well-written German heavy metal song after another. My favorite portion of the album is actually the back end, as Gothic Fate deliver near perfection on each of the last three superb uptempo cuts: “Angel of Sin,” “Mental Damage” and “Pride.”
Someday I’d love to hear the story of why the Gothic Fate album never saw the light of the day back in 2004, when it should have. I can’t imagine that lack of record label interest could be to blame, as there’s too much talent on display here and, besides, this was during the height of the Euro power metal heyday when there was a strong market for this type of music. My suspicion would be that band member relationships soured, or a key member lost interest, or something along those lines, although I am only speculating. Whatever the reason, it’s a pity because ‘Illuminati’ is an excellent record. Many thanks go out to Skol Records for excavating and shining a light on this forgotten gem. With the retro hysteria seemingly showing hints of running out of steam, I’d love to hear more bands tackling this guitar-driven melodic power metal style at which the Germans and Swedens excelled so greatly a decade or so ago, and of which Gothic Fate were a fine example. What I’d really love, though, is for the Gothic Fate members to get back together again and see if they can rekindle the magic of ‘Illuminati’ more than a decade after the fact.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~