1999, Osmose Records
After listening to this album the first few times, I was ready to start this review by evoking the Gothenburg scene and soundly cursing the entire notion of bands being 'influenced' (read: stealing riffs from) by other bands. I wasn't prepared for the amount of Iron Maiden/Accept/Judas Priest on this album at all: or rather, I don't know exactly where or when it dropped into the Swordmaster equation. Whatever happened to 'Postmortem Tales'? The supposed Slayer influence that everyone was always mentioning? But after calming down, listening to the record a few more times, and really paying attention to what is going on here - what the musicians are offering, what they are saying with their instruments - I feel it would be somewhat of a crime (albeit a very minor one) to just dismiss them by referring you to other bands. Arch Enemy this is not.
What sticks in your craw the first few spins, and later comes to define this entire album, are the disparate elements. There are two options, as far as I can see: either Swordmaster do want to belong to that whole NWOSDM scene, and just can't manage to tone down their instinctive brutality enough to convert their sound to saccharine sweetness, or they are just going their own way, not forsaking the music that obviously surrounds them on all sides, but not exactly jumping on the bandwagon either. I'd like to think it was the latter. The drumming, pushed a little back in the mix, is often just too fast for trendy comfort, and the vocals are just a slight bit harsher than you would expect. The rhythm riffing is supremely tight, expert, and never more complex than it has to be in order to carry the songs forward - in that post-thrash At The Gates style where the guitarists are evoking an entire generation of thrash metal while not really referring to anything in particular (a Swedish specialty). In the end this means that this entire album blends together in your mind - individual tracks are difficult to pick out. What stands out, again, over this is the completely atypical solo work - some of the solos are actually quite good, but they are all very flashy and supremely 'correct' in approach for this style of music - in other words they don't take chances or offer anything new. Take the fifth song, for example, the oddly named 'Sulphur Skelethrones' - there is soloing spread all over the course of this track's three minute running time, but none of these shining moments really add up to anything more than a decoration, a sort of window-dressing to round out the song structure. This album was produced by Andy La Rocque (of King Diamond fame), and I wonder exactly how much he had to do with the production of the solo guitar - or what part he played in the recording of those parts.
Ultimately I would recommend this album to those of you who just can't get enough of the Swedish sound, or to the people who have been warned away from the NWOSDM scene because of its overt melodicism. This may be the album to change your mind - or it may not be at all.