Nightmare, "The Dominion Gate"
On "The Dominion Gate", France's Nightmare has shifted gears from the "modern" prog metal approach that they took on their last release, "The Silent Room" and re-embraced their epic, double bass-based Euro power metal style found on 2001's "Cosmovision". True, Euro power 'tis a style that is super saturated by second, third, fourth and twentieth tier wanna-be bands, but Nightmare, when they're on, are absolutely top notch at this style, thus the focus of their last album disappointed me as I like some light alongside the darkness - for contrasts sake, if nothing else.
Nightmare has been around for over two and a half decades (getting started back in 1979), so it's cool that they're still experimenting with their sound, but I for one am glad to have the '01 version of the band back, pounding out the glorious power metal. As the album wears on, the group does embrace the darker riffs and techno keyboard bits found on "The Silent Room", thus the approach on "The Dominion Gate" isn't purely happy double bass galloping but a combo of both styles. Not unexpectedly, the two approaches work much better when juxtaposed against one another, giving the grandiose, choir-based tracks more loft and the modern, bass-heavy pounders more weight. This was a great path to take as it will appease fans of both styles (and hopefully the guys in the band as well).
The sound is best described as brooding, bass-heavy American power metal combined with galloping, cheerful Euro power metal. Tempo shifts from track to track, but few songs combine multiple elements of the band's sound (perhaps something to work on next time) - you either get speedy, choir-enhanced anthems or plodding, menacing dirges. Vocals are mid-to-upper range, very gritty and quite powerful. Jo Amore does not reach for notes that he cannot hit comfortably, a mark of professionalism from a veteran act. There aren't any inventive riffs, but the focus is either on melody or mood, and thus the axes provide suitable accompaniment. Solos typically follow the same blueprint, opting more for melody and harmony rather than flashy virtuosity.
Production is solid, though the cymbals sound too tinsely to me. The mix is vocal-heavy (perhaps at too much expense to the guitars), but I'm pleased that the keyboards are usually left in the midrange or background and never become too obtrusive - this provides ethereal support that enhances the mood rather than detracting from it. The album is comprised of 13 tracks that clock in at almost 66 minutes, so there's a lot of material here - not every song is a winner, but when trying to pick my top four I circled seven potential tracks - so over half of them rate highly with me.
I never heard of these guys until "Cosmovision" came out back in '01, and at the time, I felt they were the most underrated power metal band on the planet. While their last release left me wanting, "The Dominion Gate" is another great trad/power metal release, whether you dig the Euro or American style - and if you like both (as I do), "The Dominion Gate" is well worth seeking out.
Temple of Tears