Review: ShadowStrike’s Infinite Power Suggests Infinite Potential
It’s been a very good year for USPM (US Power Metal for the unread plebeian). If nothing else, you could chalk that victory up to Noble Beast’s killer debut back in March. I put that thing on perpetual repeat for the following four months and made very little room for anything else. I regret that for one reason, and one reason only — now I’m late to the ShadowStrike party and all the fucking hats are taken.
I know what
some of you most of you all but one of you are probably thinking: I hate power metal. You guys are so predictable. A wise, universally-respected man once said “If you don’t like power metal, it’s because you’re insecure.” I’m pretty sure it was Bruce Campbell. If you don’t like Bruce Campbell, I’m pretty sure it was whoever your greatest hero is. So pay attention. Though Infinite Power clocks in at about 40 minutes, ShadowStrike is calling it an EP and perpetuating the recent trend of surprisingly impressive power metal debuts. These Long Island newcomers ride to join the battle for metal with sharpened swords, providing welcome — and much needed — reinforcements.
The intro to “Gales of Winter” builds like a LARP-happy Screaming for Vengeance for about one minute before opening the EP up with both barrels. Soon an electrifying solo segues into a seriously fist-pumping transition which ends up introducing a fairly standard verse. The pre-chorus gallops in to save the day here, and it runs straight to the chorus where it sprouts its powerchord-fueled wings of steel and soars through the synthclouds, as per power metal routine, but with “Emerald Sword“-level triumph. Matt Krais’ singing is the key to ShadowStrike’s choral victory whether you want to believe it or not. Granted, he doesn’t have perfect control, but he operates within a respectably broad range (our very own Randall Thor ashamedly admits to being defeated by him in battles at both ends of the vocal range), and his timbre is just right for this type of power metal — somewhat nasally without being overtly geeky. Fine, it’s overtly geeky. But it works. Like a little Kai-in-training, who hasn’t yet developed the commanding vibrato and inhuman range.
Krais’ enthusiasm is vital. His love of the genre is as obvious as it is contagious, and his ardor elevates every chorus to a level seldom reached, even by more technically proficient singers. When he sings “I will take the sword from the sheath(?) / Remember, never give up on your dreams!” in “Storm of Ages,” every part of your logic will tell you to cringe at the lyrics and slight flatness, but instead you’ll clench your fist, raise it to the skies and think: “Yeah, fuck giving up on dreams!” And if you’re not feeling the chorus in “Winds in the Sky,” I’ll never be alone with you because you’re a sociopath and probably a murderer.
Krais also avoids a problem quite prevalent in many frilly-beshirted power metal vocalists — the lust for the spotlight. When he lets the instruments take the stage, the instruments really take the stage. He and Sean Walls are absolutely excellent guitarists who have no trouble soloing back and forth efficiently for 3-4 minutes at a time without a single second feeling excessive. During “The Journey Begins” they even dabble in Dragonforce territory, which is territory that should only ever be dabbled in. Jon Krais and Alex Coughlin, on bass and drums respectively, keep up throughout.
American though they may be, the boys in ShadowStrike clearly take most of their cues from European power metal and all its keyboard-heavy idiosyncrasy. These dudes pull no punches with the keys and discriminate against no sound effect; 80’s synth-worship, flutes, strings, choirs, and chiptunes all get their airtime, and they all really empower the music. While the two 8-bit-centric songs at the end struck me as cheap at first, it didn’t take too many listens for them to charm the nerd in me (the not-nerd in me, for the record, pretty much equates to dead skin and dandruff flakes) and now I wouldn’t have the songs without them. Album closer “Last Fire World” is both the darkest cut on the record and the most chiptune-laden, which may sound like a discrepancy, but isn’t. It’s more Shadowgate/Castlevania than Contra. If that sentence made sense, you’re a huge nerd too.
ShadowStrike isn’t breaking new ground for power metal with Infinite Power, but it’s a pretty incredible first appearance that has me downright excited for their future. Like Noble Beast’s debut in March, I’m having a hard time putting this one down.