Released: 2007, Napalm Records
Hailing from the United Kingdom, the land where heavy metal was born in the shadow of the foundries, are Intense, a band who must be under a lot of pressure just attempting to live up to their moniker. Not exactly a whirlwind of productivity, Intense has only released one EP and one other full-length album in the past ten years, but unlike some bands who only take baby steps from album to album, the group has managed to make a quantum leap forward in quality over the past decade, delivering a platter of exceptionally good - if not incredibly original - thrash-tinged power metal with plenty of melody layered into the mix. Producer Karl Grooms (guitarist for the prog-metal group Threshold) handled the knob-turning for AS OUR ARMY GROWS, giving it a polished, clear, and most importantly HEAVY sound that serves up the band's hook-laden riffs, melodic themes, and excellent vocals near-perfectly. Fellow Threshold member Rich West also participates, contributing atmospheric keyboard lines.
Clocking in at just over 53 minutes, some of the band's primary influences can be figured out in approximately the first twenty seconds or so of opening track "Anger Of The Ancients." The first and most obvious echoes you'll hear are of the Barlow-era Iced Earth albums with stacatto-gallop riffs, energetic drumming, and the superb vocals of Sean Hetherington, whose range and style of delivery remind me a bit of Barlow himself, though in the more choral sections of various songs he also reminds me a bit of Vanishing Point vocalist Silvio Massaro. In and amongst the riffs are interspersed numerous blazing lead guitar passages from Nick Palmer and Dave Peak, both of whom deliver plenty of speed and ferocity in their playing but never taking the focus away from the strength of the song.
As the album progresses the band begins to blend in some of their other inspirations, with nods and often full-fledged horn-throws to the glory days of Iron Maiden and a hint of Nevermore here and there. The epic "Our Last Hope" in particular reminds me of Maiden with its dual-guitar harmonies, huge choruses, and monstrous mid-track break. "Insanity's Call" is another standout track with its melancholic, self-questioning lyrics and melodic, emotional guitar work, though in truth it's difficult for me to pick any favorites on the album as there isn't a single weak song on here. I do have to give them extra credit for the three-part "Chronicles Of The New Flesh," which brilliantly adapts the mind-bending insanity of the cult film classic "Videodrome" into an eighteen-minute rollercoaster that delves into some decidedly prog-metal territory in parts and delivers the album's best and most melodic chorus in its second act.
Is it possible for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts? It's difficult to tell in this case, for while Intense wear their influences a little too prominently on their black T-shirt sleeves, they wear them proudly and they make them look like they belong there. If you've been listening to metal long enough, AS OUR ARMY GROWS won't be anything you haven't heard before, but all the memories it will bring up will be good ones.