Released: 2012, Dragonheart
Back in September, 2012 I took a look at some new, underground Italian Power Metal bands in a five CD review feature. This month we are going to look back at 2012 and some of the titans of Italian Power Metal who released albums this year. They are Elvenking, Rhapsody, Skylark, Thy Majestie, and White Skull. I call them ‘titans’ because all these bands have been around for 15 years or more and are all in that 5 - 9 album zone…pretty impressive! We also reviewed the new Secret Sphere and Vision Divine last month who also meet this criteria. Enjoy!
Despite being around for almost 25 years and having nine full-length albums White Skull still remains a bit of a lesser-known commodity in the international Metal scene. It could be the label factor starting on the small (but very cool and high quality) label Underground symphony, they moved onto Frontiers which didn’t have North American distribution for many years and then they briefly stuck their head out of the underground, signing to Nuclear Blast for two albums, (PUBLIC GLORY, SECRET AGONY and TALES FROM THE NORTH) then back to Dragonheart, another cool label but small and again, no North American distro. I don’t think the band has toured much outside Italy and gets very little press to my recollection. Even on our own site we have only reviewed two of the nine albums, which is our shame because they are a very good band that deserve, in my opinion, more attention. The band has also struggled to maintain an identity perhaps because of constant lineup changes.
One of the key things to note in regards to UNDER THIS FLAG is the return of original vocalist Fredrica. She left the band in 2000 to be replaced by Gustavo for three albums and then Elisa for the last studio but Fredrica is back, which fits nicely as she is a supremely talented vocalist who rarely gets mentioned in conversations about gender and vocals. She does a great job on the mid-tempo cut, ‘Angel Of Death’, which almost wanders into power ballad territory. The core of Tony (guitar) and Alex (drums) are still present, although they have cropped their keyboardist and streamlined done to a quintet.
White Skull founded in 1988 (!) but really didn’t get going until their debut in 1995 which puts them squarely in the small (but loyal) cadre of bands that invigorated Power Metal in the doldrums of the mid-90’s. I recall picking up their Underground Symphony stuff and just being thoroughly impressed by the bands dedication to a true Metal sound. So here we are in 2012 and they have delivered another classic example of real Metal. It’s nice to see the logo still in place and their symbol (a white skull naturally) on the cover.
UNDER THIS FLAG is real classic Metal based on the 80’s Priest/Maiden template and with the 90’s Power Metal speed driven by double-kick some of the time. The songs are conventional, not too many flourishes, not many audio extras in terms of instrumentation, choirs, violins, etc, but what they lack in diversity they make up for in great songs and performances. Check out the mid-paced, yet classic, metal guitar solo on ‘Prisoners Of War’. These Italians sound almost Germanic and could fit nicely next to your Grave Digger and Running Wild albums. The pace on the album is mostly mid-pace to fast and the production and guitar tone are very commendable.
I’m pleased these guys have the tenacity and courage to keep going in a tough and crowded Power Metal market that has not been to kind to them. The term under-rated truly applies here and UNDER THIS FLAG may convince you of just that.