Metal-CD-Review: DRAGONLAND – Under The Grey Banner (2011)
Country: Sweden – Genre: Epic Symphonic Power Metal
- Shadow Of The Mithril Mountains
- The Tempest
- A Thousand Towers White
- Fire And Brimstone
- The Black Mare
- Lady Of Goldenwood
- Dûrnir’s Forge
- The Trials Of Mount Farnor
- Throne Of Bones
- Under The Grey Banner
- Ivory Shores
‘Please guide me, to a land so far away !’
Foreword: Do you know these kind of (metal) albums, which you have been straightforward longing for ? In some cases a ‘waiting period’ can last very long, with Dragonland certainly being a relevant band here. It has been a few years already: a mysterious audio file had been posted in some forums and to youtube, entitled Shadow Of the Mithril Mountains. It referred to a new and upcoming album, formerly entitled The Return – a mighty and glorious return of a Swedish band that now took place with Under The Grey Banner.
Review: The intro begins, starting with some calm and very film-music orientated musical moments. Indeed, if we’d imagine the intro as a soundtrack for a movie, the genre would most likely be fantasy – an impression which will draw itself through the whole album. This ‘calm before the storm’ is firstly interrupted when the ‘dragon awakens’ – according to the imagery movie sequence, the images that’ll run through your head; the ‘action’ begins.
A smooth transition to the opener, the mighty Shadow Of The Mithril Mountais leads us to the first narrative passage, spoken by a perfectly fitting moody female speaker. Then there is the first enlightening moment of the album, so to speak – the first instrumental passage comes in in full denisity. And power – it has been a long time that a band created such a ‘brute’ opening moment of a single track. Well, what follows should be somehow known to true Dragonland fans – Shadow Of Mithril Mountains has been published earlier, more precisely as the first snippet ever when it comes to the album. But still, there are some surprises, naturally in an overall positive meaning: the production quality improved a lot, the track has finally received it’s final mastering version. You should listen carefully to catch all the samples and great musical tunes – this opener is nothing less than a timeless masterpiece. A somehow ‘demanding’, too – referring to the lyrics and the expression of the lead singer.
The following The Tempest is an unusual track, at least according to the usual procedures and compositions of traditional Symphonic Power Metal songs – it should the listener take some time to fully ‘get into’ this one, since it doesn’t come along with a totally melodic, but rather a little disharmonious (depends on the listener) refrain. It’s hard to express, but once again thinking of Under The Grey Banner as a movie – it all makes sense, and is existant for a reason.
A Thousand Towers White is the title to follow. It indeeds comes along very smoothly and melodic, letting the listener enjoy the nice lyrics and music – but at the same time letting him hope for a certain ‘highlight’ within the song. And this time it can be found shortly after minute 2.00, in form of a nice and diversified passage full of musical highs and depths. Well, this title turns out to be an interesting one, but certainly it is none of the strongest. Since there are other candidates for this rank – like the upcoming Fire And Brimstone. Here we have another track that has been released previously and in terms of previewing the album – a perfectly good choice, if you’d ask me. Fire And Brimstone combines the subtle epicness of Shadow Of Mithril Mountains with some rather melodramatic and emotional moments, all garnished with some smooth guitar and instrumental passages. Also, there are certain aspects of an extended storytelling, in form of an additional singer / speaker. A strong one !
What about The Black Mare then ? Well, after some very impressionable moments within the opener this is the time I can once again say: wow. This is Symphonic Power / Fantasy Metal to its fullest – here we all aspects that made this genre so popular. And somehow over-flooded – but listening to the refrain if The Black Mare, Dragonland definitely manage to outshine many of their competitors. Of course, an epic and catchy refrain is not the only thing that makes a Draglonland song great (that would be way too easy), but buying the album one can definitely be sure that these guys have made their thoughts on how to keep the listeners entertained. An instrumental that would be great even without any lyrics, epic and timeless. And a lead singer, who is at the climax of his capacities.
After this bunch of ‘epic’ tracks the following Lady Of Goldenwood leads the impression into another direction and presents another facet of Dragonland‘s abilities. This title is rather set up as an ‘advanced ballad’, so to speak – it is rather calm and dramatic, with less speed and force – but with much more sentiment instead. Later on there once again is the voice of the lady that has also introduced the audience to title #2, Shadow Of Mithril Mountains – a pleasure, and at last a certain epic touch to this one; making it diversified and ‘fresh’ in all manners.
There are no tracks that sound very much alike on Under The Grey Banner – what is good, hence the mighty Durnir’s Forge serves the devotees of the more heavy and solemn side of Dragonland. A heavy instrumental with loads of harsh riffs delivers a great feeling for the pure power of Dragonland and its forces. Outstanding: the moment when a bunch of man sing in an interesting manner, with the overall melody somehow ‘correcting’ the harshness of their low-pitched voices.
The Trials Of Mount Farnor could once again be classified as a ture film-score: it sounds, no; it is a soundtrack to a good fantasy movie ! Naturally, at best in the (dark and speedup) instrumental moments, but the lead singer also delivers his part to the total impression, which is just awe-inspiring.
Speaking of film-music-like musical moments, how about the interlude Throne Of Bones then ? It indeed is a rather short, but bloody effective piece of art, with a very ambitioned guest singer. It just perfectly fits into the mood of this ‘orchestral’ album !
Under The Grey Banner is the title track to follow as the number 11, and: it is just mercilessly epic. Just like within the discography of Rhapsody Of Fire, this one somehow breaks off the others, being much more darker and audio-drama orientated. Guest singers, tons of alternations, instrumental passages, a mixture of calm and epic moments and narrative passages… well, well – Dragonland just made my day. The outro Ivory Shores almost and literally manages to carry the listener over, far away to new and undiscovered shores of hope… let’s catch some breath here.
Summary: Dragonland plus Under The Grey Banner – two terms and definitions that already have, and will become even more important and mentionable when speaking of the (musical) year 2011. It truly is a nice solace (for the long waiting time) to finally own one of the strongest Symphonic Power Metal albums of 2011, if not even all-time. A perfect production quality, a nice artwork and concept are completing the overall impression as if it was nothing – however, the music itself (the instrumental arrangements, the lyrics, the voices, the mastering and… this incredible epicness) is what matters most. And in this case Dragonland just left me speechless here. I am not exaggerating when saying this: Rhapsody Of Fire had their time on the stage, let’s clear it for Dragonland. Pass the mighty scepter over, going all over from Italy to Sweden… and keep the metal spirit alive.