Axenstar – End of All Hope (Ram It Down Records)Wednesday, 1st May 2019
The career arc of a metal band can be lightning quick – or slow and steady – depending on the driving force of the members, the songwriting, and the team they assemble around them. Swedish power metal act Axenstar have been entrenched in the latter category, around since the early 2000’s – their early years spent on Arise Records where albums like Far from Heaven and The Inquisition delivered a steady supply of melodic, European-style tracks that delighted fans of Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica. Shifting into heavier fare while switching labels for The Final Requiem and Aftermath, it’s now been five years between records as we arrive at the seventh album End of All Hope. Changes include a new label with Ram it Down, and a new drummer in Hampus Fasth – as well as a broader musical outlook that doesn’t dismiss the band’s prevailing power metal foundation but adds in some fresh influences to give these ten songs more dynamic diversity as well as staying power.
Right away in the first measures of “Legions” Hampus showcases his power double kick and semi-blasting differences from previous kit men, and yet can still lay down those solid tempo mechanics the listeners demand in the power genre. Magnus Winterwild as a singer has that unique upper register voice – never overreaching for falsettos, seeking out every opportunity for the best chorus harmonies as you’ll hear on “King of Fools” and uplifting keyboard/guitar driven “My Kingdom Come”. The two longest songs “A Moment in Time” and “Of Pain and Misery” appear at the midway and finale points of the record – the former a semi-ballad with airy clean guitar action and a throwback, almost California-like vocal melody penetrating the aural landscape, while the latter features a sinister mid-tempo guitar crunch almost like Metallica circa the black album, an emotive, purposeful lead break that includes circular twin harmonies perfect for audience inclusion and a calmer ending. Often this record has the feel of a mixture of Axenstar’s total discography – intertwining mid-tempo anthems with finesse and striding confidently into the uplifting speedier, power fare, never overstaying in one avenue too long to bore the listener. Fists will pump at the steady, slower double bass and guitar/keyboard groove during personal favorite “The Unholy”, combining the best of Nocturnal Rites and Evergrey even as the instrumental section clicks into fifth gear for a few measures.
The grey colors for the cover art with hints of blood against zombie portraits differ from the typical power metal brightness – and illustrate accurately that Axenstar are a band that see-saw between European and American aspects to their music. End of All Hope consistently gains attention as you peel back the layers listen after listen, as a result placing it very high in their catalog of work and ideal for those who want some bite and dynamic twists in their power metal.