Axenstar – Chapter VIII (Inner Wound Recordings)Wednesday, 29th November 2023
Swedish power metal veterans Axenstar shifts back to their previous label Inner Wound Recordings who released Where Dreams Are Forgotten nine years ago for this eighth studio record Chapter VIII. Gaining another new drummer in Pelle Åkerlind (also with Morgana Lefay), it’s always exciting to hear what the next set of material will sound like given the already strong discography present – especially for those listeners who love classic Scandinavian meets Teutonic influences from the 90’s/early 2000’s. The quartet led by bassist/vocalist Magnus Winterwild continues to unleash the versatile mix of mid-tempo to speeder anthems, while adding some epic/folk angles as necessary that diversify the atmosphere to make for a solid top to bottom effort.
There seems to be an extra level of emphasis when it comes to the vocal harmony layers and crunchy guitar rhythms to allow Pelle as a drummer flexibility to settle into comfortable grooves for certain passages, then accelerate his powerhouse double kick / kit abilities as you’ll hear in early highlight “The Great Deceiver”. The lightning quick guitar runs along with stunted, jumpy main rhythms should galvanize all the power mavens for “No Surrender” as well as opener “Heavenly Symphony” – Magnus pushing his upper note range as necessary during many of the trailing verse/chorus moments. Extended headbanging angles appear in the longer instrumental sequence for “Holy Land”, the additional melodic spotlights rich in supreme hook emphasis. Helloween, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, and classic Labyrinth would be four obvious reference points for what you can expect from Axenstar in terms of songwriting, yet it’s not a mere ‘cut to paste’ clinic as these gentlemen synthesis these influences into their own catchy take while still remembering that there’s metal to be delivered (check out the chugging flow of “The War Within” near the record’s back half). Seeking out Mezzrow guitarist Ronnie Björnström for the mixing/mastering (he’s worked in this capacity for Nightrage and Sorcerer among others) gives the record that extra feather on the cap, crisp while not losing any of the heaviness in terms of the final sonic quality.
Axenstar remains a personal favorite to this scribe when needing a pick me up for European power metal. Chapter VIII encompasses all phases of the group’s versatility and should be another highlight to treasure while adding a few more mandatory songs to the growing live setlist.