Dragonhammer – Obscurity (My Kingdom Music)Tuesday, 17th October 2017
Admiration for sticking to one’s guns, Italian power metal quintet Dragonhammer return for a fourth album Obscurity in a crowded scene that lacks a standout like decades back (wherefore art thou Lost Horizon?). Cautiously approaching these ten tracks because of the musically competent but less than vocally exciting The X Experiment from 2013, there’s always the hope that musicians strive to shore up weaknesses and accentuate the strengths for a stronger final product on the follow-up. After a few spins, it’s obvious that Dragonhammer aim to diversify their power stance with more melody in spots, rearing back to older influences in others – but still not quite hitting that wow factor to impress on a larger scale.
They haven’t totally abandoned the power trademarks – “The Game of Blood” and “Fighting the Beast” containing those triumphant keyboard strains, charging guitars, and double bass flurries that align to all who yearn for classic Labyrinth or Stratovarius. Bass and organ interplay give “Brother vs Brother” more of that 70’s Rainbow atmosphere, the main transitions and hooks swinging in a mid-tempo, cruise control anthem template (although the semi-shred spot reels it back to neoclassical/power avenues). Darker, more modern accents take shape on “The Town of Evil”, especially in terms of the ping-ponging chord construction and lower register vocal melodies – which actually works quite well for guitarist Max Aguzzi, as he has little problem holding out the notes and adding that extra sinister nuance to the song.
The trouble is, Dragonhammer aren’t doing quite enough to position themselves away from what’s already been done before far better from other acts in their wheelhouse. Acoustic tenderness can’t save the weak phrasing for “Remember My Name” as a second half ballad, while the predictable marching strains and pipe/church organ passages for “Under the Vatican’s Ground” could signal waning album interest or necessitate a track shuffle, Max struggling to get the title out in the chorus clearly. Obscurity shows small improvements, but makes one wonder how much will it take to bring the band beyond hometown heroes.