Obscure, but not without value
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I like progressive metal. I really do – but the problem with the style is that once one has become familiar with the well known works, it becomes a bit of a pain in the ass to discover great lesser-known bands. There are thousands of obscure progressive metal bands that didn’t get the chance to leave much of an impact behind and let’s just that I didn’t expect much greatness once I’ve stumbled upon this band.
Fortunately Twilight Kingdom managed to surprise me quite a bit. The Guardian is a decent offering of early progressive metal; not exactly too modern for its time (meaning they don’t resemble Dream Theater much) but quite Fates Warning-like. In fact, this little demo makes me think of what Fates Warning’s Perfect Symmetry would have ended up like if only the band kept their Iron Maiden-esque bag of tricks near hand. There’s quite a flexible amount of riffing present; sometimes you get a firm palm muted chug and other times the lead-riff of Maiden dances around an acrobatic motif that would fit perfectly fine on the aforementioned Fates Warning album itself.
Whereas progressive metal would get more technical and lose some of its emotional appeal over time, plenty of early progressive metal bands actually knew how to craft emotive compositions and Twilight Kingdom were no exception in this area. It also helps that this band were fronted by powerhouse vocalist Christopher Bedell, who avoids the Geoff Tate-esque manners that so many progressive metal singers had picked up and that adds real meaning to these compositions. Not only is the man able to sell a chorus (“Shadow Troops” and “Forever Sacred” being good examples), but the versatility of him shouldn’t be underestimated either. The ending of “Angel to No One” sees Bedell resembling Hansi Kursch to a certain degree; harmonic soaring about nostalgic, if tragic events that are long time gone in a warmer tone with magical effects to boot.
While the style Twilight Kingdom go after works and the vocals are a breath of fresh air, The Guardian does show mixed results when it comes down to pure songwriting skills. “Awakening” starts to drag during the over-enthusiastic solo demonstration (the progressive metal trap!) and “Angel to No One” really shouldn’t be twelve minutes long, although I enjoy the melancholy ending. It really comes down to Christopher Bedell to keep things interesting on that track, as you won’t find much of a hook-y riff present there. There are also instrumentals found on The Guardian that I don’t see the point of much. The random acoustic pickling on “Winter Dreams” certainly doesn’t contribute to the flow of this demo and “Living on Borrowed Time” feels more like a test of patience than a sentimental instrumental piece.
With the criticism out of the way, it’s time to focus on the absolute magical aspects of The Guardian. I had mentioned “Shadow Troops” before and there’s a good reason for it; the track basically sums up the direction progressive metal should have taken, as it combines technical skill with a more down-to-earth approach that sadly got lost over time. With a romantic keyboard line promising something balladry-like, things quickly turn into a bombastic majesty where seductive keys get countered by dramatic riffing and by the time that overwhelming chorus pops up to knock you over, you know you’ve stumbled upon a real treasure. “Forever Scared” was my introduction to Twilight Kingdom and you can bet I was hooked ever since; it’s the most accessible song with a choppy riff verse that leads towards yet another bombastic chorus where the keys add a real sense of warmth to.
Those who crave more progressive metal with some power metal tendencies to boot should probably have a good time here. The Guardian might not be perfect – but at its best it’s really something to behold and worth to praise.
Release date: April 15th, 1995
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