Human Fortress launched their career with two well-aimed, iron-tipped, power metal ballistae — and the second of those, 2003’s Defenders of the Crown, could easily make my all-time top ten albums from that genre. The medieval-coated piece of genius was fortified by doubled-edged guitar and keyboard riffs – as evidenced on the title track – effortlessly melodic gems such as The Valiant as well as the ultra-anthem Gladiators of Rome. The band should have been applauded for the equally risky and experimental (at least by power metal standards) third effort Eternal Empire but instead fans found the switch to a more experimental power-meets-metalcore rock opera approach a little too much and many of them rejected it.
After a flying start the band was floundering, buffeted by the black winds of fate and line-up changes which seem to have left the band increasingly without focus. Band members have come and gone and the much maligned Eternal Empire from 2008 has not helped their ongoing cause. The band appears to be back on track with a more stable line-up of solid musicians. But, now on their fifth album, the band seems to have suffered the slings and arrows by heading firmly for the middle of the road.
If the last album, 2013’s Raided Land, saw them just about clawing back from their nadir, Thieves of the Night deserved to be a rallying call for fans still hooked on those first two beacons in the power metal wastelands by which the band will always be measured. My first reaction is that this is not a bad effort by any means. The first few tracks have something of a Perpetual Flame-era Yngwie about them (okay, minus the excessive twiddling, but Gus Monsanto does a good job of equalling Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens powerful vocals as well as early Human Fortress vocalist Jioti Parcharidis). As you might expect, there are rousing anthems, solid choruses and plenty of fist pumping guitar lines.
The old Human Fortress flame is definitely present in the first half-a-dozen tracks – there are bundles of energy and tracks like Hellrider and the title track contain glimpses of past glories, leaving everything to play for during the second half of the album. Unfortunately, things don’t improve vastly. The quirkiness and inspired risks of the first two (or three) albums have pretty much gone. If this was the debut or even the follow up (which I suppose you could argue it is after the semi-resurrection of the band in 2009) then at least I could argue that there was promise here. But the best I can do is to say this is a solid album with very few stumbles apart from the odd hackneyed miss-step like Dungeons of Doom.
There’s absolutely no question that Human Fortress remains a good band and this will not do their reputation any actual damage. But there are fewer and fewer distinguishing factors to hook on the band as time goes by and, while this is a decent album, the comparisons with old are just too steep to conquer. Long-term fans will still be waiting for the final return of the band and I dare say there will be some who, on reflection, wished they’d left well alone and started afresh with a new band back in 2009.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)