Twilight ForceWe live in confusing musical times. Bands change styles without warning, key members leave, two bands even exist at the same time with the same name. Familiar, dependable bands can become a disappointment and yet other unexpected artists surprise and thrill in equal measures. Genres cross over like never before, styles mash. Sometimes bands just give up all together. Sometimes it’s hard to know just where to turn next, it’s all just seems so mixed up. Sometimes you just look skyward and ask “Why? Why is nothing as it should be? WHY??”. Then, in the distance, out of the clouds, coming nearer…a shape. Growing larger as it nears you hear the familiar sound of high octane Symphonic Power Metal with soaring vocals, and you realize…could it be…yes it is…it’s…a gigantic stonking big-ass Dragon!!! And all seems right with the world.

For ’tis how it should be! Did not the mighty Metal Wizard Widdlytwiddlybeardface decree that if thou peddles Grandiose Epic Double-kick-driven Flamboyant Symphonic Power Metal it shalt be accompanied by tales of fantasy lands and our fire-breathing brethren aplenty. I’m not sure the bearded one also spake that the band should dress up in hoods and capes and suchlike – but why not eh? In for a Dragon in for a Krona as they probably don’t say in Sweden. Because yes, this is in fact a Swedish band raised on a diet of Rhapsody (pre and post …Of Fire), Sonata Arctica Fairyland and all things Epic Symphonic Metal.

Though this is actually the band’s second album, it’s their first for Nuclear Blast and the band definitely benefit from a trademark enormo-Nuclear Blast production. It’s nicely unexpected that there isn’t a huge, epic intro – we’re launched straight into the first galloping anthem ‘The Battle Of Arcane Might’, dripping with all the Rhapsody-esque keys and rhythms coupled with Fairyland type vocal melodies of the kind I hinted at earlier, which aptly sets the scene for the rest of the album. If you like this one you are in for a treat, an album of the finest uplifting film-soundtrack-edged Symphonic Metal. If you don’t…well, given the evidence on show before you even press play, what were you expecting? The arrangements, technical ability, orchestration, choirs, musicianship and the oh-so important melodies are resplendent in every track, incorporating neoclassical guitar-work, pompous keyboards and a powerful water-tight rhythm section. It’s hard to actually pick anything specifically noteworthy out because Twilight Force have totally nailed just about everything they have set out to do – it just has everything a fan of the genre could want!

Most songs are over 5 minutes and two are around the 10 minute mark…all are epic in one way or another. Being picky if I must, ‘Rise Of The Hero’ hits the whimsy national-anthem-on-speed key a little too hard, and I could probably do without the six minute storytelling waffle before the 2 minute outro (though I get that it’s a continuation of the narration from earlier in the album and the band are probably setting up the next installment of the story). I’m also not a huge fan of the Christmassy undertones to the wonderfully titled ‘Flight Of The Sapphire Dragon’, but it fits with the tone of the other songs on the album and it’s absolutely just personal preference as I prefer the quicker, more manic tracks like ‘To The Stars’ – but if you enjoy the optimism and positivity of Fairyland you will be in (symphonic) metal heaven! Incidentally, on the subject of Fairyland, the vocals are of that comfortable Chris Bay tone rather that the operatic Fabio Leone which helps the musical tricks and theatrics shine through more and gives the band it’s own identity (though there is still a very impressive vocal range on display!).

Twilight Force aren’t a rip-off, ironically in 2016 no-one is really doing the epic fantasy metal (or “adventure metal” as the band prefer), and certainly not this comprehensively. This is an album by (and for) fans of this specific genre and it takes every element to the maximum, aimed at anyone with a penchant for pseudonyms, costumes (I’m sure I spotted some fake pointy ears there that even Mortiis would envy!), dragons and damn fine Symphonic Power Metal of the highest quality (or any of the above). Serious piece of musical craft or harmless frivolous escapism? Probably both, but who cares – just enjoy it.

(8/10  Andy Barker)