In all probability my ageing brain is fading but I am struggling think of British power metal bands. I did come up in my deliberations with Bal-Sagoth, and to a point there is a comparison here as Isle of Avalon promise classic fantasy tales of courtship, chivalry and legend. Arthurian legends appear to be the band’s bag, as their name suggests.

I started this quest by listening to the title track on youtube. I’m glad I did because it dispelled my silent fears that this was all going to be a lot of pomp and bombast about Arthurian times. Only Rick Wakeman can pull that off. I’ll come back to him later. In fact “Tulgey Wood” is a creative song and video, based on Alice in Wonderland, which is where the said wood is. It’s symphonically power metal of course but it has a humour and lightness of touch. I like that.

My perhaps warped but plentiful experience of power metal in general is that the template involves several songs of double picked jollity, cheese and bombast, with a tedious power ballad thrown in. Here I sensed a ray of hope as the keyboard led us through the epic and of course rapid fire “Questing Beast”. It’s a catchy song. The vocals are what you might expect: representative of courage and heroism. The chorus is where it’s at. Oddly, I thought the vocals were understated but I didn’t mind that as it gave more exposure to the catchy song. Following this is “Tulgey Wood”. Where first time I concentrated on the video, I found that when I listened to the music more closely, it is sinister and full of dark surprises – black metal, even. Again a plus point of this band is that whilst there’s all this chivalry, hitherto they hadn’t exaggerated the point, to the benefit of their songs and structures. “Tirra Lirra” is a jolly sing-a-long with a dark background – not exceptional as a song but interesting and pleasant enough. “Lyre of Lyonesse” invites us into the king’s court. I’m not sure why they didn’t use the flute, as this male-female duet is essentially a mediaeval folk song, that is until blossoms pointlessly into a power metal epic. Perhaps I am guilty of not paying attention to the story here but after a promising start “Lyre of Lyonesse” came across to me as contrived.

Now there’s talk of “the golden age of chivalry and the knights of table rounde” – I’m assuming the added “e”. I was face to face with my fear: lashings of cheese in a mock epic framework. Musically it’s bouncy enough and there’s a really good guitar solo, but if you’re looking for something unoriginal, try “Kingsword”. “Queen of Two Kingdoms” follows the theme but it’s a dreary song. So too “A Sword, A Horse, A Shield”, which threatens to burst into life but doesn’t happen. I was finding that in the relentless quest to meet the Arthurian theme, this album had lost its spirit.

Ah, that’s better. “Trueborn” starts as a power metal romp but unfortunately it reverts to a dark and wordy tale about the true born king, mercifully picking up again in the rampant style of the genre to save the day. I’m not sure why sword casting only merited 50 seconds or so, but at least Isle of Avalon come back with a refreshing bit of mystery and power in the form of “Castle Argent”. This would have made a good and rousing end, but stuck on was a cover of Rick Wakeman’s “Arthur” from “The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table” (1975). That brought back a memory or two. It is entirely appropriate and it’s a good rendition of this classic. It also highlighted for me how much better Mr Wakeman was at creating an exciting and epic framework than Isle of Avalon. Suddenly I was being lifted into higher spheres.

By the way Isle of Avalon have a Greek vocalist so my search for a fully UK power metal band continues. That’s absolutely fine of course. Musically “Tulgey Wood and the Table Rounde” is fine when Isle of Avalon let themselves go but really I think they need to open up the theme as in my book the pursuit of Arthurian elements just created a constraint to their creativity.

(6/10 Andrew Doherty)