Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sacred Gate - When Eternity Ends

Sacred Gate's debut album, When Eternity Ends, a very acceptable record for the style of Heavy Metal which this German outfit produce. While there is in fact very little to set Sacred Gate aside from numerous other acts, they competently perform an album which is half Iron Maiden gallop and half mid-80's Accept without the notable riffage of the later or the songwriting and twin guitar attack of the former. Regardless, bands of this ilk are difficult to appease my love of the Heavy Metal art form which has been over-tilled like a field in the midwest during the dust-bowl. As average as Sacred Gate is on this album, there are some take-aways to mention. While two or three tracks offer some interest, all of the tracks including those that are better than average lack serious depth. The album was put together nicely and the layout, the production and the sound quality are all extremely professional however it doesn't hide the music's general flavorlessness. When Eternity Ends is like watching a carpenter build a chair that functions perfectly but no one would want to put in their house because he made it out of pressure treated two-by-fours.

The key word with Sacred Gate's When Eternity Ends once again is depth. It's not just limited to Sacred Gate of course. Plenty of modern bands lack this necessary attribute to propel an album from average to above average or better. Depth, as it relates to Heavy Metal can be found in rhythmic variety, melodic variance, harmonizing and playing against other instruments - especially the bass guitar - but there is none of that here. Sacred Gate rarely deviate from typical chugging in common time or triplet Maiden-esque sections. When Peter Beckers, whose bass playing is technically very good on this album, simply follows along predictably against all this - even if he does little fills here and there (all within the 'box') - it sets the album for a very mundane trip down Heavy Metal lane. Melodically, there is also nothing beyond what's presented immediately to the listener. It's all very novice structuring of chord progressions. The album is a great exercise for intonation practice for those that are not good with figuring out notes by ear. I know because I have terrible intonation and it was enjoyable to play along to the tracks to see if I could pick out notes and progressions. When opportunity arises for Sacred Gate to inject some harmonization or dueling leads into the tracks, it never arrives. Halfway through the title track the band goes about twenty seconds after one of the choruses where nothing happens and the rhythm guitars are very thin sounding. This would have been a great place to incorporate some variation or harmonization to build up to the lead afterwards.

More positive recognition goes to the effort put into crafting memorable leads on the album. Nicko Nikolaidis really rips it up in many of the songs with great leads and solos. "The Realm of Hell" for example sets up a kick-ass tapping solo with some finely crafted off-key bends and slides even if underneath this is the limpest rhythmic backing I've heard in a long time. The lead in "Freedom or Death" is also very good and this one has a better backing to it of marching snare drums. Another high point for me was Jim Over's vocals which were really strong across the album. I could see him being really animated and emotional in a live setting with these tracks. His voice has a slight waver which doesn't really come close to a vibrato but it's not totally stiff either. The added bit of sandiness and flex his voice offers is also unique. It's not really similar to a lot of other singers I've heard and that makes the vocals endearing to me. I touched upon the clarity and production value earlier but I'll just note again that it's well done. The guitars are crisp and sound like there has been very little post-production work on them. The drums are set back a little too much for my taste but they are clear and audible. The kick and snare are discernible and with the punchy bass tone and honest guitars, the rhythm side of things are well taken care of. Strangely, the lead tone sounds a lot like the lead tone which Orlok has used lately on the recent Countess albums. Unfortunately Orlok makes no appearance here. That would have made my night.

If you have to ask me, the second half of this disc is better than the first four tracks. Starting with "Freedom or Death," the album seems to take a slightly darker, more foreboding feel. "Freedom..." is the first track that has some more layered riffs and melodic stuff going on. It's essentially a ballad - something the Europeans love - and seems to be the track which Metal on Metal decided to go with as a single as it shows up on the Compendium of Metal Vol. 7 compilation. The song is well written and picks up later on with some leads and solos, touched upon earlier which give the track a bit of life and energy. "In The Heart of the Iron Maiden," shares similarities with "Freedom or Death" and the two pair well to create the best ten minutes on the release. These tracks are slightly more solemn and important sounding. Once the obnoxious intro and bridges in "Vengeance," which sound like plucking splinters out of your eardrum, are over, there are few terrible moments to follow. The final twelve minutes are pretty enjoyable Heavy Metal but Sacred Gate have to recognize they are doing very little to make me want to listen to them instead of listening to something with more personality and heft.

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