For some bands, the journey to creating three albums is pretty straightforward. For others, it’s a path more filled with changes of both vision and lineups. For the Dallas-based power metal band, Millennial Reign, you get the latter journey. Beginning as a recording project almost a decade ago, the band wasn’t really a “band” when they released their self-titled debut; founding member Dave Harvey simply recruited a few friends to record some songs and put out an album. It wasn’t until 2015’s sophomore release, Carry The Fire (their first album signed to the independent Swedish label Ulterium Records), that Harvey surrounded himself with other full-time, touring band members. But between that album and now, each band member (who were all also in other bands) stepped down to focus on their primary bands, leaving Harvey to find and recruit a brand new lineup. In other words, other than Harvey, Millennial Reign has virtually had a totally different lineup for each of their three albums. Yet, in spite of that fact, their newest record, The Great Divide, not only sounds tight and cohesive, but is the group’s best work yet.
Beginning with a short instrumental before launching into the album’s lead single, “Break The Tide,” the band pretty much lays on the table everything they have to offer right out of the gate, and it is a lot. The sound is epic and melodic, just as power metal should be, but Harvey is able to provide some crazy intensity in the guitars that is often absent within the genre. New lead vocalist Travis Willis really shines here too, displaying an impressive vocal range and adding a great richness to the music, almost acting more like another instrument than a vehicle to deliver the lyrics (much like a melodic variation of the unclean, screamed vocals from more extreme metal genres). Seemingly every track, track after track, is just more good and technically proficient power metal, without one falling flat, but without a doubt, the best trio of songs fall right in a row in the middle of the album with “Til The End,” “In Your Silence,” and “The Day The Sun Stood Still” (the lattermost song inspired by the Biblical story from the Book of Joshua). Most songs follow a similar lyrical theme of the Gospel and living rightly, with some element of praise mixed in and even some cultural commentary (particularly on “Til The End”). It’s hard to believe these artists have not played together for long.
While one has to admire the remarkable technical skill and chemistry of these four musicians (with the chemistry being particularly remarkable since this is, aside from founding member and guitarist Dave Harvey, an all-new lineup), the lack of variation between songs can often make the album feel like it is dragging, and if some songs didn’t have some more unique hooks, it could feel like the whole album is one long song. It’s less of a problem here, I think, than it was on Carry The Fire, but it could make it tough for first time listeners to really latch on for the first few listens. Compounding that issue is the fact that vocalist Travis Wills overwhelms the lyrical substance with his singing style. In other words, even after all my many listens, I find myself struggling to recite anything more than small snippets of lyrics because, even when I tried to specifically focus on what Wills sang, his soaring and elongated singing continually drew my attention away from the words and towards his voice itself. While I absolutely have to commend Wills his awesome vocal abilities, I think the album would have benefited more if Wills let his vocals take a back seat every once in a while and let the lyrics shine through.
The overall style of The Great Divide is certainly power metal, but they also have an incredibly well-ingrained influence of both 80’s-era heavy metal and ultra-melodic symphonic metal. Power metal, perhaps more than any other subgenre of metal, is all about the contrast between intensity and melody. It is this contrast, in addition to the technical proficiency required, that gives power metal its epic feel. But due to the specific mix of styles on The Great Divide, that contrast is a lot less pronounced than, say, Millennial Reign’s label mates, Theocracy. Rather than chose to emphasize one end or the other at various times, instead they’ve created an album full of great melodies and soaring, epic courses carried by the keyboards constantly in the background, and simply made it feel intense and powerful with aggressive guitars and drumming. You won’t find any true ballads here (with a possible exception of “In Your Silence”), or any massive breakdowns either. It all maintains a beautiful middle ground, which is both a strength and a weakness. I think this album will appeal to fans of classic metal just as much as fans of power metal, but both are still relatively niche demographics, and it may be difficult for listeners who aren’t already fans of those styles to get into it. Nevertheless, The Great Divide is a ferociously intense and well-made power metal album that is easy to appreciate.- Review date: 6/13/18, written by Mark Rice of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Ulterium Records
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