benBy the time Benedictum recorded their debut album in 2005, you could say their founding members were already veterans. Vocalist Veronica Freeman and guitarist Pete Wells had been members of a band named Malady for ten years previously and in addition, Veronica also performed as part of a Black Sabbath tribute band, Evilution, with Benedictum’s bassist Chris Shrum and ex-drummer Blackie Sanchez.  Given their past, it’s unsurprising that their debut album (‘Uncreation’, released on Locomotive Records) featured two Dio-era Black Sabbath songs and also featured guest appearances by ex Dio band members Craig Goldy and Jeff Pilson, as well as ex-Dio/Rainbow bassist and Thin Lizzy cohort Jimmy Bain.

Benedictum’s third album, ‘Dominion’, brings another huge slab of metal. Throughout the disc, the riffs are huge and the drummer attacks his kit as if he has a third leg. With the music being of such powerhouse qualities and the level of musicianship being of a mostly high standard, you’d think ‘Dominion’ would be an unmissable release. However, despite some great qualities, none of its songs manage to be especially memorable. Most of the tunes blend together after a while; there’s very little light and shade.  Although it could be argued that Freeman has a metal voice that commands attention, it’s mostly commanded through volume and force – there’s no real charisma in her performances.

The title cut opens with a few quirky rhythms and keyboard parts but the tune quickly descends into manic, sledgehammer riffing. By the time Freeman’s vocals hit their stride, there’s little of interest melodically. However, those keeping a close ear on Mikey Pannone will hear the work of a great metal drummer – not only is his playing fast, but many of his fills are fairly complex. ‘At The Gates’ is equally as subtle… Although there is the occasional hint that Freeman could sing in a melodic style – as demonstrated on the chorus sections – the verses in turn display a voice that’s as aggressive as it had been on the title cut. The track’s best moment comes from Pete Wells, whose featured solo is reminiscent of old-school 80s thrash.

Occasionally, when things lighten up, Freeman’s vocals show signs of potential power. During the verses of ‘Loud Silence’, she retreats from her usual metal approach, attempting to bring emotions other than anger into her performance. There are fleeting moments here where she could pass as metal’s answer to Grace Slick, but her best efforts seem at odds with music that’s still really heavy. The epic ‘Epsilon’ moves further away from full-on power metal and brings in elements of progressive metal, allowing some interesting (if slightly pneumatic) interplay between Wells and Pannone. A few eastern musical motifs add a small amount of extra interest and there are fleeting moments where Freeman adopts a more tuneful style, but if it’s prog-metal you’re after, there are a thousand better examples of the sub-genre than this.

The album’s best track is ‘Seer’, a number which features a melodic vocal, a heavy yet melodic riff (due to a slower pace) and a chorus which at least has an attempt at being memorable.  Imagine something which combines the best elements of ‘Rage For Order’ era Queensryche, Dio and a pinch of power metal and you’ll have a fair idea where this number’s musical interests lie. Against the classic sounding riff, Wells’s clean lead notes wail like it’s 1989 and, for once at least, Benedictum offer something that’s a little broader in appeal.

This release features two bonus tracks, one of which should be familiar to many.  In all honesty, though, you probably don’t want to hear Benedictum hammering their way through a version of Rush’s ‘Overture/Temple of Syrinx’. The layered guitar parts of the original version are reproduced here in a much heavier style – and without any of the finesse that was really required. Freeman’s take on Geddy Lee’s vocal is little more than a full-bore metal squeal. Oh dear.

While (from a metal perspective, at least) most of ‘Dominion’ could be described as musically sound, it’s certainly a release for power-metal die-hards only. There are a couple of moments which stand out – and individually, some of the players show a decent level of talent – but more focus on songs would have been useful.

March 2010