benedictumBenedictum’s third album ‘Dominion’ (released in 2010) presented a huge step forward for the US power metal outfit.  Their first release for Frontiers Records afforded the band a bigger budget than their previous and Benedictum seemed to relish this new beginning.  While the lyrics left much to be desired, musically it wasn’t a complete loss, including some impressive riffs throughout, bolstered by more than a few chunky drum parts.  ‘Dominion’ wasn’t an especially great record, but  by comparison, 2013’s ‘Obey’ is a crushing disappointment.

Right from the beginning of this record, it is clear there’s something amiss.  The riffs are still as solid as can be on occasion, but there’s absolutely nothing to back those up.  The drum sound in particular is incredibly weak; Benedictum’s previous drummer Mikey Pannone was the strongest musician on ‘Dominion’ and without him, the band sounds like a shadow of their former selves.  While Rikard Stjernquist sounds as if he’s playing his heart out, the presence of his kit in the end mix leaves much to be desired.  His snares are thin, his bass drum sound depressingly thinner. During the hugely bombastic, quasi-orchestrated parts of ‘Scream’, in particular – a track where he ought to sound like a proverbial truck – his drums rattle away with all the weight of a pre-programmed track, sounding as if intended as a temporary measure.  Moving away from the rhythm section, the song writing is gut-wrenchingly embarrassing –its primary concerns being battles, evil and other sub-Manowar rubbish.  Clearly, Benedictum haven’t improved in the lyrical department in the years since ‘Dominion’.

‘Fractured’ throws out staccato riffs by the dozen during its intro, but again a thin drum makes their efforts almost pointless, while vocalist Veronica Freeman tries her best to tap into a growling old-school metal vocal.  Her voice – all growl and no real charm – kills any enjoyment that may have been left in this rather sorry tune, while the gang vocals (repeated shouts of “Fractured! Fractured!”) are just funny. This isn’t as funny as the title cut, however, where Freeman bellows “Kneel down before me, for I can make it so / Prostrate before me, before I can let you go … You don’t breathe unless I say, YOU WILL OBEY!”, over chest-beating, full bore metallic riffs from the file marked “Use before 1992”.  …And there’s the noise of a whip being cracked to top things off, because obviously that’s going to make this sound more plausible.

A marked improvement, ‘Crossing Over’ is a slow and lumbering Dio-inspired workout, where a combination of meaty riffs and twin leads reign supreme, before Pete Wells tops everything with some nifty fretboard hammering.  With a half-memorable chorus included, this shows what Benedictum can do when they try, but even this is flawed.   As before, Freeman’s full-throttle metal rasp just isn’t very enjoyable. It takes more than power and volume to win over an audience – there are other important factors like melody to be considered, and when it comes to actual melody, Freeman is, sadly, very much on the losing team.

It’s slightly unnerving when the appearance of Tony Martin can be considered an album highlight, but his appearance on the big ballad ‘Cry’, lifts things considerably.  With swathes of synths in place of strings, plus swooping, melodic guitar lines, the track allows a brief glimpse into Benedictum’s melodic side, while Martin cries through a vocal part that – although sub-Queensryche in intent – absolutely stomps over most of this album.  ‘Thornz’ also shows a reasonable mix of power and melody on a track that rattles along merrily in the Euro-metal mould, with half-decent tune on the chorus.  Since Benedictum prove to be good players here, this should be much better than it actually is – thanks to an oddly mixed vocal, half the chorus lyrics appear almost inaudible.  Considering the likes of ‘Scream’ and ‘Obey’, though, maybe that’s for the best…  This pair of tunes finally offer something half-listenable for the older metal fan (and gives some indication as to why Benedictum ended up on the Frontiers Records roster), but it’s just not enough; by this point of the album, they’ll have waved goodbye to most listeners.

Like ‘Dominion’, ‘Obey’ is a record that aims only to entertain those who already love power metal, but given the thin production sound and frankly laughable songs, it’s unlikely that even power metal lovers would have any time for this.  ‘Obey’ is a bad record, the kind of thing that gets metal laughed at – it’s a shame no parody was intended.

November 2013