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Greetings! My name is Matthew, and I love to listen to all types of metal. Since I’m a Christian, most of the bands that I listen to reflect my faith or have positive, uplifting lyrics. The other thing that you should know is that I love to write – in fact, I want to write epic science fiction for a living.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Theocracy - As the World Bleeds Review

Theocracy - As the World Bleeds
Ulterium Records
Genre:   Power metal
Current lineup:  Matt Smith (lead vocals), Van Allen Wood (lead guitar, backup vocals), Jonathan Hinds (rhythm guitar, backup vocals), Jared Oldham (bass guitar, backup vocals), Shawn Benson (drums)

Overall rating:  9.0 out of 10.0
  1. I AM (11:00)
  2. The Master Storyteller (4:09)
  3. Nailed (6:25)
  4. Hide in the Fairy Tale (4:27)
  5. The Gift of Music (7:12)
  6. 30 Pieces of Silver (5:08)
  7. Drown (5:29)
  8. Alter to the Unknown God (5:44)
  9. Light of the World (4:28)
  10. As the World Bleeds (7:57)

Theocracy turned heads and made mouths drop with their release Mirror of Souls in 2008.  In fact, I had no qualms including it in The Top 100 Christian Metal Albums of All Time.  Needless to say, As the World Bleeds is an album that has to live up to extraordinary expectations.  The band began its career as a one-man wrecking machine with the self-titled Theocracy release in 2003.  It's not an easy feat to pull off, but Matt Smith managed to release a solid record by himself.  Jayson Sherlock's band Horde is another exceptional one-man project that comes to mind.  Only unlike Horde, Theocracy didn't disband and has been slowly gathering steam, plowing through obstacles until it has reached its present pinnacle:  a band with five members, a fear of the Holy Ghost, and the inspiration to write epic power metal.

The album is filled to the brim with catchy choruses that will have even the Grinch singing along, his dog Max yelping beside him.   The spirit of the album is contagious, and this is one of the things that Theocracy does best.  Their melodies are often simple but strike at the heart and make the listener fall in love with the band.  But don't worry - there's a good deal of technical prowess to go around as well.  Metal heads who want it fast, loud, and intricate will no doubt be pleased with Theocracy's addition of full-time lead guitarist Van Allen Wood.  His solos are complex, beautiful, and positioned within the music exceptionally well.  Each one is a potential land mine of musical prodigy, but don't take my word for it -  listen for yourself and watch them blow up in your face.

One of the things that I love about this band are the obviously influenced thrash metal riffs.  A great example of this in the past was on the song Laying the Demon to Rest.  The band continues in this tradition.  I was also impressed by a new influence in some of the guitar playing and orchestration.  They ring with an enjoyable folk metal vibe, and at a few moments I was reminded of melodies that Holy Blood or Eluvetie might incorporate into their music. 

But with every white, puffy cumulus cloud comes the potential for a thunderstorm.  For me, a few parts of the album can get bogged down in repetition.  Right around the middle of the album I find myself not paying as much attention to the music as I should.  Perhaps the melodies aren't quite as infectious.  Maybe they should have changed up their song structures a bit.  And there aren't as many tempo changes, like in the epic album-closer Mirror of Souls.  But this last complaint is no more than a personal preference.

Overall, As the World Bleeds is a convincing album filled with melodic hooks, choruses, and talent.  Every power metal fan should be drooling over this for years to come.  And with positive, uplifting lyrics, it should be easy to get into the vocals.  Really, it's near perfect.


Breakdown by song (for those of you interested):

As the World Bleeds fades in to an epic orchestration and then launches into the behemoth that is I AM.  The song is quite possibly one of the best that Theocracy has produced.   Layers of tight drumming, churning guitars, and memorable lyrics swirl together and separate again in an amalgamation of splendid and delightful melodies.  If there is an epic on this album, this is it.  I expected Theocracy to close with such a song, but it certainly grabs my attention and sets the tone and pace for the album.

The Master Storyteller begins with squealing guitars and then transitions into a sharply-pointed, infectious melody.  Matt Smith demonstrates his vocal prowess and his range on this song, and shows why he was able to stick with it even as a one-man band.  The guy's got talent! Barely intelligible spoken lines in the middle of the song give it flair.  And that guitar solo!

The song Nailed begins with some nice "ooh's and ah's."  It showcases some of those thrash metal riffs that I was talking about.  Theocracy also borrows a gimmick as old as the audio system itself - using a ringing nail sound to represent the soldiers nailing Christ to the cross - but it adds another layer of interest to the song and isn't readily apparent.  I didn't even notice it the first few times through.

For me, Hide in the Fairytale wasn't exactly the magnum opus of the album.  A few of the melodies seem to be borrowed from Mirror of Souls.  And the chorus just doesn't sit right with me - I can't get into it.  However, one redeeming factor is the guitar solo two-thirds of the way through the song.

The Gift of Music is an interesting ballad, almost in the vein of Bethlehem.  I can't really get into the song, though.   The lyrics are a bit uninteresting, and the song is just too...happy.  That's the only word I can come up with.  It may sound weird but listen to the song for yourself - it's not really memorable and some parts seem like filler.  However, it does pick up with a nice tempo change towards the end.

Okay, we're back full-throttle.  30 Pieces of Silver, first released as a single,  is like a contagious disease.  I can already catch myself singing absently along - "Thirty pieces of silver shining..."  It also features some amazing guitar playing.  This song is an example of what Theocracy can do when they put their minds to it.  A masterpiece.

Drown commences with some mid-paced guitar grooves and catchy drumming.  Then it begins to alternate between acoustic with vocals and more guitar work.  The story recounts a familiar story on the Sea of Galilee - do you have the faith to trust the Lord, even in the midst of adversity?  The theme is an old one, practiced since before the medieval period:  the Scriptures, Boethius, Chaucer, and St. Augustine all represent  the stormy sea as a metaphor of temptation and tribulation.

To my knowledge this is the first time Theocracy uses distortion of any sort in their vocals, and while it only lasts for a moment it comes off well.  Altar to the Unknown God has some fast, catchy vocals and is overall a very solid song.  The guitar playing is also fairly technical as well, and features more thrashy riffs.

Light of the World is one of the most memorable songs on the album.  It takes a page right out of Mirror of Souls, but nonetheless is extremely catchy.  This song will get you pumped and put a smile on your face.  Wood and Hinds play the guitar like two hippos sparring in open combat, their jaws locked, their elephantine bodies surging against each other in the muddy water of a gushing, frothing river - that is to say, they compliment each other but at the same time push against each other.  It's pretty sweet.

Here it is!  The album closer!  As the World Bleeds is a solid song filled with what you may have come to expect from Theocracy:  lightning fast riffs, melodic interludes, intriguing lyrics, and catchy vocal patterns.  And yet...why didn't they put I AM as the album closer?  I think it would have made more of an impact.  

Nevertheless, there it is - the third album from the power metal band Theocracy in all its glory.  If you were interested by the review, don't hesitate to buy the album.  Even if you've never really listened to power metal, I can't think of a better place to start.

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How did I come up with my rating?  Well, I have this little scale that isn't technical at all, but merely shows how I enjoy the album.

1-2 (Poor - throw it in the trash, give it to your dog to chew on)
3-4 (Not very good, probably a waste of money - but there's been worse)
5-6 (Average, but not exactly knocking my socks off)
7-8 (Pretty darn good.  The band's got what it takes to be a favorite of mine)
9-9.9 (Excellent.  Will be on repeat for a very long time)
10.0 (Perfect rating.  Doesn't really exist)

Let me know what you think!
 

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