Theocracy: Mosaic

Atomic Fire Records 2023
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Založba/Label: Atomic Fire Records
Datum izida/Release date: 13. 10. 2023
Produkcija/Producer: Matt Smith
Dolžina albuma/Running Time: 66.04 min
Zvrst/Genre: Progressive Metal
6,5/10


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Theocracy – Mosaic, izdano 13. 10. 2023 pri Atomic Fire Records

»Theocracy v rahlem padcu v nemilost«

Atomic Fire Records so očitno kot dom melodičnega metala prevzeli vlogo zastavonoše od založbe Frontiers. Upamo lahko samo, da se ne bodo zapletli v idejo ustanovitve tisočerih duetov, triov in namišljenih super skupin, kot se je lastnik dotičnih Frontiers.

Theocracy so skupina, ki je začela kot one-man projekt pevca, skladatelja, tekstopisca in multiinstrumentalista Matta Smitha, zavednega in pobožnega kristjana.

Zanj sem prvič slišal, ko je objavil kratko parodijo na Metallica album St. Anger oziroma njegov zvok. Takoj mi je bil simpatičen.

Leta 2003 je pod imenom Theocracy izdal istoimenski album, na katerem je vse odpel, odigral vse inštrumente ter sprogramiral bobne. 2008 je izdal Mirror of Souls ob pomoči prijatelja kitarista Jonathana Hindsa ter pravega, živega bobnarja Shawna Bensona.

Do leta 2011 je uspel sestaviti pravo skupino s kompetentnim solo kitaristom Vanom Allenom Woodom in basistom Jaredom Oldhamom. Duh pravega benda se je zelo poznal na albumu As the World Bleeds, ki je, menim, še vedno vrhunec Mattovega ustvarjanja.

2016 je sledil padec v kvaliteti z izdajo zelo bledega albuma Ghost Ship in na tej točki se je moral Matt odločiti kako in kaj in kam.

Čakati smo morali skoraj točno sedem let do oktobra 2023, da so nas Theocracy razveselili in razsvetlili z novim albumom, priročno imenovanim Mosaic. V vmesnem času si je Van Allen Wood s svojimi popolnoma nekrščanskimi dejanji in obnašanjem prislužil brco iz skupine, nadomestil pa ga je izkušeni kitarski čarovnik Taylor Washington iz benda Paladin, ki je v komadu Sinsidious posodil tudi nekaj vokalov.

Kaj nam je Matt s kolegi skuhal tokrat? Na prvo, pa tudi na deseto poslušanje bi rekel, da klasično Theocracy mineštro, z vsemi klasičnimi sestavinami. Čist zvok, melodični zborovski napevi, tone dvojnega bas bobna, speed-power kitarske pasaže in presenetljivo šibek Mattov vokal, h kateremu se bom v nadaljevanju še vrnil. Seveda ne smemo pozabiti krščansko obarvanih besedil, polnih upanja, skrbi, samorefleksije in vere v najvišjega. Hvalabogu (seveda) Matt v besedilih nikoli ne zaide v pridiganje, ampak poskrbi, da se vsak pošten ateist, kot sem sam, lahko posveti glasbi in besedilom brez groženj peklenskega ognja.

Kot rada počne moja soproga profesorica, bom najprej začel s pohvalami, potem pa pridejo na vrsto zadeve za besedo »ampak«. Produkcija je vrhunska, z dovolj nizkimi toni, da lahko upravičeno uporabimo besedo »metal«. Zapovrstje komadov je dobro premišljeno, lepo si sledijo hitrejši komadi in tisti srednjega tempa, z obvezno balado The Greatest Hope proti koncu albuma in 19-minutnim epom Red Sea čisto na repu. Glasba je vrhunski power metal skandinavskega tipa z rahlim ščepcem progresive in speed metala. Novi bobnar Ernie Topran skrbi za dovolj razgibano ritmično podlago, zelo pa se je potrudil novi solo kitarist Washington, ki je krepko poskrbel, da je upravičil svoj angažma. Njegova vodilna kitara je vedno v ospredju, solaže premišljene in lepo zamišljene, hkrati pa se popolnoma podredijo Mattovim kompozicijskim prijemom. Človek bi rekel, res en visoko kvaliteten power metal album!

»AMPAK«

Nikoli ni dobro, če moraš že pri naslovih polovice pesmi uporabiti slovar. Hecam se. 

Theocracy ima podoben problem kot Sonata Arctica oziroma glavni in edini avtor Matt Smith ima podoben problem kot glavni in edini avtor Tony Kakko. Njuni kompozicijski prijemi so tako ponotranjeni, da lahko izkušen power metal poslušalec takoj predvidi, kam bo zavila melodija, katera bo naslednja rima in kdaj sledi ritmični prehod. Na kratko, komadi so predvidljivi. To dejstvo je še posebej moteče, ker se plošča začne z zares odličnim Flicker, ki je prava power metal atomska bomba. Nato pa na žalost naslednji komadi ne dosežejo te intenzivnosti in radoživosti.

Druga težava je Mattov vokal. Tako kot vokal Joacima iz HammerFall je zelo melodičen, zanesljiv, vokalne melodije so zanimive in nalezljive, vendar je nerazumljivo, po domače povedano, švoh. Nisem si še na jasnem, ali je problem v snemalni tehniki ali v glasilkah. V glavnem, Mattovo jamranje zna biti nadležno, tako kot Joacimovo.

In na koncu, redke kompozicije v heavy metalu si zaslužijo dolžino 19 minut. In Red Sea definitivno ni ena od teh. Preveč ponovljenih melodičnih vzorcev, predolgih instrumentalnih pasaž in nezanimivih ritmov. Če bi zadevo skrajšali na znosnih 8-9 minut, bi bilo čisto dovolj.

Končno mnenje: Mosaic je boljši od predhodnika, predvsem po zaslugi že omenjenega Flicker-ja in ultra melodičnega video singla Return to Dust ter tudi že omenjenega Washingtona na solo kitari. Ne dosega pa odličnega in za tiste čase svežega albuma Mirror of Souls, kaj šele neponovljivega As the World Bleeds. Žal.

Avtor: Igorac


Theocracy – Mosaic, released 10/13/2023 by Atomic Fire Records

“Theocracy slightly falling from grace”

As the home of melodic metal, Atomic Fire Records has clearly taken over as the flag bearer from Frontiers. We can only hope that they don’t get caught up in the idea of creating thousands of duos, trios and imaginary supergroups like the owner of the Frontiers in question.

Theocracy is a band that began as a one-man project of singer, composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Smith, a conscious and devout Christian.

I first heard of him when he posted a short parody of Metallica’s album St. Anger or rather its sound. I immediately liked him.

In 2003, under the name Theocracy, he released an self titled album, on which he sang everything, played all the instruments and programmed the drums. In 2008, he released Mirror of Souls with the help of his friend guitarist Jonathan Hinds and real live drummer Shawn Benson.

By 2011, he managed to put together a real band with competent solo guitarist Van Allen Wood and bassist Jared Oldham. The spirit of the real band was very prominent on the album As the World Bleeds, which, in my opinion, is still the pinnacle of Matt’s work.

2016 was followed by a drop in quality with the release of the very lackluster album Ghost Ship and at this point Matt had to decide how and what and where.

We had to wait almost exactly seven years until October 2023 for Theocracy to delight and enlighten us with a new album, conveniently titled Mosaic. Meanwhile, Van Allen Wood was kicked out of the band for his completely unchristian actions and behavior, and was replaced by seasoned guitar wizard Taylor Washington of the band Paladin, who also lent some vocals on Sinsidious.

What did Matt and his colleagues cook for us this time? On the first listen, as well as on the tenth, I would say classic Theocracy minestrone, with all the classic ingredients. Clean sound, melodic choral chants, double bass drum galore, speed-power guitar passages and Matt’s surprisingly weak vocals, which I will return to later. Of course, we must not forget the Christian-tinged texts, full of hope, concern, self-reflection and faith in the almighty. Thank goodness (of course) Matt never gets preachy in the lyrics, but makes sure any honest atheist like myself can engage with the music and lyrics without the threat of hellfire.

As my professor wife likes to do, I’ll start with the compliments first, and then come the matters after the word “but”. The production is top-notch, with enough bass to justify the use of the word “metal”. The order of the compositions is well thought out, the faster pieces and the mid-tempo ones follow each other nicely, with the obligatory ballad The Greatest Hope towards the end of the album and the 19-minute epic Red Sea right at the tail end. The music is top-notch power metal of the Scandinavian type with a slight pinch of progressive and speed metal. The new drummer Ernie Topran takes care of a sufficiently varied rhythmic base, and the new solo guitarist Washington put in a lot of effort and boldly made sure to justify his engagement. His lead guitar is always in the foreground, the solos are thoughtful and well executed, while at the same time completely submitting to Matt’s compositional touches. One would say, a really high quality power metal album!

“BUT”

It’s never good when you have to use a dictionary for the titles of half the songs. Kidding.

Theocracy has a similar problem as Sonata Arctica has or main and sole author Matt Smith has a similar problem as main and sole author Tony Kakko has. Their compositional approaches are so automated that an experienced power metal listener can immediately predict where the melody will turn, what the next rhyme will be and when the rhythmic transition will follow. In short, the songs are predictable. This fact is particularly disturbing because the record opens with the truly excellent Flicker, which is a true power metal atom bomb. Then, unfortunately, the following pieces fail to achieve this intensity and exuberance.

Another problem is Matt’s vocals. Similar to the vocals of Joacim from HammerFall, they are very melodic, reliable, the vocal melodies are interesting and infectious, but they are somehow ,,, feeble to put it bluntly. I am still not sure whether the problem is in the recording technique or in the vocal cords. Basically, Matt’s whining can be annoying, just like Joacim’s.

And finally, rare compositions in heavy metal deserve a length of 19 minutes. And Red Sea is definitely not one of those. Too many repeated melodic patterns, too long instrumental passages and uninteresting rhythms. If they shortened the piece to a bearable 8-9 minutes, it would be quite enough.

Final verdict: Mosaic is better than its predecessor, mainly thanks to the aforementioned Flicker and the ultra-melodic Return to Dust video single, as well as Washington on lead guitar. However, it does not come close the excellent and for the time fresh album Mirror of Souls, let alone the inimitable As the World Bleeds. Unfortunately.

Author: Igorac

Tracklist:
1. Flicker
2. Anonymous
3. Sinsidious (The Dogs Of War)
4. Return To Dust
5. The Sixth Great Extinction
6. Deified
7. The Greatest Hope
8. Liar, Fool, Or Messiah
9. Red Sea

Line-up:
Matt Smith – vokal / vocals
Taylor Washington – kitara / guitar
Jonathan Hinds – kitara / guitar
Jared Oldham – bas kitara / bass
Ernie Topran – bobni / drums


Theocracy – “Mosaic” (Atomic Fire Records, 2023)
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