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(41:27, ‘Ashen Reign’)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Feast 4:17 2. An Angels Burden 6:11 3. Hope 5:17 4. Broken Heart 5:22 5. Simple Things 4:11 6. Prayer for the Dying 7:04 7. Fear of the Snake 4:50 8. The Sparrow 4:15 SOLO PILOT: Brent McDaniel – vocals; all instruments
Prolusion. The US act ASHEN REIGN is the creative vehicle of composer and multi-instrumentalist Brent McDaniel, who made his first foray into the world of recording artists with the 2008 production "Immortality". "An Angel's Burden" from 2011 is his sophomore effort; like the man’s initial effort, it’s a self released CD.
Analysis. I'll readily admit that I admire the guts and spirits of McDaniel. His initial effort was rather harshly received back in 2008, and rightly so I'll add, for being a production suffering from a great number of less developed features, which, sadly, also leads to a great number of fellow reviewers subjecting the artist as well as his product to some rather scathing comments. Most of which were both uncalled for and unneeded, personal attacks rather than critical remarks concerning the art itself. But even after being on the receiving end of such torrential abuse McDaniel has kept on creating, and obviously worked hard at improving his craft for this second go. The music of Ashen Reign isn't one that merits any description that comes close to innovative or sophisticated, however. His aim back in 2008 was to create good, old fashioned heavy metal, and that appears to be a goal he still works at. Slow to mid-paced creations are dominated by guitar riffs, with slow riff patterns and drawn out riffs the main features: dark in tone, rich in flavor, and with a distinct mid 1980's sensibility to them. Steady, unadventurous rhythms caters for the backing needed, while the artist’s careful use of keyboard adds the element needed for a grandiose atmosphere to be a mostly ever-present feature, with spirited guitar solos thrown in at the appropriate times. There's nothing new under the sun in this case, and the songs as such are rather predictable too. But McDaniel succeeds in creating enticing and charming atmospheres, and at his best he is a master of effective riff constructions, at least as far as tonal range, thematic length and shifts between the lead motifs are concerned: enticing sounds, engaging themes and songs assembled with themes of just the right length and songs never overstaying their welcome. A task he succeeds with perfection once, on A Prayer for the Dying, and comes close to achieving on a fair number of occasions elsewhere. McDaniel still has ample room for improvement. His vocals are on the weak side still, although I get the feeling that he could very well master a similar vocal approach as Kirk Hammett takes on in Metallica. His performance as a drummer, keyboardist and producer still has a fair bit of development potential too, and while clever and talented on some levels, as a composer I do think there's room for improvement there too. But he's found a niche as an artist, and appears to have the skills needed to craft enjoyable music as is. The question is if he has the desire and inclination to perfect his craft or not I gather.
Conclusion. While Ashen Reign isn't an artist that has anything substantial to offer for those with an interest in music of the innovative or challenging department or for dedicated progressive rock fans either, those with a firm interest in and dedication to 1980's heavy metal should find this latest production issued under this moniker to be an intriguing one. Not without weaknesses, but charming and well conceived creations using guitar riffs and keyboards to produce majestic compositions is the name of the game here. An album for the specially-interested perhaps, but a nice little gem it is for its given audience.
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