After the death of five, the sixth would rise.
The dissolution of a lineup can prove devastating for any band, and the particular eventuality of a lead vocalist jumping overboard has been the unmaking of many impressive flagships, but in the immortal words of Michael Douglass from the film King Of California; “Catastrophe, equals opportunity”. Insofar as the booming 3rd wave of power metal that began to truly pick up steam at the onset of the 2010s, Scottish-born and brainchild of Alestorm helmsman Christopher Bowes‘s Gloryhammer were the kings of unapologetic camp, or at least they contended heavily for the crown with the likes of Battle Beast, Twilight Force and Victorius. The aforementioned decade was basically their playground and saw them spawn a trilogy of borderline absurd yet highly successful blends of fantasy and Sci-Fi storytelling, spearheaded by Bowes’ songwriting prowess, technical wizardry at the keys and unique flair for delivering a truly irresistible hook to bring it all together, and by the equally commanding vocal presence of Swiss upstart Thomas Winkler. But the 2020s would see the fortunes of this mighty fold dashed by the departure of said master singer under less than affable circumstances, and with it the rise of a new allegiance sporting a very similar sound and brand of madcap heroism.
In a nutshell, Angus McSix is the resurrection of Winkler’s former Gloryhammer persona, now wielding a mighty blade in place of his now broken hammer and telling the world all about it on their newly hatched debut with a mouthful of a title dubbed “Angus McSix And The Sword Of Power”. At his side of share in his many cartoonish adventures against the forces of evil is former Frozen Crown session guitarist Talia Bellazecca, whom channels the richly harmonized and expressive model of Andre Olbrich, but also showcases some auspicious moments of technical flair. Ex-Rhapsody Of Fire drummer Manuel Lotter turns in a thunderous performance as well, though in a more tempered fashion compared to the rapid double kick work he took to the aforementioned Italian symphonic power metal mainstay. But the two most prominent heroes of this quest on LP are that of Winkler himself, whose riveting high range and forceful timbre recalls the heyday of Ronnie James Dio and Rob Halford, and guitarist/bassist/producer of Orden Ogan fame Seeb Levermann, whom functions as the power behind the throne and turns this quartet of skilled surgeons into a juggernaut of colossal proportions comparable to the original union of cartoon camp Voltron.
To even the newly initiated into the world of European power metal, the parallels this album shares with Gloryhammer are impossible to miss, though to Winkler and company’s credit, there are enough unique elements at play here to keep this from being a total copy of the original. Any sense of wide-reaching epic songwriting has been forsaken for a singular focus on concise bangers that rarely cross the 5 minute mark, and along with it a tasteful mixture of rock solid musicianship with only occasional bursts of complex showmanship to keep the accessibility marker clearly in view. The tempo largely sticks to a mid to moderately fast stride that emphasizes the sub-genre’s affinity with its 80s heavy metal predecessor, whereas the symphonic and electronic elements that go along with the 3rd wave approach all but by default see a sound that is both dense, yet also heavily pop-influenced, with certain simpler rockers like the Saturday morning cartoon ode “Laser-Shooting Dinosaur” (a less than subtle nod to Victorius) and keyboard rich anthems like “Ride To Hell” and “The Key To Eternity” dancing dangerously close to the Battle Beast/Beast In Black world of post-disco adorned power metal, save with a heavier bottom end and more of a Stratovarius-informed sense of musicianship.
But a few interesting quirks at the fringes notwithstanding, this album has a very back to basics approach to power metal that gets by with a tasteful level of gimmickry in the musical department, though maybe not so much in the lyrical or visual one. The guitar-happy fanfare of “Amazons Of Caledonia” and the shuffling heaviness with a folksy edge of “Sixcaliber” have that sort of instant classic feel to them that insist upon a second and third hearing, the latter including a highly impressive if brief guitar solo out of Bellazecca that would make Timo Tolkki proud. Alliteration aside, the grandiose effort that is “Starlord Of The Sixtus Stellar System” proves to be the most ambitious, delving heavily into the symphonic end of the equation and venturing the closest to a full on emulation of where Winkler left things with Gloryhammer back in 2019, and he turns in arguably the most outlandishly ambitious vocal performance that he’s ever committed to the recorded medium. Yet when all is said and done, the ultra-catchy banger that kicks the album off “Master Of The Universe” steals the bulk of the show in all its He-Man inspired glory, exposing the only significant flaw in this album, namely putting the coup de grace at the beginning.
The jury is naturally still out as to whether Winker has managed to outdo his former band mates, and Chris Bowes is naturally not one to ever deliver an inferior product, but it’s a safe bet that the union that has been formed between this vocal powerhouse and the studio wizardry of Seeb Levermann is one with staying power. Like any debut, there are some areas that could stand to be expanded upon, most particularly that of Bellazecca’s and Lotter’s contributions to the arrangement, which are overall solid yet ultimately come off as a bit understated in relation to the emphasis on bombastic keyboards and larger than life vocal gymnastics. By no means is this a weak first showing, but any pre-existing fans of Winker’s former outfit will find his output here a bit plainer and perhaps even safer. Then again, it’s a foregone conclusion given the proverbial gauntlet that has been thrown down here, both lyrically and musically, that this will spawn some degree of rivalry and competition with that of Gloryhammer, and all of us onlookers are sure to be the richer for it.
Order “Angus McSix And The Sword Of Power” AT THIS LOCATION.
Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: April 7th, 2023
Genre: Power Metal
- Thomas Winkler / Vocals
- Seeb Levermann / Guitars, Bass, Backing Vocals
- Thalia Bellazecca / Guitars
- Manu Lotter / Drums
“Angus McSix And The Sword Of Power” track-listing:
- Master of the Universe
- Laser-Shooting Dinosaur
- Amazons of Caledonia
- Ride to Hell
- Starlord of the Sixtus Stellar System
- The Vision in the Fires (Intro)
- Eternal Warrior
- The Key to Eternity
- In a Past Reality
- Fireflies of Doom
- Just a Fool Will Play Tricks on Angus McSix (Bonus Track)
The tearing asunder of prior unions have paved the way for a new one, as the highly charismatic front man of one of power metal’s most visible purveyors of extreme camp leads a newly formed super-group into a highly similar realm of unapologetic pomp and circumstance