Where Mankind Fails
It's a fact that fantasy-based power-metal bands, both wannabe-Hammerfall and -Blind Guardian ones alike (as if there's a difference), are in no small supply. And it's also a fact that, in this genre, you're better off playing it safe than attempting to assert an identity. It's a paradox, really: By virtue of grandstanding both the form (e.g., hydrogen-sucked falsettos) and content (medieval history revisionism), you'll merely look like a bunch of fancy-pants virtuosos, and will still arrive at Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 63; but if you play by the book - again, Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys - you'll at least retain a modicum of credibility, if only for not being laughed off the stage (or out of the CD player, I guess).
Steel Attack's Where Mankind Fails falls into the latter category. Thankfully, the Swedish quartet render themselves as cookie-cutter as power-metal bands come - no dog-whistled vox, obtuse Conan-esque storyline, or frilly, limp-wristed keyboard trills here. Granted, Where Mankind Fails's cover - a befrocked muscleman sword-fighting a netherworld denizen riding a dragon - smacks of a budget-bin Boris Vallejo airbrushed facsimile, but Steel Attack wisely stick to what should be at power metal's core - namely, power (duh) - without spritzing their mug of mead with wine coolers or being too self-consciously Teutonic. Yea and verily, the album is inherently Teutonic any way you cut it, but you've got to hand it to guitarist John Allan: his arpeggio runs are some of the most inspired in recent memory. Mediocrity has never sounded so comforting.
Metal Blade Records, 2828 Cochran St., Suite 302, Simi Valley, CA 93065-2793; http://www.metalblade.com
Nathan T. Birk