Released by: Scarlet Records
Release Date: November 6th, 2015
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Alfred Romero – Vocals
Enrik Garcia – Guitar
Ricardo Moreno – Bass
Roberto Cappa – Drums
1. November 3023
3. Beyond the Stars
4. Conspiracy Revealed
5. I Want to Believe
6. Bon Voyage!
7. The Existence
8. Imperial Earth
10. There’s Something in the Skies
Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than that moment where an album finally finally connects with you for the first time after multiple attempts, when previous reservations are put aside and you’re just swept away by the music. I had one of those experiences with Project X, the tenth full length album from Dark Moor, one of my absolute favorite symphonic metal bands at this point. Most previous Dark Moor albums managed to impressive me right away, with their two most recent efforts Ancestral Romance and Ars Musica especially leaving strong first impressions, so I was a bit concerned when by the end of my first listen, Project X had left me scratching my head, wondering what in the hell I had just listened to. A couple listens later and I was already starting to get into it, and then by the end of my sixth listen I finally understood what the band was going for, and from that point onwards it has become one of my favorites by the band.
For longtime Dark Moor fans, their previous album Ars Musica may have seemed like a big departure from their normal sound, toning down the power metal elements which had been dominant on their earlier albums and taking the band in a much lighter, more dramatic direction with an even bigger focus on symphonic elements and choirs. I was curious to see whether the band would continue with this style or go back to their older sound, so I was somewhat caught off guard when the brief intro track of Project X started off with modern sounding keyboards, and the rest of the album only proved to be even more surprising, on first listen. I will say it right now, to get it out of the way: Power metal fans hoping for the neoclassical symphonic power metal style of their early days will probably want to avoid Project X, as at this point that style seems to be a thing of the past and the band is clearly moving on to new things. For anyone else, though, and especially for fans who prefer their epic symphonic arrangements and choral sections, the album is a must hear.
After that rather surprising intro, the first full song “Abduction” is a fun little opener that mostly sticks to the band’s formula of upbeat power metal with symphonic backing and choir vocals, and in comparison to the rest of the album, it feels like a more modernized take on the usual Dark Moor sound, complete with cheesy but fun sci-fi lyrical themes, which carry on throughout the album. After this point, though, the album takes a turn for the weird with the super theatrical track “Beyond the Stars”, where the choirs are in full force, and along with the piano and symphonic elements, they overpower the guitars, making for a much lighter track than one would expect so early on the album, though the melodies are fantastic and Alfred Romero’s dramatic vocals work incredibly well with the choirs, which have more of a gospel choir feel to them than usual. Yeah, you read that right: At times the choirs sound like they’re coming straight from a church and this feel is only heightened as the album goes on, and is one of the things that initially left me feeling confused. This song also serves as a great example of where the band is now, as the music is constantly driving along at a reasonable pace, so much so that calling it slow or mid tempo would be wrong, but it certainly doesn’t match the speed or energy of classic power metal, either. It’s more of a light symphonic infused brand of melodic metal, which works very well for the band.
The next track “Conspiracy Revealed” is a bit faster and the guitar riffs at the beginning give it a slight edge, which carries on throughout the track. Which brings me to one element of the band I’ve always appreciated, that is very much a factor on Project X: The guitar work of Enrik Garcia. As always, his guitars can be very understated, allowing room for the keyboards, vocals and symphonic elements to be the main elements, but on every track he allows himself to shine for brief periods, and he does an amazing job of it. Songs like “Abduction”, “Beyond the Stars” and “Bon Voyage” have some fantastic melodies and melodic solos, while on “Conspiracy Revealed” and“Gabriel” he injects a bit energy to the songs with some great riffs. The latter in particular starts off with the heaviest guitar work on the album, and it turns into one of the faster, more power metal oriented tracks, as well as one of my favorites.
Most tracks have at least occasional heavy sections and bursts of speed, but it’s the vocals and symphonic elements that win out most of the time. Another personal favorite is “I Want to Believe”, a ballad where the early sections allow Alfred to showcase his ever improving vocals, and then as the song goes on the choirs become more and more central to the song, until it turns into something incredibly epic and larger than life. Some of the songs have a bit of a broadway musical vibe to them at times, as well as some Queen influences, where everything just gets insanely over the top and cheesy, but in delightful ways.
I especially notice this on “Bon Voyage”, which starts off as more of a laid back mid tempo track, until about halfway through when the choirs kick in and it turns into something very theatrical and super cheesy. I was initially put off by this, but over time I’ve found myself blown away by just how impressive the arrangements are and just how epic the whole thing sounds, in a delightfully cheesy sort of way. Likewise, the closing track “There’s Something in the Skies” initially turned me off, as after its soft piano driven first half, it suddenly takes a turn into musical like territory, with an end sequence that may bother some people with its rather odd and unexpected lyrics, though after several listens the song has grown into one of my favorites, even though I’d consider it about as far away from usual Dark Moor as they could possibly get, without outright trolling their fans. If anything, it just shows the band fully willing to evolve and take risks, as this track in particular, as well as much of the album in general, is certainly not something I would have imagined the band doing around six years ago when I first heard their music, but in some warped kind of way it just works.
Even the weird extended intro and outro of “Imperial Earth” work, and the itself is another excellent mid tempo symphonic track with occasional heavy bursts and an extremely awesome chorus. The one other song I haven’t mentioned yet is “The Existence”, a super melodic mid tempo track that would have fit in great on “Ars Musica”. It’s less theatrical than some of the other tracks, but it’s an excellent track and it fits in well with the overall modern style Dark Moor is going for nowadays.
While I was initially disappointed by Project X and its experiments with gospel choirs as well as its increased emphasis on a more theatrical sound, several listens have left me blown away by what the band has pulled off, and if anything I now consider it one of my favorite Dark Moor albums. Fans of their earlier albums may be in for a rude awakening, but fans of symphonic metal and melodic metal in general are highly recommended to give it at least a few listens, as it’s proven to be by far my biggest grower of the year.
Written by: Travis Green