Released By: Pride and Joy Records
Release Date: October 19th, 2018
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Daniel Vasconcelos – Vocals
George Thanasoglou – Guitars
Michael Batistatos – Guitars, Bass
Kirk Gazouleas – Keyboards
Noel Kardaris – Drums
1. Elder Blood
2. Together We March
4. The Undefeated Gaul
5. An Adventure Song
6. Freedom is not Negotiable
8. Warrior’s Pride
9. Withering Heart
10. Last Stand
11. Ride to War
There are some bands I will follow for a while before hearing anything substantial from them, just out of the sheer promise they show in bursts. The most recent case of this is Greek symphonic power metal band Orion’s Reign. The band has been around for over thirteen years, releasing their debut Nuclear Winter in 2008, but they had escaped my attention completely until a few years ago when I saw one of their many yearly Christmas music videos. These tracks have always been equal parts silly, epic and just plain entertaining, and so when I heard the band was working on a new album in their current form, I was excited to see what they would be capable when writing their own material. Now that Scores of War is here, it’s safe to say, the band has shattered all my expectations, and delivered one of the absolute best power metal albums of the year!
Fans of the genre should have a good idea of what kind of material to expect here, as this is very much fantasy themed symphonic power metal in its most epic form, with the main focus being on symphonic keys and orchestras, with guitars serving mostly as rhythm for any sections, though when they do come to the front of the sound, they can be quite strong, with some classic heavy metal leads at times, in the vein of classic Maiden, as well as some excellent shredding solos. For the most part, though, it’s the symphonic arrangements and drums that carry the songs, and both of these elements are very well done, with the drums doing an excellent job in setting the pace, while the orchestral elements and symphonic keys are grand, sweeping and epic in every possible way, at times creating the atmosphere of a film score. There’s occasionally the use of folk elements as well, such as fiddles and bagpipes. While there’s always a lot going on, with most tracks containing multiple layers of orchestral elements, everything works together perfectly, and the actual songs are fairly straight-forward and always engaging. There’s also quite a bit of variety in the songs here, with the expected speedy power metal tracks being balanced out by a couple slower tracks, including a ballad, as well as a couple more folk-influenced songs, and other surprises. The album always manages to stay fresh and consistently amazing from start to finish. Performances are excellent all around, and production was handled by Jens Bergen, who did an excellent job as always.
The band has gone through a few lineup changes over the years, with their latest addition being vocalist Daniel Vasconcelos, who joined in 2015. For a while, the band had no vocalist and was just using guests for their various singles, but now with Dan in the group, they are ready to forge ahead. Thankfully, Dan is an excellent vocalist, with a rather deep and powerful voice, which fits the music perfectly. His vocals are often theatrical, somewhat operatic, and fit in well with the overall epic feel of the album, adding an extra layer to everything. He can sometimes get a bit more intense and uses some falsetto every one in a while, to great effect. There’s also a ton of choir vocals throughout the album, which are used quite effectively, as well as a few guests, who I’ll mention in the song by song descriptions.
Having only heard the band performing covers coming into this album, I was interested in seeing what their songwriting skills were like. Needless to say, they do not disappoint, as every song on Scores of War is fantastic in its own way, as the album manages to be both varied and consistently amazing the whole way through. Things kick off with the super epic opener “Elder Blood”, which starts off with an epic orchestral section, accompanied by choral vocals, before the metal instruments and Dan eventually kick in, and then the song speeds up and turns into an epic speedy symphonic power metal track, with excellent verses, an even better chorus, and some excellent rhythm guitar work throughout, as well as an excellent solo. Next is “Together We March”, another speedy track, where the symphonic elements are very prevalent throughout, with guitars mostly serving as rhythm, though they do so effectively. The song has fun verses and another strong chorus, this time with some excellent guest vocals from Tim “Ripper Owns”, who uses his signature falsetto vocals throughout the verses and chorus. There’s also an extremely epic vocal section in the second half, giving way to a great guitar solo, and overall it’s an absolutely wonderful track.
The first slower track is “Gravewalker”, another very epic track, dominated by symphonic elements and choir vocals. The verses are slow but have some rather hard-hitting guitar work, as well as some excellent orchestral sounds, and the chorus is huge, with Dan accompanied by some very epic choir vocals, making for one of the catchiest and most engaging choruses on the album. The track gets intense in the middle for a while, with a great instrumental section, and overall it’s one of my personal favorites here. The highlights keep coming with lead single “The Undefeated Gaul”, one of the fastest, hardest hitting tracks on the album. The riffs are extra aggressive here, and Dan gets very intense during the verses, giving way to a catchy, but frantic and very heavy chorus, which eventually leads to the heaviest instrumental section on the album, with some great shredding guitars. It’s a wild and intense track but still manages to be very epic and fun at the same time. Speaking of fun, “Adventure Song” is a slightly lighter but still fast-paced track, with some excellent choir vocals throughout. It has the vibe of a tavern song and features various folk instruments throughout, that give it the feel of a classic folk song, except with heavy guitars. It’s a fast, melodic and very catchy song, and certainly one of the cheeriest metal songs you’ll ever hear, with an especially great instrumental section, where several different folk instruments are used. The band returns to a more familiar symphonic power metal territory with “Freedom is not Negotiable, which has slow verses, but a fast and intense chorus, filled with more epic choir vocals, and as well as another intense instrumental section with some very heavy guitar work.
Another change of pace comes with “Nostos”, a very melodic mid-paced track, with a slight folk feel to it. The symphonic elements are dominant once again, and it’s a very light, upbeat track with some amazing vocal melodies throughout. It serves as a duet between Dan and Youtube cover vocalist Minniva, who had previously worked with the band on their past few Christmas carols. She fits the track perfectly, with very light but powerful vocals, that capture the vibe of the music wonderfully, and her higher vocals serve as a perfect contrast to Dan’s deeper voice, making them a great duo. The chorus is probably the catchiest and most engaging on the album, and overall it’s simply a wonderful track, and probably my favorite on the album. Next is “Warrior’s Pride”, a faster, more classic power metal feeling track. Guitars lead the way through most of the track, with heavy, driving riffs, and the chorus is fun and catchy, without being quite as grand as usual. The symphonic elements are still there but feel a bit less prominent than usual, and overall it’s a very fast and heavy track, with the occasional growls thrown in for some extra flavor. The lone ballad here is “Withering Heart”, which starts out as a soft piano ballad, but gradually develops into something much more epic, with a great use of choirs and orchestral elements, as well as having by the best vocals from Dan on the entire album, as he really steals the show, especially during the final run-through of the chorus, where he goes all out and absolutely nails it. One last speedy track is “Last Stand”, which certainly feels like the kind of song Rhapsody of Fire would have released in their prime. It’s very fast, intense and makes great use of symphonic elements, while still having some pretty heavy rhythm guitar work, as well as an excellent keyboard solo in the second half, performed by Firewind’s Bob Katsionis. Most vocals on the track are performed by Mark Boals, who does a great job as always, especially during an epic vocal section right at the end, which feels like it could have been a perfect end to the album. Instead, the band chose to close the album out with “Ride Into War”, a slow but very epic track, with a very classic Maiden vibe to the guitar work. It starts out with some classical piano, and stays soft and theatrical for a while before the guitars kick in and that classic heavy metal feel takes over for a while. It’s another very epic track, with great guitar work and an excellent chorus, and it does a nice job of alternating between soft and heavy sections throughout, making it an appropriate ending track.
Overall, Scores of War is an incredible album, from a band I had been following for a while to see if their original material could live up to their cover work. It’s safe to say, Orion’s Reign has not only lived up to my expectations, but they have also completely shattered them, and have produced the best symphonic power metal album of the year, as well as one of the best in recent years. It’s a consistently excellent album, with nicely varied songwriting, a great use of symphonic elements, and excellent guest vocals on a few tracks. Highly recommended for any power metal fan looking for something especially epic, as well as symphonic power metal fans looking for something similar to Rhapsody of Fire at their best, while still doing more than enough to stand out.
Written by: Travis Green