Released By: Divebomb Records
Release Date: November 9th, 2018
Genre: Power Metal
John Yelland – Vocals
Jason Ashcraft – Guitars
1. Yautja (Hunter Culture)
2. Planet Preservation
3. Enemy Mine
4. The Visitor
5. Total Recall
6. Queen of the Galaxy
8. Blood in the Ice
9. Heart of the Furyan
10. Altair IV: The Forbidden Planet
11. Always Right Here
12. Journey Beyond the Stars
American power metal band Dire Peril is a group I have known of for over four years, first hearing their second EP Queen of the Galaxy back in 2014, but they had never made such an impression on me up until now. First off, a lot has changed since my initial experience with the band. For three EP’s, mastermind Jason Ashcraft had been working with a full band, including Imagika vocalist Norman Skinner. I only heard the one aforementioned release and found it to be solid, but unspectacular. However, in 2015, Jason took some time away from the band, before eventually regrouping and decided to work as a duo, bringing in Judicator vocalist John Yelland. I have experience with both current members of the band from other projects, discovering Jason’s other band, Helion Prime with their solid self-titled released in 2016, as well as hearing John in three different bands, with the most recent Judicator release, The Last Emperor, being one of my favorite power metal releases of 2018. With these two working together, along with some guest musicians, and two major guest vocalists, I was excited to see if Dire Peril could finally reach their full potential. Now that their full-length debut, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, has arrived, it’s safe to say I won’t be forgetting about this band again any time soon!
Based on the EP I had heard, the band had initially been more of an all-out aggressive power/thrash band, where The Extraterrestrial Compendium is a much more varied, more challenging and more dynamic release. There’s definitely still traces of thrash in many of the riffs, particularly on tracks like “Total Recall” and “Roughnecks”, but there’s also a surprising amount of softer sections, including two ballads, as well as a fair amount of classic heavy metal guitar work, which often brings to mind classic Iron Maiden. I can definitely see the aforementioned band, as well as Iced Earth, being two major influences on this release, but there’s certainly enough fresh ideas here for the album to stand on its own. For the most part, this is an album full of hard hitting, fast paced power metal, with the guitars being the main focus, and often being very aggressive as well as quite technical. Jason’s lead guitar work is excellent throughout the release, and there are also several solos from guest musicians, which are all very well done. This is a very heavy album overall, but it strikes a perfect balance between more intense passages and calmer passages, sometimes within the same track, or sometimes with some very wise track placements. Songwriting is excellent all around, sometimes being direct and instantly engaging, other times being a bit more subtle, and there’s a couple tracks with some slight prog leanings, particular the closing track “Journey Beyond the Stars”. The key, though, is that each song is amazing in its own right, and they all flow nicely together. There’s an overall concept, with each track featuring lyrics based on classic Sci-Fi films, such as Predator, E.T., Starship Troopers and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
One reason I wasn’t overly thrilled by Queen of the Galaxy back in 2014, was former vocalist Norman Skinner, whose voice and style just didn’t match my tastes at all, and so I struggled with most of the vocal parts. Thankfully, that is not an issue here, as I’ve been a fan of John Yelland since I first heard him with Disforia, back in 2011, and his vocals have only improved greatly ever since then. While I’ve enjoyed his vocals on the past few Judicator albums, I think his performance on this album is by far his best to date, as he gets to show more aspects of his voice than ever before, and he does an excellent job throughout. His usual, super smooth mid-range vocals are in full effect here, but he also gets to sing a lot deeper than normal on many of the thrashier sections, singing very powerfully and fitting the music perfectly, and he also throws in some epic falsettos from time to time. On the ballads, he sings softer than usual, and puts a lot of emotion into his performance, to help enhance the songs. Overall, this is easily the best, most dynamic performance I’ve ever heard from him.
While I wasn’t overly fond of the vocals on the one EP I heard in the past, I found the songwriting to be fairly enjoyable, and so I was hoping Jason could do a great job of writing songs for a full-length album, especially now that he was working with a singer I prefer. It’s safe to say, he succeeded big time, as the songwriting on this release is both consistently excellent and quite varied, managing to keep me fully engaging throughout, without ever feeling predictable. Opening track “Yuatja (Hunter Culture)” gets things off to a great start, opening with some nice classic heavy metal guitar leads, before picking up the pace and turning into a full throttle, hard-hitting power/thrash track, which definitely brings Iced Earth to mind, in the best way possible. It’s a fast-paced track, with some very good thrashy riffs, and John instantly gets to show off some deep and powerful vocals, which give way to an epic chorus, where some of those classic heavy metal leads return, and then they become a focus once again during a great solo section. It’s an awesome track overall, with a perfect blend of power/thrash and classic heavy metal. Speaking of heavy metal, the next track, “Planet Preservation” has quite a bit of that, especially during its epic, slow but very melodic chorus, where the guitars have a strong Maiden influence to them. Throughout the verses, it’s a slow paced, hard-hitting crusher of a track, but it opens up big time for an amazing chorus. Next is “Enemy Mine”, which starts off with some nice soft guitar work, before settling into a nice rhythm, moving at a somewhat fast pace, without ever fully going all out. It’s a more mid-paced track, with some hard-hitting riffs and powerful vocals throughout the verses, which lead into another very melodic and catchy chorus. In fact, it’s one of the more fun choruses on the album, for sure, and the extended guitar solo is also quite strong.
The first big change of pace comes next with “The Visitor”, the first of two ballads on the album. It’s a largely acoustic track, which moves along at a nice pace, with some very soft yet very emotional vocals from John, where he pushes for some higher notes during the chorus, and does a great job, as always. The song manages to stay engaging throughout and ends with some excellent guitar work and some very powerful vocals, which help bring the song to the next level. Following that track, the pace picks up considerably for the next while, starting with “Total Recall”, an all-out speedy power/thrash assault, based on the film of the same name. It’s one of the heaviest, most furious tracks on the album, with blistering lead guitar work and a great, super fun chorus. Next is “Queen of the Galaxy”, a song I had heard before, as it was the title track of that particular EP. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat track with some nice melodic guitar leads, fun verses and a very melodic, super catchy chorus, which certainly works much better now, with John singing it. Throughout the verses and chorus, John is accompanied by Unleash the Archers vocalist Brittney Slayes (who was also on the original version) and the two sound great together, with the latter lending her powerful, yet super smooth vocals to the track. Next is another fast and furious track in “Roughnecks”, which if anything is even more intense than “Total Recall”, as John uses some crazy falsetto vocals during the verses, and the riffs are just as fast and as violent sounding as ever. It’s definitely an extremely fun, if brief, track, and it sure packs in a ton of energy and power within a short amount of time. From shortest to second longest we go, as “Blood in the Ice” is next, and it’s a sort of mini-epic, based on The Thing. It has a very thick atmosphere to it, starting off with some soft but slightly sinister acoustic guitar work, before picking up the pace and turning into an epic, hard-hitting progressive power metal track, with some more excellent guitar work. It largely moves at more of a mid-paced tempo, before going all out for another very fun, super catchy chorus. There’s a lot of tempo changes throughout, as well as some extended softer passages, which are very effective, and help make the heavier passages all the more effective, by providing a great contrast. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album, as well as one of the most epic, and the vocals are very dynamic and absolutely terrific throughout.
Moving towards the home stretch, lead single “Heart of the Furyan”, again starts off with some dark, soft guitar work, before quickly speeding up and turning into another all-out power/thrash assault. It’s another very hard hitting, blazing fast track, with aggressive verses and a very melodic, epic chorus, again doing an excellent job of mixing together thrashy riffs, epic solos, and some great melodic leads. The highlights keep coming with “Altair IV” The Forbidden Planet”, another fast-paced track, which again has some great melodic leads. It never quite gets as intense as some of the other faster songs, but it still has some great guitar work throughout, as well as bursts of aggressive riffs, and another strong chorus, as well as an outstanding guitar solo. The second ballad of the album is “Always Right Here”, where the guitar work has a very Metallica feel to it, starting out very soft, yet kinda cold, before slowing building up to an intense and epic chorus. John again does an excellent job, and it’s yet another excellent track, with an amazing guitar solo from Christian Münzner.
My most anticipated track going in was 9 minutes closer, “Journey Beyond the Stars”, not just because I tend to love epic length tracks, but also because it features Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, who provides some guitar work, as well as some lead vocals. It is indeed the most progressive track here, starting out with an extended instrumental section, before settling into a calm, slow pace. It’s a fairly slow paced song throughout, with some extended softer passages, and it has another very melodic, fantastic chorus early. Around the midway point, there’s a sequence with some intense guitar work, and from there the song changes a bit, becoming a bit heavier, while still maintaining a fairly slow pace. It’s a track filled will some great instrumental work as well as a great chorus, but I was most interested in Arjen’s contributions, and as a fan of his singing, who has been disappointed with how little he’s been using his voice in recent years, I must say this track had me absolutely thrilled from the first time I heard it! Arjen gets to sing quite a bit, using his soft, warm voice during the early parts, before getting a bit more intense in the second half, singing with more intensity than I’m used to hearing from him, and it works wonderfully. John is, of course, fantastic as always, and overall, it’s definitely an amazing track in its own right, as well as being a perfect way to end the album.
Sometimes, a band I expect very little from at one point in time will go all to produce something truly amazing in the future, and that is exactly what has happened with Dire Peril! When I first heard the band in 2014, I saw some potential for greatness, but I wasn’t sure if they could ever fully get there. With their full-length debut, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, they have gone above and beyond my expectations, producing one of the best power metal albums of the year, which manages to be both very dynamic and consistently engaging throughout. I especially recommend it for fans of the harder hitting, more guitar driven side of power metal, as there’s a ton of thrash influence here, as well as a fair bit of classic heavy metal and some slight prog leanings. Everything is done well, with vocalist John Yelland giving the best performance of his career, and overall, it’s an amazing album from start to finish.
Written by: Travis Green