Theocracy – Mosaic Review

Mosaic is arguably the band's best work to date, so much so that I'd even go as far as to consider it the band's magnum opus, at least at...

Released By: Atomic Fire Records

Release Date: October 13th, 2023

Genre: Progressive Power Metal

Links: https://theocracymusic.com/

 

Line Up:

Matt Smith – Vocals

Jonathan Hinds – Guitars

Taylor Washington – Guitars

Jared Oldham – Bass

Ernie Topran – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. Flicker

2. Anonymous

3. Mosaic

4. Sinsidious (The Dogs of War)

5. Return to Dust

6. The Sixth Great Extinction

7. Deified

8. The Greatest Hope

9. Liar, Fool, or Messiah

10. Red Sea

 

It has been a long wait for fans of American progressive power metal band Theocracy, who last released a new album back in 2016, with their fourth full-length release, Ghost Ship. Since then, the band had been fairly quiet for a while, and at one point I was wondering if we’d ever hear from them again. Thankfully, though, they are now back and ready to unleash their newest album, Mosaic, and it’s certainly one for the ages!

Theocracy has always been one of my favorite bands in all of power metal, as well as easily my favorite Christian band of any kind, and that trend certainly continues with Mosaic. The band has gone through some changes since Ghost Ship, with a new drummer in Ernie Topran, and a new lead guitarist in Taylor Washington, but their sound remains largely the same, thanks to the continuing leadership and vision of vocalist/songwriter Matt Smith. For newcomers, the band plays a melodic, yet hard-hitting brand of power metal, with a good balance between speedier, more straightforward tracks, and some more complex tracks with more varied tempos. Their earlier albums had a strong progressive feel to them, as well as some strong symphonic elements, and they tended to have some rather lengthy tracks, while their previous couple albums were a bit simpler and more focused on shorter, more catchy tracks that stood out on their own. Mosaic falls somewhere between these two approaches, with a healthy offering of more straight-forward, punchier tracks that go by quickly, as well as a couple of longer, more complex tracks, all leading up to a huge 19-minute closing track, which has a ton of stuff going on, as one would expect.

I found their previous album, Ghost Ship, to be a little bit lighter overall, while still containing some heavy moments, as always. On the other hand, Mosaic feels the opposite, still containing the occasional softer section, but more often than not it’s a very intense, fast-paced album with plenty of hard-hitting riffs, and I find that the guitars in particular have a much more noticeable thrash feel to them, perhaps somewhat influenced by new guitarist Taylor Washington, who comes from power/thrash band Paladin. Regardless, there’s still plenty of uplifting melodies, as expected, and there’s a ton of fun, catchy choruses, but this is a much heavier album than I was expecting. I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say it ever feels angry, but it’s certainly very tense at times, as well as surprisingly dark, with lyrics often dealing with themes of sin and death (though, of course, there are still moments where the lyrics are happy and upbeat, as always.)

The instrumental work is fantastic, with the guitar work, in particular, being easily the best I’ve ever heard from the band, equal parts heavy, intense, and melodic, really striking a perfect balance between the three, and there are also times where it can get very technical, sometimes reminding me of Dream Theater and Symphony X. The solo sections, in particular, are an absolute treat, while some of the riffs are quite spectacular. Keyboards are still here, but they’re used rather sparingly compared to past albums, often being kept in the background. Likewise, symphonic elements can be heard at times, but they’re never very prominent and the guitars, drums, and vocals are always the main elements of the music.

Vocalist Matt Smith is of course in top form as always, delivering a very smooth, yet intense and emotionally charged performance, sometimes sounding more powerful than I’ve ever heard him sound before, as well as going for some surprisingly epic high notes, especially on the ballad “The Greatest Hope”. Production is also fantastic, with everything sounding perfectly crisp and clean, and the guitars especially have a very thick and powerful sound, as expected. Songwriting is excellent across the board, with every track being spectacular in its own right, and there’s a good mix between more straight-forward speedy tracks, and more complex tracks, though as I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of the album is quite heavy and fast-paced. The band does a good job of pacing themselves, though, with the two calmer tracks being placed in between much more intense tracks, to help give listeners a bit of a breather.

Kicking things off is “Flicker”, one of the speediest, most straightforward tracks on the album. The guitar work is a bit lighter and more melodic on this track, compared to some of the others, but there are still bursts of heaviness here, and the musicianship is fantastic, as always. The track has a very classic power metal sound to it throughout, with the verses being fun and simple, while the chorus is very catchy and powerful, and the instrumental section has just a slight hint of the thrash elements to be found later on the album. Next is “Anonymous”, kicking off with a mid-paced, very thick, and powerful main riff, which can be heard throughout the track. The song is the first of many songs that initially surprised me with just how heavy the guitar work can get, and it alternates nicely between a mid-paced riff, frantic verses, an even more frantic and intense chorus, and some slower instrumental sections in the second half, moving very fluidly from section to section, with everything sounding fantastic. I especially love the transition from the incredibly last line of the chorus back into the main riff, and then later on when it transitions in the solo section, it only sounds even better. The end of the track is the biggest highlight, though, with Smith sounding phenomenal on the final run of the chorus.

The title track is next, opening up with a soft, melodic intro, initially feeling like a ballad before the guitars fully kick in and it turns into another upbeat power metal track. The guitar work has a slightly Maiden-infused sound to it, very classic sounding, and very melodic while still having a slight heaviness to it. The track moves at a fast pace throughout, with the verses being energetic, while the chorus is super fast but also very melodic, with some fantastic vocal melodies and nice backing keys. The instrumental section is also impressive, again throwing in bits of prog and thrash, the latter of which becomes especially prominent on the following track. Indeed, “Sinsidious (The Dogs of War)” is one of the darkest, most tense tracks on the entire album, opening up with a section that very much reminds me of Dream Theater mixed with a bit of Metallica, before the pace quickly picks up, and the verses have a nice stop/starts feel to them, alternating nicely mid-tempo chunky riffs and speedier sections, very much giving a Symphony X feel at times. The chorus, in turn, starts quite heavy and intense, before becoming light and melodic towards the end, and the contrast is done very effectively. The instrumental section in the second half has some very aggressive, very technical thrash-infused guitar work, which blew me away on my first listen, and even on subsequent listens it remains one of my favorite sections on the album, with its dark, sinister feels and surprising heaviness, while still having hints of melody throughout.

Following a long string of heavy tracks, lead single “Return to Dust” is the closest thing listeners get to a breather on the first half of the album, moving at a more moderate tempo, and while the main riff has a slight heaviness to it, the track overall is much lighter, catchier and more melodic than any of the previous tracks. The chorus in particular has a very light, uplifting feel to it, despite the lyrics being dark, talking about the inevitably of death. It’s also one of the tracks where keyboards and symphonic elements are more noticeable, though of course vocals and guitars are still the standout features. The heaviness of the first half of the album is back in full force for “The Sixth Extinction”, one of the most prog/power-infused tracks on the album, opening up with a rather soft intro, before the guitars again give off a slight DT feel, and then the pace picks up, with the verses having a slight hint of thrash, moving at a fairly moderate pace, with some very heavy riffs. This eventually gives way to a fast, energetic, yet very melodic and catchy chorus, with some fantastic vocal melodies, especially noticeable on the final run-through, which is spectacular. The instrumental section once again has a very thrash-infused feel to it, and it gets quite tense and heavy at times, with one riff in particular giving me a very strong late 80s/early 90s Metallica vibe.

The heaviness and speed continue “Deified”, with a blisteringly fast main riff, lighting speed drums, and yet more intensity, especially during the verses, which never let up at all. The chorus is more melodic, without losing the frantic pace, though it’s fairly understated and doesn’t last too long. Once again, the instrumental section is very heavy, with strong hints of thrash, and it leads into a heavy vocal section where even Smith’s vocals have an intensity and fire to them that is rarely heard from him. Unsurprisingly, the band chose to follow that fast and furious track with the lone ballad of the album, filled with some very soft, light, and melodic guitar work. The verses are very quiet and relaxing, while the chorus is fairly subdued the first way through, before building up in intensity as the track goes on, with one particular section towards the end having some of the highest, most powerful notes I’ve ever heard from Smith, and he nails it, delivering the most emotionally charged performance I’ve ever heard from him.

The two longest tracks on the album are back to back, right at the end, the first of those being “Liar, Fool, or Messiah”, another fast-paced, thrash-infused track, with the main riff, in particular, having a very strong thrash feel to it. The verses move at a fairly upbeat pace, without going full speed, and they feel slightly more relaxed, while the chorus speeds things up and is very melodic and catchy, while still having a slight intensity to it. The trend of heavy, thrash-infused, technical yet melodic solo sections continues here, and it’s one of the better ones on the album. Closing out the album is the 19-minute mammoth “Red Sea” ranking as the band’s second longest track to date, behind only the massive 22-minute title track of Mirror of Souls. It’s slightly less complicated than that track, though still obviously quite complex and technical, with plenty of different sections, as well as a great variety of tempos. It starts fairly mid-paced, with more thrashy riffs, and this continues for the duration of the first vocal section, before the tempo quickly picks up, leading into an intense instrumental section, and then eventually a frantic, very energetic, and tense vocal section. I won’t cover every section here, as there’s so much to the track, but suffice it to say, it moves fluidly from moment to moment, with little to no filler, and it often leaves the listener breathless with how quickly it transitions from one part to the next, while still managing to have plenty of memorable riffs and melodies that instantly catch the listener’s intention, with the opening and closing sections being particularly memorable. Needless to say, some of the instrumental work is phenomenal, with some parts being very heavy, some melodic, and some more atmospheric, and there’s a very slight Middle Eastern feel to parts of it, which adds a bit of extra flavor. The lyrics deal with the climactic events of the Biblical book of Exodus, mixed with a more personal story, and while the music is the clear highlight, the vocals and lyrics are also fantastic the whole way through. Overall, it’s a fantastic track, and it closes out the album perfectly.

Suffice to say, the long wait has proven to be more than worth it for Theocracy fans, as Mosaic is arguably the band’s best work to date, so much so that I’d even go as far as to consider it the band’s magnum opus, at least at this point in their career. It contains plenty of shorter, more immediately catchy tracks, mixed with a newfound thrashiness that gives the music a more intense feel to it than ever before, while still being as melodic and uplifting as ever. Even with some surprisingly dark lyrics, the album still has plenty of hope as well, and longtime fans of the band are sure to find a lot to love here. The closing epic is the icing on the cake, taking an already amazing album and making it even better. I think the title track of Mirror of Souls slightly edges it out as my personal favorite by the band, but overall, I’d say Mosaic is the stronger album of the two, as well as a very clear recommended starting point for newcomers looking to hear some of the best progressive power metal ever produced. I hope the wait for the next Theocracy album is a bit shorter, but regardless, I’m sure it’ll be well worth waiting for, as always!

 

Ratings: 10/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

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