Released By: M-Theory Audio
Release Date: October 27th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Carlos Zema – Vocals
Gabriel Guardian – Guitars, Keyboards
Joshua Lopez – Bass
Justin Piedimonte – Drums
3. Roots Run Deep
4. Perfect Person
5. Divided We Fall
6. Lost in the Darkness
7. Southern Rain
8. Unite and Conquer
9. Un dia a la vez
10. Rise of the Phoenix
I’ve said many times before, that there are some bands I always try to enjoy, but have difficulty fully getting into their music, due to issues with one aspect or another. One such case is American progressive power metal band Immortal Guardian, who I’ve always seen a lot of potential in, ever since their debut EP Revolution Part 1, in 2014, but their vocals and songwriting have frequently gotten in the way of me being fully impressed by them. Their previous release, Psychosomatic, was their best to date, with some of their most consistently strong songwriting to date, as well as some surprisingly effective lyrics, leaving the vocals behind as the only thing I still wasn’t fully on board with. Now, they’re set to release their 3rd full-length release, Unite and Conquer, and musically I’d say it’s probably their best work to date, while the vocals still hold things back a bit, but not as much as in the past.
Immortal Guardian’s sound has evolved quite a bit over the years, initially starting as a very melodic, cheesy power metal band with some incredibly over-the-top vocals at times, where even on their first album “Age of Revolution”, they started moving towards a heavier, darker, more prog/power style, which took full effect on “Pychosomatic”, easily their darkest, hardest hitting album to date, while still having traces of their original sound. “Unite and Conquer” both continue with the band’s evolution, with some of their darkest, most emotionally charged tracks to date, while also having flashes of some of the speediest, most fun power metal elements they’ve had since their debut EP.
From a lyrical standpoint, the trend of dark, socially conscious lyrics certainly continues here, with the band addressing many serious issues, both on a personal and political level, ultimately hoping for a world that’s more peaceful and more unified compared to how divided and dangerous the real world has become. There are moments where the lyrics hit hard, as well as times where they feel maybe a tad forced and awkward, but overall it’s very clear the band has put a lot of their personal feelings into this record, and that comes through quite strongly. Musically, there’s quite a bit going on, with a good mix of heavy, technical, and melodic guitar work, paired with plenty of epic keys and light symphonic elements. Compared to the previous album, I’d say this album perhaps leans slightly more into the power metal side of the band’s music, while still having a fair bit of prog. Most tracks alternate between mid-tempo sections and speedier sections, so while most tracks don’t stay fast-paced the whole way through, there’s only a couple that never really speed up at all, so fans of varied tempos within a single track have quite a lot to look forward to here. I find the songwriting to be very consistent, just like the previous album, with only one track that doesn’t work for me, while the rest range from great to fantastic, and I’d say from a purely instrumental perspective, everything is excellent. Guitarist/keyboardist Gabriel Guardian is the clear star of the show, but bassist Joshua Lopez and drummer Justin Piedimonte both do a great job as well, and the production is also perfect.
The biggest flaw of Unite and Conquer is unfortunately the same as it’s always been: Carlos Zema’s vocals. I really don’t like to be overly critical when it comes to vocals, especially with someone who’s been in the same band for a long time, but I’ve never particularly enjoyed Zema’s vocals, and sadly nothing has changed on that front. His low to mid-ranged vocals are decent and generally get the job done, without being particularly great, but every once in a while he gets carried away and attempts some classic heavy metal style falsetto vocals, along the lines of Tim “Ripper” Owens”, but while some singers can pull that off well, Zema, unfortunately, sounds quite awful and irritating nearly every time he attempts that style, which can ruin portions of certain tracks. Thankfully, the music and songwriting are generally strong enough to keep things enjoyable, and there is one track where I’d even say the screams work, as well as a couple of tracks where guest vocalists help out. So overall, while the vocals are still a clear weakness for the band, they don’t drag things down too badly this time around.
Moving onto the songs, the album wastes no time in kicking things off, forgoing an intro track and instead delivering a strong opening with “Ozona”. The track has a strong atmospheric feeling to it, especially in the thick riffs and ambient keys, while the vocals are generally solid throughout the opening verse and the chorus, as the song moves along at a methodical pace, with the chorus in particularly being fairly subdued, but still quite catchy and memorable in its way. The instrumental work has traces of neo-classical influence throughout, with the opening and instrumental sections being particularly great, while the second verse speeds things up for what should be a fun, explosive section, but sadly Zema throws in some of those irritating screams, which brings the enjoyment down slightly. Overall, though, It’s a great track and a strong start to the album.
Things pick up further with “Echoes”, one of the best tracks on the album. It alternates between mid-paced verses, with some heavy rhythm guitars, mixed with fast-paced, melodic power metal for an exciting lead into the chorus, while the chorus itself is slow and repetitive, but in a very powerful and epic way. It’s a track that does a great job of implementing both the band’s classic power metal approach and their more modern prog elements, and it brings the two together quite nicely, with the chorus and solo sections each being fantastic in their way. The momentum continues with “Roots Run Deep”, which starts with a soft piano section, accompanied by some nice low-range vocals, before the guitars and keys kick in and the tempo picks up, turning into an explosive, yet very catchy and melodic prog/power track. The lead vocals are fairly decent throughout, especially during the chorus, which keeps the rapid pace going while throwing in some great melodies. The instrumental work is fantastic throughout, with some sections leading more towards prog, while some other portions are more classic power metal sound, but the highlight of the track is the second verse and the ensuing rendition of the chorus, where Primal Fear vocalist Ralf Scheepers takes over and shows just how big a different a great vocalist can make, as he instantly steals the show.
Next is “Perfect Person”, a slightly more subdued and melodic track, alternating between some fairly quiet passages, with slight hints of heaviness, and some slightly heavier passages, never fully speeding up, but moving at an upbeat pace. The solo section has moments where it’s very prog sounding, almost Dream Theaer-esque with the guitars in particular, before changing back into speedy, epic power metal. The chorus itself is quite catchy and should be great, but I find the lyrics to be a bit forced on this track, and the vocals don’t help things too much, as usual.
However, the biggest disappointment of the album is “Divided We Fall”, a more laidback track, almost feeling like a sort of power ballad for most of its duration, as it’s very calm, slow, and more atmospheric, aside from a brief pre-chorus section where the heavy guitars kick in and the pace briefly picks up. Lyrically, the track is mostly fine, aside from one section that bothers me a bit (it sounds like a bunch of Boomers criticizing stuff they don’t fully understand), but the chorus is, frankly, terrible. The lyrics are fine, and the music is nice, but Zema’s vocals are way off, and unfortunately, he only gets worse during the second verse, starting immediately with his annoying screams, and getting more intense with them as the verse continues, making that section an exercise in torture. Overall, the track has a couple of good parts, but for most of its duration it simply isn’t enjoyable to listen to, and it’s easily the weakest track on the album.
Thankfully, the negatives are mostly dealt with following that track, and things pick back up again with “Lost in the Darkness”, another track that does a great job of alternating between speedy power metal passages and more mid-paced prog portions, with a mix between heavy guitars and dark, ambient keys. It’s another track with a strong sense of atmosphere (a common theme for the album), and on a purely musical level, it’s quite excellent. Zema does a decent enough job, struggling a bit on the chorus, but not enough to take away from how good the music, lyrics, and vocal melodies are, and on the second verse, ex-The Agonist vocalist Vicky Psarakis takes over and sounds great, with her rather dark, powerful and emotional vocals being a perfect fit, especially during the chorus where she gets to shine. Next is “Southern Rain”, a more traditional ballad, with small bits of heaviness here and there, during the chorus and instrumental sections, but it’s mostly very soft and calm, with Zema reining himself in and singing more normally throughout. The guitar solo is excellent, the lyrics are quite powerful, and the vocals are about as good as Zema gets, so overall, it’s one of the best tracks on the album.
The highlight of the album is the title track, which opens up with a very classic neoclassical power metal section, before once again transforming into more of a mid-paced prog/power track, alternating nicely between slower and speedier passages. The instrumental passages are easily some of the best on the album, the lyrics are a bit forced but quite passionate, and the chorus has some incredible vocal melodies, easily the best on the entire album, and I guess partially because of how strong those melodies are, Zema’s screams during the last run of the chorus end up being quite good. The softest track on the album is “ Un dia a la vez”, a very brief yet nice ballad, with some light pianos, accompanied by slight symphonic elements and some fairly decent vocals. It’s almost short enough to be an interlude, so there’s not much to say about it, but it’s a pretty solid track overall. Closing out the album is “Rise of the Phoenix”, a mostly mid-paced progressive track, with very minor power metal elements here and there. It has some explosive, speedy passages, especially during the opening verse, but it stays fairly relaxed for the most part, with the chorus, in particular, being fairly calm and subdued, with excellent lyrics and fairly decent vocals. The highlights are the solo section, which again has a very strong DT feel to it with how complex and epic the guitar work gets, while the opening is also fantastic, using marching drums and symphonic elements to give the music a more triumphant feel, fitting in line with the lyrics, which talk about Gabriel Guardian’s Mother, and how she overcame a very rough childhood, coming out all the better for it. It’s a great track on its own, and ends the album very effectively, leaving room for hope on an album that gets pretty dark and dreary at points.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Immortal Guardian, as I’ve always loved their instrumental work while struggling somewhat with their songwriting and especially the vocals. Thankfully, the first of those issues has been dealt with at this point, as Unite and Conquer continues with the momentum created by its immediate predecessor, and is consistently great the whole way through, aside from one weak track. Unfortunately, the vocals are still a bit rough at times, and I feel I may never enjoy the band’s music as much as I’d like to, simply because of those vocals. Overall, though, this album is still a great time, and I’d easily recommend it to any progressive power metal fans, especially those who can more easily focus on the instrumental work, which is exceptional throughout.
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.