Axenstar – Chapter VIII Review

Axenstar is a band I've always enjoyed in bursts, but I've never considered them a personal favorite. I've never delved fully into their discography, something I plan on doing...

Released By: Inner Wound Recordings

Release Date: December 1st, 2023

Genre: Power Metal

Links: http://axenstar.com/

 

Line Up:

Magnus Winterwild – Vocals, Bass
Jens Klovegård – Guitars
Joakim Jonsson – Guitars
Pelle Åkerlind – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. Heavenly Symphony
2. Through the Fire and Brimstone
3. The Great Deceiver
4. Enchanted Lands
5. The Flame of Victory
6. No Surrender
7. Holy Land
8. Eye for an Eye
9. The War Within
10. Life Eternal

 

Like many other power metal bands, the Swedish band Axenstar is one I’ve been familiar with for a long time and listened to here and there over the years, but never fully dug into their music. I believe my first experience with their music was their 2011 release, Aftermath, which admittedly wasn’t the best starting point compared to something like Far from Heaven, which is far more indicative of their usual sound. Regardless, I’ve always found the band to be reliably solid, if not much more than that, with none of their albums I’ve heard being less than enjoyable, but none of them fully blowing me away either. That trend continues with their upcoming eighth full-length release, the aptly named Chapter VIII, which is sure to please longtime fans of the band while also being a nice entry point for newcomers.

Axenstar is very much a prototypical Euro power metal band, with a very melodic sound heavily reliant on melodic guitar work and strong vocal melodies, though they do use keyboards a fair bit as well, for extra flavor. They never really experiment too much or go much into other genres, generally sticking to a pure, classic power metal sound along the lines of Helloween, Stratovarius, and early Sonata Arctica. There have been a couple of albums where they attempted a slightly heavier sound, such as The Final Requiem and especially the previously mentioned Aftermath, but for the most part, they’re a band that knows exactly what works for them, and they tend to stick with that. Chapter VIII is no exception, as while it has occasional bursts of heaviness, it’s a very light, melodic, and catchy album overall, with a major focus on melodic guitar work, light keys, and big choruses. There’s nothing surprising here, but everything is well done; performances are great across the board, production is very good, and the songwriting is consistently great, with the occasional moments where it’s excellent.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Axenstar has always been the voice of Magnus Winterwild. It’s hard to fully put into words what makes him so different from other singers, as on the surface, he really doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary for a power metal vocalist, but something about his vocal tone and delivery definitely has a distinct feel to it. He has a light, smooth, somewhat airy voice, which at times feels like it could use perhaps a bit more power, especially during heavier moments, and yet he makes it work well. For the most part, he sounds very good. However, I do find his voice gets a bit irritating at times, especially when he goes for higher notes, as he can sound a little bit strained and even a bit whiny, most notably on tracks such as “Through the Fire and Brimstone” and “Eye for an Eye”. That doesn’t happen too often, though, and otherwise, I’d say he’s very much in top form on this album.

The album wastes no time, kicking into high gear immediately with “Heavenly Symphony”, the kind of explosive, high-energy opener fans would expect from the band. The lead guitar work reminds me of Helloween, while the keyboards and overall sound of the track are more similar to classic Sonata Arctica, especially during the verses when things are really going full speed. The chorus is very fun, melodic, and catchy, and it has some excellent vocal melodies to help make it one of the best on the album. Next is “Through the Fire and Brimstone”, a more mid-paced track with the occasional speedy section. It has a more relaxed feel to it while still having some great guitar work, with a main riff that has a bit of a modern MDM feel to it. Once again, the track becomes much lighter and more melodic once the keys kick in during the verses. It’s an enjoyable song the whole way through, with the verses and explosive instrumental section in the section half being the highlights, while the chorus suffers a bit from Winterwild having to hit some high notes, and unfortunately, this is one of a couple of times on the album where he sounds just a bit off.

The quality picks back up with “The Great Deceiver”, a slightly slower track than the previous one while still being slightly upbeat at times. It’s another very relaxed, very melodic track, with some excellent melodic guitar work backed by some nice atmospheric keys, some very nice drumming, and some great vocal melodies. The chorus is the highlight of the track, as it’s very catchy and melodic, and Winterwild gets to stay more in his comfort zone, which allows him to shine and bring out the melodies more effectively. Following a brief instrumental interlude, “The Flame of Victory” is another highlight, opening up with some very upbeat keyboards, which are definitely more prominent on this track than on most others. The guitar work is largely used for rhythm during the verses, with the keys, drums, and vocals leading the way, and the track stays at more of a moderate pace before fully speeding up and bringing in some excellent lead guitar work during the chorus. The instrumental section keeps the fast pace going and is the highlight of the track, with some very melodic yet technically impressive guitar work, and it has a very classic power metal feel to it.

The pace picks up some more with “No Surrender”, where the guitar work has a lot of bite and energy to it, especially during the verses, which are quite frantic. The chorus is a bit more melodic, but it keeps the blazing pace going. The track is full of excellent guitar work, with some heavy riffs and very melodic lead guitar work throughout, and while the vocal melodies are also strong, the guitars and fast and furious drums are definitely the highlights of the track, with the band’s lone new member, drummer Pelle Åkerlind, really getting a chance to show his talent. My favorite track on the album is “Holy Land”, which starts off at a more moderate pace, with some excellent, very melodic lead guitar work giving way to some nice riffs and some very atmospheric keys during the opening verse, before the pace picks up in a big way during an excellent chorus with some of the best vocals and vocal melodies on the entire album. The instrumental section is also a standout, as it’s a bit longer than normal and is excellent the whole way through.

Unfortunately, the best track on the album is followed up by the worst—namely, “Eye for an Eye.” It kicks off with some excellent melodic lead guitar work before slowing down for an opening verse largely driven by vocals, keyboards, and some nice, groovy drums. The track is very good musically, one of the more laid-back ones on the album, with excellent melodies. It serves as a nice breather after some of the more epic and intense tracks but, unfortunately, Winterwild struggles a bit during the build-up to the chorus. Then, he hits some of his worst notes on the album during the chorus itself, making it the least enjoyable track to listen to.

The slower pace continues with “The War Within,” another keyboard-driven track with some very soft guitar work throughout and only slight bursts of heaviness. It’s the softest, most atmospheric track on the album, and the darker tone allows Winterwild to stay within the lower end of his vocal range, which works effectively—especially during the chorus, which is fairly low-key but very melodic and well-sung. Closing out the album is “Life Eternal,” a fairly short, fast-paced track with more excellent lead guitar work. It alternates between great riffs and melodic leads, while the chorus is fast, fun, melodic, and very catchy. Winterwild and friends close out the album in top form.

Axenstar is a band I’ve always enjoyed in bursts, but I’ve never considered them a personal favorite. I’ve never delved fully into their discography, something I plan on doing after hearing Chapter VIII—it’s definitely a great album. Fans of the band are sure to be pleased, as it delivers more of the same high-energy, melodic power metal the band is known for, with excellent songwriting and a mostly great performance from Magnus Winterwild, aside from a couple of choruses where he’s just a tad off. Newcomers to the band would also be well-advised to start with this album, as it’s easily one of the best I’ve heard, providing a good idea of what to expect from the band’s sound as a whole.

 

Ratings: 8/10

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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