Too many cooks can spoil the broth but two heads are better than one. What about three heads? Fifteen? Where does one draw the line where collaboration, inspiration and a multitude of elements becomes a mess rather than an impressive creation? These questions are essential for music but nowhere are they more essential than in metal: the genre is notorious for an eclecticism mingled with a melodrama that creates sprawling tracks and albums. Keeping a tight hold on something like that is difficult and even the most veteran aren’t immune to the heady allure and risk of overreaching.
Which brings us to one Finn Zierler, under the guise of Zierler in this case. His name shouldn’t be new to any of you: he spearheaded Beyond Twilight, one of the most important bands in the emergent power metal scene of the 90’s. His time in music speaks very loudly on his latest record, ESC, but it does so in positive and negative tones. The skill is there and every track sounds pretty damn amazing on its on but the album as a complete creation is inaccessible and, sadly, forgettable. In a classic case of more than he can chew, Zierler tried to tap back into ideas and sounds that have been with him for more than twenty years now but in so doing, has managed to create a labyrinth of ideas with no clear aural map.
Now, when we say that each track is amazing in itself, we really mean that. The album is jam packed with this intense breed of power metal which relies on guitar/drum combinations that wouldn’t shame any technical death metal in their speed and skill. Add to this classical music influences, succulent, rich synths and Zierler’s voice on top, and you get groove, power and style.
Take “Rainheart” for example; it opens with hollowed out chimes and immediately erupts into furious bass overlaid with military drums. Ushered in with a scream that would put even Hansi Kursch in his place, it leads over into an engaging verse followed by a moving and intelligent chorus. But later on, insanely well written guitar solos dominate for more than two minutes, with synths bubbling beneath them to create a whole, cheesy, fantastic mix. This is a good indication of what this entire album is about: modern, diverse, well produced and technical. It’s important to recognize an important reason of why this album is so technical in a good way; that is, of course, the presence of one Per Nilsson. His unique style of playing is all over this album and lends much of its power and ability to every track.
But even after close to ten listens, this reviewer would be hard pressed to tell you which track opened the album and which closed it or where anything stands in relation to itself. Honestly, every track has so many ideas and little explorations (like the almost maritime passage in the middle “Rainheart”) that it becomes impossible to keep track. Nor does the album help you; there are no in roads, no clear map to what’s going on. Progressive, powerful album such as this need to give the listener something to hold on to, some sort of structure to make sense of.
This structure can be accomplished in many ways, none of them utilized here. Tracks can be bunched into similar themes, leitmotiffs can give a grander meaning to the whole thing or ideas need to stay on the editing room floor; you just can’t have it all. The last idea is the one which needed to be utilized the most on ESC: trim back. Take out some of the solos or some of the tracks (the album has eleven, more than enough) or create a more cohesive thread that runs through them. Otherwise, the risk of your listeners disappearing in a vague sense of appreciation becomes very real. That sense of appreciation is very much present, it’s hard to ignore it, but the lights are confusing and the way out lost in a fog of tasteful shreds and articulate vocal passages.
Zierler’s ESC gets…