Victorius‘s previous offering, the six-track EP DIsnosaur Warfare: Legend of the Power Saurus [sic] (2008), is one of the best power metal releases of recent years. Although fluorescent ’80s nostalgia had long been driven into the ground already (as we’ll discuss further below), by tapping into the less-exploited dinosaur market and limiting their exposure, the band managed to sound vital and punchy within a genre and aesthetic many might have considered dead and buried. By embracing the ridiculous of their premise, the German quintet transformed themselves from generic power metal outfit into one of the genre’s most exiting and invigorated acts. Translating that effect into a longer album format appears to have proved beyond them, however.
With Space Ninjas From Hell, Victorious leave behind the (comparatively) grounded world of laser-charged prehistorics for the extrterrestrial realms of space ninjas and celestial dragons; presumably because: in space no one can hear you squander all your potential and become a generic Dragonforce clone. “Tale of the Sunbladers” opens the album in the hyperfast, Nintendo-invoking style everyone grew tired of about halfway through Ultra Beatdown (2008). “Astral Assassin Shark Attack” and lead single “Super Sonic Samurai” followsuit, with the latter adding some bombastic, Sabaton-style, orchestral accents to the tune of “Grease Lightning”, which is far less exciting than the seamless morphing of the EP’s title track into the Power Rangers’ theme.
The whole kung fu space movie thing falls similarly short, with tracks like “Wasabi Warmachine” and “Nippon Knights” – not to mention the accented voice-over of superfluous outro track “Shinobi Strike 3000” – crossing the line into cultural insensitivity, which is an extra shame, since they’re two of the stronger tracks on the record. (I’ve also just realised that the ample at the start of “Wasabi Warmachine” is taken from the Annoying Orange, which is completely unacceptable.) It’s sad to think we’ve come to a point where the idea of lightsaber-weilding ninjas riding flying space sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their frickin’ heads into battle against a glowing sun dragon fails to garner any excitement. Nevertheless, in a world where even Muse have jumped on board with neon-drenched ’80s nostalgia: here we are. Even though it appeared five full years following Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Dinosaur Warfare somehow felt fresh. Space Ninjas From Hell feels utterly trite by comparison and anyone in doubt of its genericness need only compare its cover with that of Dragonforce’s Extreme Power Metal (2019) (below), which came out last year and has entirely identical blocking – looming dragon and all.
What’s really frustrating about Space Ninjas From Hell is that it still houses a few outstanding offerings. “Ninjas Unite” is a hard-hitting, symphonic number that would have made for a far better opener than “Tale of the Sunbladers”, while “Shuriken Showdown” is rescued from regularity thanks to its marvelously melodic solo section (alliteration is the name of the game here, if you haven’t realised). Victorius are at their best when they slow down and add some definition to their sound, as on standout song “Cosmic Space Comando Base”, which sounds like a mix between Journey and my beloved Crashdïet. The band are much better when they’re doing the Sabaton or the HammerFall thing (as on “Evil Wizard WuShu Master”, which perhaps isn’t the best example…). It’s thanks to these highlights that Space Ninjas From Hell is still probably better than any of the albums those three bands released last year. That still isn’t saying much however.
In transitioning their overblown concept into a longer format, Victorious have obscured a lot of what made Dinosaur Warfare so effective. As Dragonforce proved before them, there’s only so much of this style of power metal listeners can take and, along with the concept itself being generally weaker, Space Ninjas From Hell‘s largest shortcoming lies in its overexposure. To make an apt comparrison: it’s like how Kung Fury (2015) was unasailable as a two-minute trailer and entirely insufferable as a David Hasselhoff-drenched, half-hour “feature” (“True Survivor” is still a banger though). Space Ninjas may have worked better as a short EP.* Yet, while neon nostalgia may have once reinvigorated Victorius, it didn’t take them long to jump the laser shark.
*Try: “Ninjas Unite”, “Nippon Knights”, “Wasabi Warmachine”, “Cosmic Space Comando Base”, “Shuriken Showdown” and “Space Ninjas From Hell” (with “Shinobi Strike 3000” as an optional intro/outro track).
Space Ninjas From Hell comes out Januray 17 on Napalm Records.