Review by Xephyr for Fellowship - The Saberlight Chronicles (2022)
Damnation To The Destined
Power Metal, especially the Rhapsody inspired kind, has always shone a bright and blinding light in the face of most other Metal genres with its fantastical tales and devil-may-care attitude. All of the serious and raw musical emotion that is typical of most Metal subgenres is cast aside in favor of treacherous tales of nondescript magical swords and chosen heroes of destiny. However, Power Metal has encountered some serious obstructions in its attempts at modernization in the wake of its hallowed and revered predecessors. It’s no secret that well-listened Metal fans tend to admire or even worship the classic albums that released during the time of any subgenre’s infancy; hell, that’s probably true for all music, but sadly Power Metal is one of those genres where I’m inclined to agree that the modern state of it all hasn’t exactly been great. Thanks to its accessibility and overall modesty in terms of aggression, it’s seen a higher amount mainstream commercial success in recent years, but at the cost of becoming a generic shell of its foregoers more often than not. A few bands each year manage to get it right, but the high-fantasy inspired brand of Symphonic Power Metal remains a rather barren wasteland apart from a few remaining torchbearers like Twilight Force. In a niche subgenre that sometimes seems destined to fail, Fellowship arrive with an emotionally uplifting and remarkably humanizing debut.
It may seem counterintuitive in a subgenre with so many layers and moving parts, but one of the largest hurdles to overcome is utilizing all these elements in a way that doesn’t end up becoming boring or flat. Symphonic Power Metal albums can throw every instrument in existence at the listener, however, without imaginative songwriting choices and refined mixing the whole affair comes across as drab and plodding. The Saberlight Chronicles showcases an exorbitant amount of energy while nailing what makes their style unique, which is something I haven’t been able to find since Twilight Force’s Dawn of the Dragonstar back in 2019. The opening track “Until the Fires Die” would be right at home in that album, which immediately excited me for what was to come and Fellowship delivered a set of songs that, while not as densely bombastic, are full of life and achieve a different and effective balance between symphonics and Metal. The interactions between the orchestra and band have always been a major sticking point for me, so it’s fantastic to hear Fellowship’s take on combining these elements in a way that feels necessary and natural without being overpowering. The orchestra generally takes over in the choruses as power chords blare in the background, which helps to make room for vocalist Matthew Corry’s fervent delivery. Despite most choruses being somewhat comparable, Fellowship do an amazing job of letting each section of the band shine with ripping and driving riffs on “Oak and Ash”, some impressive fills and energy from the drummer on “Avalon”, and the very cool choral buildup section before the guitar solo on “Atlas”. There’s a sense of maturity and unity in the songwriting on the whole as well, with the energy levels of each section flowing in coordination without any clashes like useless double-bass during sweeping orchestral parts.
All these successes make The Saberlight Chronicles insanely addictive from cover to cover without feeling overbearing or monotonous. Corry’s silky-smooth delivery throughout his entire range propels the vocal melodies forward using crystal clear high notes that are devoid of the gravelly tinge or wavering vibrato that many other Power Metal vocalists have. He isn’t afraid to flex this range either in “Glint” or the ballad “Silhouette”, creating memorable and bombastic moments with the help of solid and consistent lyrical theming. The Saberlight Chronicles has an uplifting aura about it that, apart from the somewhat forced sounding “Scars and Shrapnel Wounds”, feels natural and heartwarming while maintaining the classic energy that Power Metal is known for. The satisfying mix of various Power Metal aspects allows the album to flow between Neoclassical shredding on “Glory Days” and “Oak and Ash” and slower, marching riffs on “Hearts Upon the Hill” without missing a beat or losing its thematic touch. Even the more derivative tracks have a memorable element to them, like “The Hours of Wintertime’s” piano or “The Saint Beyond the River’s” infectious refrain and choral section. Although The Saberlight Chronicles is musically fantastic throughout its entire runtime, what really drew me into this release was the overall themes and lyrical work.
It isn’t often that Power Metal pokes through the surface level of fantasy adventures and queens frozen in blocks of ice, but Fellowship blasts through with heartfelt themes of affirmation and personal self-discovery. Judging by the artwork and album title I was ready for there to be a full-blown tale akin to Gloryhammer’s outlandish concept albums, but what I got was a blurry narrative filled with well written lyrical motifs that outline a hero’s struggle with himself and the world around him. Some of the more blatant connections like ‘Am I worthy?’ in “Oak and Ash” and the rebuttal ‘I’ve always been worthy’ in “Glint” are easy to pick up on, but the themes of struggling with validation and having confidence in your own actions to forge your own path despite adversities are prevalent and forever evolving as the album advances. Perhaps it’s because these themes used to, and still sometimes do, resonate with me heavily; depression is a hell of a drug after all, but it’s refreshing to hear such humanizing messages behind well-written music while still being somewhat tactful. The clever rebranding of the ‘hero chosen by destiny’ trope paints a picture of a person who is struggling to find value in themselves in the face of powerful forces dictating what they should or shouldn’t be. Almost every song, apart from “Hearts Upon the Hill” and “The Saint Beyond the River”, has some powerful lines that are crafted in a way that are emotional but not awkward as the hero battles their way through the album. Although “Atlas” begins to outline the weight of the hero’s struggles, “Oak and Ash” is where the album truly begins with its imagery of pulling out one’s heart for all to see, begging for validation and comfort from the hardships they’ve endured. ‘No one’s ever needed strength like me’ is another incredible line, as it truly captures the selfishness and isolation of the mind as it forces you to believe your problems are singular and unsolvable. “Glint” is a direct response to this initial struggle, with the resounding ‘I’ve always been worthy’ chorus being a very powerful realization for the main character despite their past or future actions. ‘…the warriors who never needed destiny at all’ is another line that subverts most Power Metal lyrics, as I take it as the hero having envy and admiration for those who exhibited bravery on their own accord, not because of some foretold prophecy. The rest of the tracks revolve around this general theming and culminate with the hero casting his perceived destiny aside in “Avalon”.
The Saberlight Chronicles, despite not quite being a full narrative experience, feels like one of the most genuine and cohesive Power Metal albums I’ve heard in a long time while still having the musical prowess to back it up. With there being so many stagnant ideas in the Power Metal scene nowadays, Fellowship shows how awesome the new age of Symphonic Power Metal could be, although I’ll admit their positive attitude will definitely rub certain Metal fans the wrong way, with “Scars and Shrapnel Wounds” being unbearably happy for those who are looking for their music to thrust them into the dark pits of despair. There are a few tracks that drag the album down a touch, but it’s hardly an issue. It’s clear that Fellowship had a clear goal and refused to waver as their message comes across clear as day with a debut that employs all of the best tricks of the Power Metal trade despite the genre’s antiquated track record. They have an addictive energy that’s genuinely refreshing to hear as they manage to bring a thought provoking and imaginative journey to life on their own terms.