Power metal isn’t my favourite genre, but my favourite power metal acts are some of my absolute favourite bands. I find the genre has the somewhat unique trait amongst metal genres that it can be so absolutely joyous while retaining the aggression common to most high-tempo metal. It makes for one of the most uplifting and positive live experiences you can have with music. This is why, since November of 2006 when I first saw them, I’ve broken out into a smile pretty much every time I listen to a Blind Guardian song. Not all power metal goes this route, though – some power metal reaches further into that aggression, opting for more drama than joy, more conflict than celebration. It’s often a little more serious, sometimes to the point of painful silliness, but usually no less catchy and enjoyable.
Such is the power metal brought forth by Italy’s Hollow Haze on their 2012 release Poison in Black, made clear immediately with the introductory track Rise Above, all cinematic strings, synth choirs, and wailing guitar. It sounds as much like you’re about to watch a Batman movie as you are to hear a metal record. It leads directly into the first song proper, Tears of Pain, which retains some of the dramatic orchestration but also sounds, at times, like the modern update Judas Priest has been trying to be. The speed metal blitz of the verses carry into a soaring chorus and despite the relatively simple riffing and standard drumming, it’s extremely catchy and works wonders as an opening track. It sets the tone reasonably for the rest this record: simple riffing, standard drumming, soaring, catchy choruses. Sometimes they step into unexpected territory - the guitar playing on Lords of World flirts with Zakk Wylde riffing at times – but they’re mostly playing in the Kamelot school of power metal, which is to say it’s about the power. The punch of the guitar is more important than the complexity of the chord progression, the thump of the drums is more important than the intricacy of the patterns – this is about the songs first and foremost. Hell, there’s only one song even approaching ballad territory, which is frankly refreshing given how absolutely stale the power metal ballad has gotten in the last decade or so.
It helps that vocalist Ramon Sonato has a powerful, gritty voice, capable of carrying the songs’ strong melodies to the heights they need to reach to keep the listener hooked. His voice reminds me a lot of Daniel Heiman, formerly of Lost Horizon and presumably of other bands since. He doesn’t use a particularly wide range on the record but he does go from a mid-range raspy threat of a voice to piercing Halford screeches that make me half wish they had thrown on a classic Priest cover just to hear how well he could do it. They have a knack for writing catchy vocal hooks and sprinkle them liberally throughout the record, and Sonato’s pitch-perfect delivery is a big part of why they’ll stick in your head for a while even after first listen.
I almost feel like there’s not a whole lot else to say about this record. It’s nothing revelatory, it’s probably not going to blow anyone away, but I feel like most power metal fans will find quite a lot to enjoy here. It’s pretty much the definition of the word “workmanlike” – there’s no incredible flash to it but it gets the job done and leaves little reason for complaint.
note: This review previously stated this was the band’s debut record. It is their fourth. This has been corrected.