DRAGONLORD
"Dominion"

(Spinefarm)

01. Entrance
02. Dominion
03. Ominous Premonition
04. Lamia
05. Love of the Damned
06. Northlanders
07. The Discord of Melkor
08. Serpents of Fire

RATING: 7.5/10

From the char of black metal mania glorified by profiled pundits EMPEROR, DIMMU BORGIR, CRADLE OF FILTH and MAYHEM rose a mini-legion of one-man wannabes, dark forest wanderers and orchestral fugue art farts. Corpse paint, crusty leather, inverted crosses, middle fingers hoisted toward Catholicism, at this point, a great big Mega-Therion yawn.

Yet the underground advent of black metal at the turn of a purportedly damned new millennium did spawn legitimate artistic merit in the form of WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, ENSLAVED, AGALLOCH, NACHTMYSTIUM, SIGH, CHTHONIC and, of course, Ihsahn's gloriously tormented solo project. Around that time, TESTAMENT's Eric Peterson, SADUS's Steve DiGiorgio (at the time residing in TESTAMENT with Peterson) and NEVERMORE's Steve Smyth decided to let their darker inhibitions run free, and DRAGONLORD was birthed. 2001's "Rapture" and 2005's "Black Wings of Destiny" were, at their points of release, aspirant recordings of black metal excellence. Somehow, they further dignified a subgenre that really didn't need or want such vast exposure. BATHORY, MERCYFUL FATE and CELTIC FROST were all that black metal could stomach surrendering to the metal world at large.

It's been 13 years since the last DRAGONLORD album, and all that remains of a band suffering as many lineup changes as a proto-tech metal unit is Eric Peterson. In true black metal maverick style, he handles just about everything on DRAGONLORD's latest offering, "Dominion". Playing guitars, bass and fielding vocals, Peterson is supported by drummer Alex Bent (TRIVIUM), keyboardist Lyle Livingston (PSYPHERIA) and femme vocalist, Leah. What becomes one of the year's most curious releases, "Dominion" has its share of girth and creativity, but it is also filled with quizzical unevenness.

Opening with a cliché thunderstorm soundbite and death tolls does nothing to raise expectations, and as Eric Peterson recreates some of EMPEROR's and SLAYER's best licks throughout "Entrance", a hokey series of synthesized chorales spill behind him. The faux vocals become an overblown, repetitive nuisance (sounding more at home in a Danny Elfman/Tim Burton collaboration) as "Dominion" grinds out a predictable mash of EMPEROR, DIMMU BORGIR and THERION. Positively, Eric Peterson's bass work is phenomenal, his guitar solo lovingly TESTAMENT-borne, his vocal squelching as much up to the task as his somber cleans. Lyle Livingston's keys are luxuriant as the progressions work toward power metal in the middle section.

It's when "Ominous Premonition" rockets along a set of scrumptious rocking chords that this album becomes worth its salt. Stricken of the banal pseudo chorals, this song would be a mini masterpiece of thrash, death metal and fifties rock 'n' roll that you don't see coming. Peterson's bass flurries are equally striking. What you also don't see coming is the goth pop swell of "Lamia" afterwards, which rides an agreeable harmony before tumbling into an awkward transition of progressions, at least graced by Leah's magnetic sirens.

When Peterson sings in clean mode, you'll swear at times it's Chuck Billy, particularly on "Serpents of Fire", while "Love of the Damned" is re-engaged from "Souls of Black"-era TESTAMENT. "The Discord of Melkor" is a Tolkien miss until the infernal blasting at the rear of the track; "Serpents of Fire" makes up for it with its searing intensity and brilliant stylistic conversions.

You'll likely be begging for mercy from the clumsy choral dumps into the hammering grind of "Northlanders", particularly when Leah is more than enough to fill space behind Eric Peterson. Frankly, that stinks, since the track itself is well-written and swarmed by Alex Bent's clomping rhythms.

The optimist's view to this album says Eric Peterson has shown off a mighty impressive repertoire that will blow away TESTAMENT fans previously unaware of DRAGONLORD's existence. The opposing view would say "Dominion" is a curtain closer in which Peterson has scrambled to cleanse his teeming creative mind before the next TESTAMENT writing sessions.

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