Four years in the making, the new second album by The Last Reign from Buffalo, New York, is now rapidly approaching its September 18 release date. Bearing the title Evolution, it’s a 12-track, 55-minute concept album built around a science-fiction narrative that’s “about the world’s resources being long depleted, sending the human race on a quest for an uncertain future.”
Honestly, though I’m a die-hard sci-fi fan, I’m at the point in my long listening career when I blanch at the thought of a nearly hour-long album. It’s such a rarity when a record of that length has real staying power, and more common, even in generally strong records, to encounter the creeping monotony of sameness or the insertion of sub-par tracks that would have been better left on the cutting room floor. But I’m happy to report that Evolution easily avoids those pitfalls, and instead creates an “edge of your seat” momentum that doesn’t flag. The fact that the band’s chosen field is melodic death metal, a field that’s been well-furrowed to the point of exhaustion, makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.
That The Last Reign are able to successfully pull off this feat is in part a testament to how very good every member is at his assigned position in the band. And because each of them really is a top-shelf performer, the band wisely chose to craft these usually elaborate songs in ways that give them all significant roles, and then produced the album with an evenness of sound that doesn’t bury any one of them beneath what the others are doing.
Beyond those factors, what makes the album one you can easily stay with for nearly an hour (and then have it stay with you after you’re done) is the stylistic approach they took to this hoary genre of metal. The music definitely pulls heavily from the glory days of the ’90s (it’s reliably ferocious and hard-hitting), but it also sounds modern, thanks in part to the intricacy of the arrangements and the addition of progressive influences, and the melodies and melodic variations prove to be greatly appealing.
In album-opener “Genesis”, a momentous orchestral introduction creates an ominous, mysterious, and increasingly explosive yet majestic atmosphere, and then the band deliver their own instrumental performance, which punches the listener’s pulse with gradually increasing intensity, leading into “Evolution of a Dying Race”, which is a race all its own, introducing the listener to the bestial howls and blood-broiling screams of vocalist Adam Svensson, the nimble but mountainous bass lines executed by Joe Maggio, and the morphing riffs and sinuous soloing of guitarist Brian Platter. It’s a hard-charging, hard-hitting, high-flying track that delivers ferocity as well as head-hooking melodic vibrancy and thunderous grooves.
Those ingredients work together in harness over the course of the next 10 songs, many of which have the same turbo-charged momentum as “Evolution of a Dying Race”. Some reach heights of blazing, pulse-pounding glory, such as the follow-on track “Annihilation of the Ancients”, which benefits from spectacular dual-guitar soloing (but finishes with a beguiling acoustic-guitar harmony) and the wild, blood-rushing, spine-jolting experiences of “Ironclad Torment” and “The Storm”, which are both absolutely electrifying thrill-rides. But along with their sheer adrenaline-triggering energy, those songs and others like them also succeed in getting plenty of expertly crafted melodic hooks stuck in a listener’s head.
There’s really no song on the album that lacks for visceral punch, vocal savagery, seductive melody, or soloing fireworks, but some are more melancholy or menacing, a bit more dreamlike, and less full-throttle in their momentum. “The Hourglass” is one of those. And in addition to beautifully indulging Brian Platter‘s prog-metal interests, it also gives drummer Vince Mayer a chance to take center stage in a brief yet riveting solo) and ends with a “cosmic” yet unnerving ambient conclusion. “Fallen Dark”, as its name suggests, is another change of direction. It functions as a mesmerizing instrumental interlude, pairing acoustic guitar and what might be a trumpet or just a cleverly tuned guitar.
And in other songs the band introduce further stylistic accents to enhance the album’s variety, such as the prog- and jazz-minded guitar parts in “No Horizon”, which turns out to be one of the record’s strongest and most memorable tracks (it also features soloing by Mors Principium Est’s Andy Gillion). The pairing of it with the multi-faceted “Terminal Threshold” provides a strong core in the album’s second half.
After the thunderous, jolting rhythms and mercurial fretwork of “Devoid” the band insert one more instrumental interlude, “Luminosity”, which begins in moody and mesmerizing fashion but then becomes an earthquake, before rounding off the album with “Architects of Genocide” — a final, glorious musical extravaganza that delivers of bones-smashing drumwork, hard-pulsing bass, and screaming vocal hostility, melded with blaring chords, fluid, enthralling guitar leads, another wonderful trumpet (or trumpet-like) solo, and a piano variation on one of the song’s key melodies. It makes for a hell of a finish to the album, and might just be the record’s best track.
As noted at the outset, Evolution was built around a sci-fi narrative, and to take that a step further the narrative has been turned into a novel written by lyricist and ex-vocalist Mike Marlinski, entitled Evolution of a Dying Race.
As further noted above, the album will be released on September 18th, and it’s available for pre-order now.