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Paladine - Entering The Abyss

Paladine
Entering The Abyss
by Kira Schlechter at 12 April 2021, 2:51 PM

If you’re really heavily into something – like the Greek epic power metal band PALADINE obviously is with the Dragonlance universe – it’s tough to subsequently create music about it without completely losing listeners. But they dare enough to try. “Entering The Abyss” is the second album they’ve done based on the books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; their first was 2017’s “Finding Solace.” They are named for the “leader of the good deities,” a god who “sponsors the soul’s aspirations to rise to greater heights and to improve itself by following the example of others” (according to www.dragonlance.fandom.com).

But thankfully, this is not all “Inside Baseball,” if you will (a term used in my past reporter life) – you don't necessarily have to be intimately familiar with the books or their fictional world to follow or appreciate the story. If you’re like me and you look up the names and the characters because you’re curious, it works; if you’re not, then it still works. These are still well-drawn songs with hooky choruses and all the proper power metal trappings. The introduction, “Raistlin’s Ambition” (Raistlin being a main character in the two main series of the books), is brief and spoken, dramatically prophetic, with the character stating, “I will become a god” and that he will “tear down her five dragonheads to the ground” (more on that later).

The actual first track, “War Of The Lance (Bringer Of Fire),” has a stately guitar intro with light, airy drumming and a doom-laden keyboard segment leading into the main riff. Nick has a throaty rasp, almost slurring a bit in his delivery, but with a good amount of power and authority. The vocal harmonies need to have more presence in the chorus; they need to stand out and pop and they don’t really (this improves later). The drumming too could have a bit more punch (this also improves later). The solo section after the second verse has a balanced, tight swing; the modulating section toward the end is quite impressive, optimistic and light for a moment before shifting back to a more minor-key feel. This track is a dialogue between Paladine and “the gods,” where he is being urged to take action after what might have been a catastrophic event (there’s a line about the “fiery mountain has fallen” and a mention of Takhisis, the main goddess of evil in the stories).

“Between Gods And Men” has muscle in the guitars but no real resonance in the drumming, even though Mpampis is definitely capable (his double kick is well done but could be bigger sounding). The intro is hectic and insistent, with strong guitar melodies throughout – it’s reminiscent of METALLICA in some ways in the sound of the verses. The harmony pops a lot more in this chorus, since here it is Nick and the overdubbing, not just the overdubbing alone. There’s definitely a foreshadowing here (“I see we’re reaching the end/Between gods and men”), like there will be some sort of showdown or final reckoning – if the verses are a bit mysterious in whom they’re referring to or talking about, the chorus kind of gives you at least some idea of what’s going on. The breakdown is somewhat spoken and Nick plays the role of narrator well, describing what’s going on in a hopeless, helpless tone (“Dark magic arises upon Krynn” and “the cataclysm has begun”); the blast beats are well done, upping the drama ante. The bridge begins with a solo section, then a slower, groove-laden commentary by “the gods” acting as omniscient observers (“As soon as priest decays/The gods will show their ways” and urging “surrender now”). The lyrics are helpful in that they depict who is speaking in each track, here it is Kingpriest (the head Cleric of Paladine), Astinus (a recorder of history), along with “the gods.”

“Mighty Heart” has that lovely optimistic soar to it, like hope is coming, the guitars providing a majestic intro (their melodies definitely have almost a folk or traditional tinge to them), the drums kicking it along, before the riffing settles in as the story gets under way. The chorus is stirring and uplifting, as the best power metal is, Raistlin saying if you join with me, things will be alright (“after the war, the light will be strong” and urging to “trust in me”), the melody optimistic but tinged with darkness (as if to say this won’t be easy), the double kick adding to the urgency. Again, if it’s hard to follow the action in the verses, the chorus at least serves as something to latch on to. The solo section plays a bit off the initial guitar melodies in the intro, the main riff showing up as commentary throughout it as a reminder, a grounding. The last chorus strips out the overdubbing for a moment in favor of Nick on his own, then it nicely modulates before the guitar takes over the chorus melody and switches it up a bit.

“Entering The Abyss” might be acoustic at first, but there’s nothing sweet about it – it’s full of dread and foreboding, the brusque riffs underneath it adding to that feel. A sweeping guitar melody takes over as excellent, more present drumming leads the shift in tempo from drawn out to terse and hectic in a sleek, effortless transition. This is another chorus that gives you an idea of the action, that things aren’t going well for Raistlin – the pacing of it is very good, as is the judicious overdubbing. He is alone in this scenario (“Brothers and sisters are gone” and “none by my side”) as his torment begins (“Thousands of demons arise/And they drag me to hell … the forces of chaos will stand”). They return to the same musical themes after the first verse and chorus to introduce the second one, and again after the solo section and bridge, a power metal trademark. The final chorus has a twist, Raistlin telling of the slaying of a five-headed dragon (that is Takhesis, the evil goddess) and says, “Returning home/My own stars will brighten the sky/I have won,” but in a transition identical to that of the bridge, he warns, “And then darkness will fall/Maybe something went badly wrong.” It ends with that established theme once more, which is what you want, bringing it to a clean close despite the cliffhanger ending.

As the longest track, and falling mid-album, “Darkness And Light” is likely a pivotal point; the characters here are again Kingpriest, Astinus, and “the gods.” There’s a military-esque feel in the orchestration and that majestic guitar melody that takes over from the orchestrated version. Another solid riff takes hold, and it’s also used as punctuation between the lines of the verse; a tiny pre-chorus leads to the grandiose swing of the chorus, in which again you get a good enough idea of what’s going on, even if the verses don’t enlighten you (“The gods must decide … standing side by side/With darkness and light/The spell will succeed”). Oddly enough, this isn’t frustrating, to not really know what’s going on – you kind of choose to accept it from the beginning and just go with it because the music and lyrics are compelling enough, which is a credit to the band. The solo section midway motors briskly along, mimicking the verse and pre-chorus melodies and tempos, then going into one last chorus and another instrumental section that has a nicely unresolved tenseness to it that echoes the last words of the chorus, “Into the fight of eternal war.” It does go on a bit long, taking up the last two minutes of the track – by the time the end comes, the last chorus has long faded into memory. Sotiris and John do a lot of fine harmonies and dual playing, but it’s kind of like this section is misplaced, that perhaps maybe the chorus should have come a bit closer to the end.

Fast-paced to match the chaotic action, “Hourglass In The Sky” borders on thrash. Nick’s voice acts accordingly, a bit more grunting and rough – it’s a different aspect of his range and it’s nice to hear it. Raistlin again here is narrating, mentioning the dragon (“crush her five heads”) and depicting his journey and other travails (“Rising from darkness/Ascending to stars/Crossing the borders/Between gods and man” and “Fighting the black one/Learning his pain”). In the well-paced chorus, Nick levels out and sings as before; it’s fast but alternates a bit with a slower portion as emphasis, and he spits out “my hourglass burns the sky” as if to say he knows his time is running out (“I live for glory now,” he asserts, “I fight for my revenge”). That initial fast riff is tempered by the drumming beneath it and a lengthier, drawn-out riff, almost an evolution of the faster one – a bridge and then a solo, led into by that same fast riff, shows their canny knack for those musical touchpoints.

With its firmly established musical sections, “Brother Against Brother” is reminiscent of early-period QUEENSRYCHE. Here is Raistlin and Astinus and a new character, Caramon (Raistlin’s twin brother, hence the title; the two have a difficult relationship) – it’s a dialogue between them with the historian acting as observer of their conflict (“Fear of mortal life/Never tried to do something, said nothing,” then “Never tried to ask something, say something”), and that’s interesting commentary with or without the context of the books. The chorus, though, says that the two must work together despite their differences and for the greater good (“Our kingdom never bends” and “United we stand”) – the lurking cinematic keyboard melody adds to the desperate feel of the lyrics. Again, a repeated musical theme serves as the transition between verse/chorus sections and then into the acoustic bridge. A quick solo levels into the lush chorus once more, then a reprise of the acoustic part that almost gives a hopelessness or finality to that last line, “There’s no turning back or retreat.”

The acoustic start to “Sacrifice Of A Hero” is fitting considering the title, the electric guitar commenting softly over the top before everything launches into a head-bobbing swing, drums popping along as an undercurrent (think “Don’t Tread on Me,” maybe). Raistlin and Astinus are joined by Paladine (as omniscient narrator) and “the gods,” and it appears as though the sacrifice of the title is Raistlin “trapped in this realm,” as Paladine says, maybe to spare the world from his insanity. The chorus is sung by “the gods,” while Astinus delivers the bridge – it’s very similar in feel to the verses but with overdubbing, as if to differentiate between the characters). Afterward, it meshes subtly into a slightly altered chorus, modulated just a tiny bit and with loads of harmony.

The defiant, challenging verses of “The Return” are from Raistlin’s perspective solely; this seems to be his breaking away from the unnamed realm of the previous song – perhaps he was forced to stay there by Paladine, because he says, “The ‘One God’ is not anymore/Freedom once and for all,” like he’s overthrowing a god’s tyranny. He was definitely affected by his time there, as he notes (“I was there with flesh and blood/Left my soul inside”). It also seems as though he’s returned for a reason – there’s a mention of his nephew Palin, who also had a talent for magic, and that may have gone awry (“Palin’s lost in his test” and “Magic makes me stand”), so there’s a need for Raistlin now. The chorus is wonderful, rich and tragic, even if you don’t know what it’s referring to exactly; the final time through has a little vocal descanting throughout and Nick even hitting a high wail after the last line. Perhaps there was a great loss of life, as it refers to a “great sacrifice for the chosen.”

The brief, introspective instrumental “River Of Souls,” just acoustic and a bare, simple, repeated keyboard melody, is a thoughtful closer, almost paying respect to what might have been the tragic events of the previous track. If you’re a Dragonlance aficionado, you’ll find familiar names, themes, and plots in “Entering The Abyss.” If you’re just a power metal fan, you’ll find familiar names, themes, and plots in it, too, even if they might not hang together as a story for you. The songs are mere sketches of plot lines from the books – they are likely not meant to be complete or totally fleshed out but instead are moments in the story arc. If you’re trying to get a plot, it's not abundantly clear and maybe it’s not supposed to be. Either way, PALADINE has succeeded in their mission here.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 8
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Raistlin’s Ambition
2. War Of The Lance (Bringer Of Fire)
3. Between Gods And Men
4. Mighty Heart
5. Entering The Abyss
6. Darkness And Light
7. Hourglass In The Sky
8. Brother Against Brother
9. Sacrifice Of A Hero
10. The Return
11. River Of Souls
Lineup:
Nick Protonotarios - Vocals
Sotiris Paraskevas - Guitar
John Kats - Guitar
Christ Stergianidis - Bass
Mpampis Tsolakis - Drums
Record Label: No Remorse Records
     


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