Review : BENEDICTUM – "Dominion"

Release: 2011March08 (US)
Label: Frontiers Records
Rating: 4.5/5

I’ve had a real rough time with LocoMotive Music. The Spanish label dispensed a seemingly-endless stream of mediocre metallic Manneken Pis that overflowed my steely ears. They are the reason I adopted the “one-minute rule” when reviewing questionable albums—if songs didn’t grasp in 60 seconds, I moved on. Since becoming WRUV’s Metal Director in April 2005, the venerable Grave Digger (with Liberty or Death) and Mystic Prophecy (with Satanic Curses) were the only two to breach my walls. Both hinted toward the darkness I feel necessary to sustain this genre …then I heard Benedictum‘s Seasons of Tragedy.

I had never liked anything as immediately—and as I would discover, enduringly—from this label. In fact, I can’t recall another since, so good on them for ending on a high note, I guess. Lastly, applause for encouraging the group to change their name to Benedictum from Bound—hey, you don’t want people confusing the band with the Wachowski Brothers’ sexy neo-noir film debut, right? But let’s lavish praise upon the ever-strengthening San Diego quintet, who have really hit their stride on their third full-length, and switched to Frontiers Records, based in Naples, Italy.

Now I know that I just self-referenced in my limerick review of Otep‘s latest pile of meh, but I must clarify (hopefully) one last thing: Veronica Freeman’s exclusion from this list. Had there been better Benedictum videos on YouTube, I would’ve included them, but I want to do this woman justice. The co-founder typically takes center stage, and rightfully so, as Freeman’s charismatic command is enthralling. The passion and sincerity she injects into every inflection is clearly captured, keeping even the most cliché lines in the black—hell, we even get the ‘darkness-light’ line in “Seer” and contradictory song titles that sound downright high-schoolish (“Beautiful Pain” and “Loud Silence”). If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to not reflexively reject such tropes, but explore the balance created through the music.

I was not expecting there to be balance birthed from more progressive lands—impressively achieved on the nine-minute, pre-bonus track closer “Epsilon”, which feels downright taut compared with the last album’s title track (though stand out it did). We hear all that new keyboardist Tony Diaz has to offer, from subtle touches to leading the charge. Some stuff is goofy—like the bell ringing on the “time is running out” line from the otherwise-awesome “Prodigal Son”—but the war horns on followup “The Shadowlands” are nothing short of fucking perfect, in terms of both tone and placement.

Their covers always amaze me, too. Last time it was Accept‘s “Balls to the Wall”, and I have heard them do a mean version of “Heaven and Hell”, but Rush‘s “Overture/Temples of Syrinx” (from 2112) is given a vicious update on Dominion, with a range I instinctively knew Freeman had, but never fully connected until now. Okay, I’ve dwelt on her for a while, and lest I forget other co-founder Pete Wells, recognize: I haven’t heard a huge dude shred a riff quite like “Prodigal Son” since Into Eternity‘s Tim Roth dusted on “Timeless Winter”.

Rarely is that classic desired dynamic between vocalist and lead guitarist achieved these days; there’s a certain panache that’s easy to see, yet hard to quantify, and it is so obviously present in Benedictum. Truly, they are as blessed as their name suggests.

Try 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13

01. Dominion
02. At The Gates
03. Seer
04. Grind It
05. Prodigal Son
06. The Shadowlands
07. Beautiful Pain
08. Dark Heart
09. Bang
10. Loud Silence
11. Epsilon
12. Sanctuary
13. Overture/Temple Of Syrinx (Rush cover)



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