Theocracy - ST 2003 Metal Ages Records reviewed by: EC
1) Prelude 2) Ichthus 3) The Serpent's Kiss 4) Mountain 5) Theocracy 6) The Healing Hand 7) Sinner 8) New Jerusalem 9) The Victory Dance 10) Twist of Fate
There seems to be a lot of these one-man bands floating around the circuit these days. We've seen groups like Wintersun, Fireaxe, and Avantasia all run on limited personnel, creating wonderful moments of power metal magic along the way. Now, Theocracy have risen, or should I say Matt Smith has? You see Mr. Smith is playing the role of mad scientist, creating his own vision of the perfect fantasy metal album through this Theocracy project. This Georgia native handles all lead and choir vocals, acoustic, bass, and rhythm guitars, along with keys, orchestration, and drum programming. Did I mention he also produced and recorded the record, along with overseeing the CD layout and artwork? Yeah, this metal guru has been extremely busy, and his hard work really shows off on this debut album.
Just like prior Metal Ages releases like Katagory V and Division, Theocracy gets the full package treatment. With this debut album, the label has shelled out the cash in exchange for a brilliant artistic layout. The album's booklet is bright and colorful, with a beautiful album cover that just screams European power with its Ying-Yang look at Heaven and Hell. The left side of the cover has a glorious golden glow, illuminating the paradise of Heaven, while the right side is black and gray, showing the serpent and it's representation of Hell. Why the Christian based themes? Well Matt Smith is very spiritual, and Theocracy is his way of teaching the gospel through metal. Each song on this album is dedicated to Christ and his teachings, which is a very positive and uplifting experience even if you aren't a believer. The lyrics are very inspirational, and the music backing it is extraordinary.
You might find Theocracy on par with bands like Rhapsody and Angra, but there is a stronger progressive power metal vibe to it all. This album has it's streamlined approach at times, but for the most part each song is epic, better yet, each track is a monumental explosion of sound. With huge choir pieces and complex arrangements, Theocracy are very much on the same page as the Europeans. It's odd to hear such a fantasy metal sound from America, but this debut record is filled with those elements, from violins to orchestra arrangements, this album has it all. The production is done well, with plenty of attention given to the arrangement and complexity of the record. Every instrument gets full detail, from the huge chorus parts to the violins, and every song has that epic feel. The polished production reminds me of the very best in Brazilian power metal.
I normally don't buy into the whole fantasy metal genre, with much of that sound being too medieval for my liking. My tastes lie in the more traditional power metal market, with bands like Running Wild and Grave Digger always finding a place in my player. But Theocracy have crafted some wonderful tunes on this debut album. Some of the faster cuts are very traditional, with plenty of Helloween speed riffing and catchy chorus sing alongs. Songs like "Ichtus" and "The Healing Hand" sound a lot like Edguy or Avantasia, while faster cuts like "New Jerusalem" remind me of another Christian themed band, Seventh Avenue. Matt Smith has a wonderful flare for melody, with his songwriting and guitars built around a nice melodic hook. His vocals are really the highlight for me, with his range drifting from mid to high, keeping the album diverse and interesting throughout. The only downside for me is the length of the songs. Out of the ten tracks here, five are over six minutes long. Not something you can really throw in on the way to the grocery store.
It's great to see another Christian band surface, as I have always found the positive lyrics uplifting. It is really amazing to hear this guy do so many things with this recording. Matt Smith is really a master of all trades, and it clearly shows on his debut album. There are plenty of bands out there that can't be this creative with five brains involved. If you are looking for another quality fantasy metal act, then check this project out. For fans of Dark Avenger, Angra, Rhapsody, and Avantasia, you will find plenty to like here. Hardcore power metal enthusiasts may want to pass this one by, as the choirs and keys aren't going to be heavy enough for their tastes. All in all, a solid debut and a miraculous body of work for one man. God bless him!
About this Writer: Eric Compton // Eric Compton lives in the most haunted city in the world, St. Augustine, Florida with his family and two yorkies. He has served as senior editor for MaximumMetal.com for nearly 10 years and is the author of the heavy metal book series--Denim & Letters. His reviews, interviews and social commentary has been featured on websites like Brave Words, Blabbermouth, Metal Temple, Metal Rules, Ultimate Metal, Metal Maniacs and Wikipedia.
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