By Sam Graham
Dakesis are Britain’s upcoming power-metal legionnaires hailing from that fabled birthplace of heavy metal: Birmingham. At first glance, it’s easy to tell a lot of time, effort and money went into making their album Trial by Fire. The cover artwork is a watercolour painting by artist Maxine Dorman that reminds me somewhat of the cover to the 1986 edition of The Rituals of Infinity by Michael Moorcock. The disc even came with a detailed press-packet that talks about the band, so, you can tell these guys take themselves seriously.
Given my soft spot for power metal, I couldn’t wait to jump straight in.
Trial by Fire opens with the haunting sound of Shield of Achilles I. This instrumental actually sounds reminiscent of the atmospheric music that ex-Information Society frontman Kurt Harland made for the Legacy of Kain video games. It’s short, but sweet and gives the album a professional start. Shield of Achilles I builds up and up until the band kick in with the title song: Trial by Fire. It’s a nice solid power-metal tune that’s good to head bang to and will satisfy all your expectations. The song advertises the band very well and shows that every member has a great deal of skill on their instruments.
After Trial by Fire ends on a testicularly-challenging high note, the technical riffage (from guitarists Wayne Dorman and Matt Jones) of Liar hammers in, followed by the impressive vocal talents of Wayne Dorman. His voice is one of the things that impressed me about Dakesis, because when it comes to that kind of vocals, many try, but few have the power in their lungs to pull it off with lasting ability. I’ve seen Wayne Dorman and I can confirm that it isn’t just the album; the man can do that live.
Liar is carried mostly by that riff until a breakdown features some classical-styled guitaring. To juxtapose that, the solo that comes in next is firmly rooted in bluesy rock and the opening few bends really make my inner guitarist smile. Carrying on the lead section is some frantic keyboard work by Gemma Lawler. In fact that whole section is long and full of tasty licks from every instrument in question.
After Liar the album slows down on the appropriately titled After the Storm, however it doesn’t stay that way. More fancy guitar work leads into a meaty, Metallica-ish riff and vocals by Gemma. It’s good to hear the band using her voice as more than backing, because she really can sing. The chorus’ have a harmonized build-up that after a couple of times around, drops the song into a section that I completely never saw coming. It’s a sort of mesh between Yngwie Malmsteen and Castlevania and a cool stand-out piece of the song.
Broken is the album’s sombre tune (there’s always one and it’s usually in the middle). It opens with some rain a-la Black Sabbath (1970) and Gemma sings over a simple piano melody before a Vivian Campbell-esque riff comes in, then carries over the second verse. While I thing that method of building up a song has been done to death on slow songs, it’s OK, because it works really well and well, if it ain’t broke...
This song is where Gemma really shows us what she can do. She’s already proven that she can wail on After the Storm, but her voice comes into its own here. The minimalist music behind her allows her more scope, whilst also paying compliment. The solo to this song is one of the most thoughtful on the album, rising in pitch and technicality until it reaches a counterpoint with the vocalists. Towards the end the lead guitar really reminds me of something Saxon would do.
Following Broken the album reverts back to being metal with the nice heavy intro to Into the Light. The drums (played by Adam Harris) carry this song all the way from start to finish as the rest of the music behind it is fairly simple. The solo however, is something else entirely. The runs and lead into some sweep-picking that’s nice and clean. It’s rare to hear clean sweep-picking done with such precision outside of youtube’s relentless (and irritatingly pretentious) legion of bedroom-shredders. Into the Light then ends with some death growls which I thought was an interesting touch. Rarely seen in power metal, but then Dakesis do describe themselves as pertaining to other influences. It’s times like these where it shows.
All in all, Trial by Fire is one of the best local albums I have heard. It has all that you would expect from a genre that’s main influence is Gary Gygax. The music is good, the band is talented and the recording quality is second to none. If there is anything that draws the album back, I’d say that because it starts with possibly the best song of the album (Trial by Fire), it tends to wane as it progresses. However, Dakesis are quite good at putting catchy sections here and there that make the individual songs stand out. Valhalla, for example, has a catchy chorus that is probably the most memorable part of the whole song.
To the masses, Dakesis will most probably get compared to Dragonforce simply because of the genre, but actual fans of power metal know that Dragonforce aren’t actually all that. Dakesisremind me more of Australia’s Dungeon, in the way that while they may be firmly rooted in power metal and all the cheese that comes with it, they know when to bust out a meaty riff here and there and aren’t afraid to add other influences. And lastly: All their songs don’t sound the same!
Devil-Horn Rating (out of five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/