Album Title: A Pledge To Darkness
Label: Rockshots Records
Date of Release: 29 April 2022
As other reviews have proved, I’m willing to try anything in 2022, so when I received a promo for an album described as ‘an epic metallic space synth soundtrack’, I shrugged, thought ‘what the hell’, and took a listen. The album in question is entitled ‘A Pledge To Darkness’ and it’s by an Italian band by the name of LionSoul. It is their third full-length since forming around 2009, but their first for their new label, Rockshots Records. It also happens to be my first encounter with the quintet.
As it turns out, the reason for LionSoul’s promo description is most likely because no-one could work out exactly what kind of music it is they play. The core is probably power metal, but there’s so much more going on across the album that it’s quite difficult to properly place the music. Elements of prog, thrash, melodic death metal, classic rock, 80s synth-wave, cyberpunk, and lots more creep into the 50-minute album. On paper, it sounds an intriguing mix, especially when you throw in a concept story as well.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems that emerge as I listen to ‘A Pledge To Darkness’, meaning that it might not be the home-run I was hoping for. To begin with, the band have tried to blend so many different styles into their music that they succeed only in robbing themselves of a clear identity. I’m all for originality, but sometimes less really is more. And that’s something that LionSoul have not taken on board with this record.
Next is the production. It isn’t terrible, but it is way too trebly and, when things get more aggressive or speedy, the whole thing feels very muddy and indistinct. At times, when wearing headphones, the experience is a little uncomfortable too. It doesn’t help that vocalist Ivan Castelli has a very high vocal delivery for the most part and so his voice cuts through the music and accentuates the treble-heavy sound quite a bit. And whilst he has a perfectly adequate voice, I find it hard to warm to his performance. I think much of the problem is linked with the concept story that dominates this album. Quoting the band themselves:
“Imagine your planet at the end of its life and you have the burden to preserve the knowledge so you take a spaceship for a trip to L A in 2049 meanwhile you pass through a portal between 1953 to 1986 and also you change your skin to save the human race from a virus.“
Yup, you read that correctly – sci-fi space themes, time travel, and a pandemic threatening the human race. In anyone’s language, that’s a lot of material, and it leads to a convoluted story that’s difficult to follow. But, in order to get through the narrative, it feels like Castelli is always singing, straining to get the words to fit within the eleven tracks. Oh, and then there’s the intro itself which features two voices talking and setting the scene for the concept; it is toe-curlingly cheesy, I’m sorry to say.
But nothing is as bad as the ninth track. Entitled ‘Red Flame’, it is a gentler quasi-ballad that sounds like it was written for a Western film. But this isn’t an Ennio Morricone piece, and neither is it even a Jon Bon Jovi affair; it may fit the narrative of the concept, but it sticks out like a sore thumb within the rest of the music on the album.
I appreciate that it seems as if I’m tearing this record apart, and to an extent, I am, because I have to be honest. But in the spirit of balance, it would be wrong of me if I didn’t make reference to a few occasions where LionSoul do get it right and threaten to change my opinion on ‘A Pledge To Darkness’.
On that score, I’ll start with ‘Exile To Arise’, for it is a thunderously heavy and brisk slab of melodic power metal. There are a few clunky vocal lines, referring back to the over-abundant lyrical content, as well as an unnecessary but mercifully brief spoken-word sample. But, for the most part, the riffs of Aurelio Parise and Francesco Pedrini are muscular and urgent, whilst the drumming of Luca Mazzucconi is very impressive. And the song benefits from a strong, synth-laden, melodic chorus which I do enjoy a lot.
‘Amber Of Illusion’ is a slower composition allowing space for the rumbling bass of Guiseppe Lombardo to make some kind of impact. I’m not sold on the gang vocals that appear in the chorus, but the surrounding melody does have a certain charm to it.
I also have to say that the growls, when they appear within the likes of ‘Wailing In Red’ or ‘Skin 2’ are robust and appealing to the ear, definitely not an afterthought or half-baked addition to the material. The album is also littered with some flamboyant lead guitar work that’s always a winning ingredient as far as I’m concerned, adding some panache and extra vibrancy to the music.
It’s such a shame, because there are some strong hints within ‘A Pledge To Darkness’ that suggests that LionSoul are far better than this album portrays them to be. The musicianship is very strong, with each member bringing some quality performances to bear. And, when they get it right, the songs can be enjoyable. I just happen to think that next time, care needs to be taken to ensure that they don’t just throw anything and everything into the melting pot in the hope that it will all gel. In my humble opinion, it hasn’t worked out too well here, so avoidance of these issues will be key next time around if they are to knock my socks off.
The Score of Much Metal: 69%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain
Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme
Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set
Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes
Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn
Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone
Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama
Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP
Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse
Playgrounded – The Death Of Death
Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum
PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2
Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse
The Midgard Project – The Great Divide
Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light
Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts
New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods
Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation
Sabaton – The War To End All Wars
Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void
Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order
Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine
Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time
Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts
Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined
The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity
Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North
Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier
Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion
Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools
Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night
Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge
Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP
Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel
Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: