I really enjoy Edguy, but can’t stand Helloween. Same thing with flowery goth-metal – Nightwish is great, but Epica doesn’t do it for me. And as for Blind Guardian, man, do I really want to love that band. They pen catchy, soaring epics, scored by tasteful orchestration and the right amount of power metal crunch. But I just can’t get past vocalist Hansi Kürsch, despite the fact that I recognize his obvious talents and control. It still doesn’t change the fact that the band, to me, sounds like it’s fronted by the world’s most impassioned hobbit.
And so maybe that’s why fellow German power metal act Solar Fragment clicked for me. Its frontman, Robert Leger, sounds a hell of a lot like Kürsch, but with a manlier, more full-bodied tone. He also, strangely enough, sounds like he’s singing with an Irish brogue, which lends sophomore effort In Our Hands a stirring and wistful tone. That, and the album’s seafaring concept and cover art, which instantly suggests small Irish coastal villages, nautical adventure and men of the wild and salty sea.
The music itself isn’t quite as inspiring or evocative as that, but it’s certainly a hearty affair. Rousing power metal melodies abound, plus soaring choruses and hooks aplenty. The title track kicks things off on a heroic note with galloping, post-Maiden riffs and resounding choral vocals, and later tracks like “Race the Seas” or “Come Hell or High Water” strike equally triumphant notes. And not surprisingly, Hansi Kürsch guests on “Inside the Circle,” and here his vocals mesh perfectly with Leger’s. You can almost imagine them both at the command of a sleek sailing ship, a glorious sunset at their backs and puffy shirts all aflutter.
One thing I would have liked more of though, is atmosphere. Maybe it’s that expressive cover art and the narrative arc of the song titles, but I think the album could have benefitted from an even more assertive concept treatment. There’s a bit of lapping waves and distant shanties in the short interstitial “At the Harbor,” and some nice acoustic balladry in “Moana’s Return,” but I wanted more to really paint the setting and carry me away. Or it could just be that I’ve been spoiled by power-prog and its more challenging, captivating epics and pageantry – Symphony X and Pagan’s Mind, to name two examples.
Overall, Solar Fragment was a pleasant discovery, but I can’t say it’ll really stick around on my playlist. Perhaps it’s that for all its accomplishments, it sounds too much like your stereotypical power metal affair, though one that thankfully eschews the ham and cheese that glop up so many albums in the genre. Maybe it’ll fill your sails more than it did mine.