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Frontiers (2013)
Rating: 5/10

Benedictum, the Californian metallers fronted by the Amazonian Veronica Freeman, return with Obey. While Benedictum may have started out as a hard rock act, they have quickly evolved into a much heavier act. Obey is certainly their heaviest album to date, but I’d be lying if I said that was a good thing.

For Obey, the band features founding members Freeman and guitarist Pete Wells alongside bassist Aric Avina (Tynator) and drummer Rikard Stjernquist (Jag Panzer), with longtime friend and mentor Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Foreigner) back in the producer’s chair.

To be honest, Obey struggles right out of the gate. The band’s quest to be heavier has caused them to lose a lot of the groove that brought out Freeman’s powerhouse vocals. The opening set of tunes, ‘Fractured’ and ‘Obey’, are fairly run of the mill with Freeman singing, grunting, and screaming at what is seemingly the high end of her range. She’s got a husky, sexy voice in general but on these tunes she tries to bring a thrashier vocal to the mix and it sounds incredibly clichéd.

‘Apex Nation’, which comes later in the album, suffers from the same problem. It all sounds really confined and it makes it hard to latch on and get into. And the industrial tinged ‘Die To Love You’ is downright confusing at best with its heavy, stutter guitars, but Freeman’s voice pulls it up a little bit as she gets to lay down a bit of a groove in the verses, something that is sorely missed throughout much of the album.

Fortunately, this album does have a few hits and when the band hit it, they get it exactly right. The Judas Priest tempo of ‘Scream’ is what I always hope to hear from Benedictum. It’s got a great guitar groove, a heavier chorus, and showcases what Freeman can do without locking her into one-trick pony territory. She seems like she’s pushing her range on this one but that’s part of the appeal I think.

The slower ‘Cry’, which features Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) on guest vocals, is an acoustic-ish piece that has a slightly progressive feel to it that brings a great dynamic to an otherwise one-dimensional record. The epic metal of ‘Crossing Over’ is probably the album’s highlight, bringing back in that Rainbow flavour that we usually hear more of on Benedictum records.

Overall, this is the sound of Benedictum trying to branch out I think. For me, it just doesn’t work. There are some undeniably bright spots here but, much like 2011’s Dominion, most of it just doesn’t stick with you. It’s certainly heavier but the songwriting is a lot less memorable.

Mark Fisher

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