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Cannibal Nation

AFM (2012)
Rating: 7/10

Power metal masters Mob Rules don’t seem to give a damn about the rule book. In days gone by, power metal was a distinct entity, and the metal masses were often divided by subgenres. Power metal fans scoffed at nerdy progressive metal fans, and they both thought that drunk dude with the big hair cranking Britny Fox from his Camaro needed a solid beating. Mob Rules doesn’t care in the least about genre boundaries, and offers a blend of power metal riffs and progressive metal wizardry entitled Cannibal Nation.

The German group’s seventh album shows progression in arrangements and depth. With a sound that blends the lines between Iron Maiden and early Dream Theater, Cannibal Nation combines heavy riffage with soaring vocals, tight harmonies, masterful guitar solos and a nod to the roots of prog rock via well performed keyboards. It’s a mix that demands to be heard.

The album opens with a quiet guitar riff that explodes into a huge wall of sound. ‘Close My Eyes’ has the kind of sound you would get from a young Queensrÿche covering Dream Theater’s classic ‘Pull Me Under’ (from 1992’s Images And Words). Heavy, melodic and triumphant are the words that best describe the opening track of Cannibal Nation. Guitarists Matthias Mineur and Sven Lüdke lay down menacing tones reminiscent of the title track on Queensrÿche’s legendary Operation: Mindcrime (1988), while vocalist Klaus Dirks ranges from a Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche) style melody to a Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) howl. Interested yet? Bear in mind, this is all in the first three minutes.

While there is much to say about Mob Rules, their secret weapon is keyboardist Jan Christian Halfbrodt, who is making his album debut with the band after replacing Sascha Onnen in 2010. From its inception, prog rock was known by its keyboards, but when metal took up the prog flag keyboards largely went out the window. Halfbrodt is a constant force flowing beneath the fury of guitars and vocals. While many bands build upon the work of the rhythm section, and in that sense drummer Nikolas Fritz and bassist Markus Brinkmann do an admirable job, Halfbrodt provides the connecting layer between the foundational rhythm and the structure created by the rest of the band. The classic organ sound used on the chorus of ‘Lost’ perfectly accents the rest of the instrumentation and provides a link to the infancy of prog rock. It also fills the void sometimes left when a guitar solo kicks in, leaving an empty space in the rhythm section. While keyboards are not generally a highly praised component of the metal equation, Halfbrodt’s playing may change that thinking.

The formula set down early on Cannibal Nation continues through the remaining tracks. ‘Tele Box Fools’ is an album highlight that is propelled forward by Fritz’s manic drumming, and Halfbrodt’s keyboards mixing with the first lead guitar break to create a distinct and haunting harmony. ‘Ice And Fire’ adds a quasi-celtic verse that breaks into a fulfilling metal chorus. Again, Halfbrodt’s keyboards are the quiet superstar, adding piano, string and organ tones that add depth to the arrangement. The opening guitar harmonies of ‘The Sirens’ perfectly blend prog and power metal into a furious new beast, while the title track is a straight ahead rocker in the vein of Iron Maiden.

Cannibal Nation is not what I expected from Mob Rules. To be quite honest, I didn’t expect much. I listened to this album on a whim and was blown away. Mob Rules blurs genre lines, and rather than fitting into the mould of any particular brand of metal, is just a kick ass metal band. Fans of Kamelot, Queensrÿche and Iron Maiden will find much to enjoy here.

Jim McDonald

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