Seventh Wonder – Tiara – Album Review

SW_Tiara_2018_CD_600x600

Artist: Seventh Wonder

Album Title: Tiara

Label: Frontiers Records

Date of Release: 12 October 2018

At manofmuchmetal.com, I make it a rule to not review albums that are only available for review by streaming. The reason is not because I’m throwing my toys out of the pram and wanting something for nothing. I hope by now that regular readers understand that I like to write detailed reviews, the kind where I get under the skin of records to bring you a considered opinion and give you an idea about how the music actually sounds.

With that in mind, there is simply no way that I can do this with just streamed access. I have a day job, young children and a lifestyle that means that I need to have access t the music ‘on the go’ wherever I am, be that in the car, whilst walking the dog or even to drown out the sound of bickering whilst I cook the dinner.

And that’s why I am bringing you this, my review of the long-awaited Seventh Wonder record, several days after its release. Now that I have download access and, importantly, have purchased the record, I have been able to spend the requisite amount of time getting to know its personality, its quirks, its strengths and weaknesses.

To put things into context, I’m a big fan of Seventh Wonder and I, like many others, have been impatiently waiting for a follow-up to ‘The Great Escape’, their fifth album released some eight years ago. However, whilst I liked ‘The Great Escape’, it will take an awful lot for the utterly glorious and over-the-top brilliance of the concept disc, ‘Mercy Falls’ to be beaten. That disc is a 10/10 job, one of the few that I delivered whilst writing for the UK magazine, Powerplay. The benchmark for ‘Tiara’ therefore is their 2008 opus ‘Mercy Falls’ as far as I’m concerned.

So, what’s the verdict? Let me explain…

First things first, it is great to hear the real Tommy Karevik again. I’m not deliberately trying to sound controversial with that statement, it’s just me being honest. I like what he does in Kamelot, but in my opinion, Karevik is wasted to a certain degree there. I’m a huge fan of Tommy Karevik and his enormous pipes and, in Seventh Wonder, he is given the freedom to cut loose. In this environment, the guy proves that he literally has it all. He has the range to be able to effortlessly move from quiet and thoughtful, to all-out lung-bursting power and back again in the blink of an eye. That, in itself is impressive. But what makes his vocals so much more compelling in the Seventh Wonder fold, is the way in which he is able to communicate such emotion through each of his deliveries. It brings the lyrics and the stories to life so expertly. I’ll be the first to admit that the lyrics can veer into cheesy territory at times, but it never seems to matter.

Karevik is not the only exceptional talent within Seventh Wonder either. In fact, their brand of generally up-tempo, grandiose blood and thunder progressive metal is created by an immensely talented set of musicians, comprised of basist Andreas Blomqvist, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl, keyboardist Andreas Söderin and drummer Stefan Norgren. It’s not hyperbole to state that each is a master of their own craft, able to do the simple stuff and the more flamboyant, expansive things when the music dictates. And the great thing about Seventh Wonder’s music is that the more flamboyant stuff is offered frequently and without apology. I love the wailing guitars, the squealed harmonics, the swathes of keys, the pulsating, dancing bass and the dynamic drum beats, rhythms and fills. If I wanted understated, frankly I’d listen to someone else.

Right from the outset, as the orchestral and cinematic intro, ‘Arrival’ subsides, we’re greeted with what I’d refer as the ‘classic’ Seventh Wonder sound, a song with boundless energy, positivity, strong melodies especially within a hook-laden chorus and Karevik belting out his lyrics with real gusto. The rhythms bound along and the whole tone of the track, complete with expansive lead solos and theatrical drama is hugely infectious. Even the introduction and greater use of electronic sounds doesn’t derail what is a sublime heavy and melodic progressive metal song with strong echoes to their 20xx album, ‘Waiting In The Wings’.

seventh-wonder-featured

The slightly negative comment I have though, relates to the production. Whilst far from invisible, I can’t hear the bass nearly as much as I’d like to, particularly when the bassist is Andreas Blomqvist, whose playing is so unique and colourful, meaning he’s a vital cog in the machine. His talents can be heard more clearly on some tracks, such as the follow-up, ‘Dream Machines’, another catchy as hell song, full of wonderful flamboyance, light and shade and catchy, almost happy melodies.

However, the overall final production just robs Blomqvist a little of his impact, a final production that feels a little too loud and brick-walled. I feel a sense of fatigue when I listen to the entire record all the way through and I’m convinced this has something to do with the production. This is undoubtedly a shame and a slight minus point on an otherwise very positive return for the Swedes.

‘Against The Grain’ features an incredibly deft acoustic guitar intro with a chorus that borders on AOR thanks to the piano/vocal duets and infectious, sprawling sing-along chorus. The pace is noticeably slower here too, with a more pronounced use of atmospheric synths. Never fear though, because Johan Liefvendahl’s unmistakeably charismatic lead guitar inflections and solos litter the track to great effect.

At the mid-way point, we’re then faced with a trilogy of songs, entitled ‘Farewell’ that conjure up similarities to ‘Mercy Falls’. ‘Tiara’s Song’ is part one and it has a demonstrable concept feel to it, as it changes direction a number of times, blending light with shade, chunky riffs with tinkling keys, soft ballad-like vocals with eye-watering high notes and bold keys with more subtle embellishments. Part two is entitled ‘Goodnight’ and is a lush affair that drips with emotion and something approaching a rock opera, where the heaviness is dialled down for the most part in favour of a more epic-sounding affair. Part three, ‘Beyond Today’ is a vocal masterclass from Karevik, a timely reminder just how great this guy truly is. With just a piano and gentle synths for company, which build in intensity becoming ever more orchestral and symphonic, he produces a truly emotional performance, embellished sparingly with a female voice. It is that good, it is arguably his best work since the spine-tingling ‘Tears For A Father’ from ‘Mercy Falls’.

I rejoice upon hearing the beautiful bass intro to ‘The Truth’, the perfect vindication for what I was saying earlier, although this is arguably my least favourite track overall as it sounds a touch too pretentious and fails to click with me. Normal service is quickly resumed by the swiftly-paced and immediate, almost power metal-esque ‘By The Light of the Funeral Pyre’. The power metal accents are continued initially on ‘Damnation Below’ thanks to the galloping rhythms, despite things falling into a slightly darker vein as the song develops.

It is then left up to the nine-minute ‘Exhale’ to close out ‘Tiara’ and it does so with real style and panache. Leaving no stone unturned, it enters with dark cinematic sophistication, complete with sinister tolling bell before unleashing a fantastic overblown but intensely melodic section that settles into a rousing tempo that has the head nodding in appreciation instantly. The power metal accents loom large, but the frequent changes in pace and direction leave you in no doubt that this the creation of a brilliantly talented prog metal band. To underline the point, we’re treated to a bass solo that emerges from the depths, spacious sections where Karevik’s voice is given the freedom to soar, breakneck drumming and just about everything that you want to hear from a band like Seventh Wonder.

It would have taken something near-flawless to knock ‘Mercy Falls’ off its pedestal and whilst ‘Tiara’ does its very best to do just that, it just falls agonisingly short. Nevertheless, having waited eight long years for new material, the important thing is that Seventh Wonder have not let us down, delivering a hugely impressive album that, despite the small misgivings I have with the production, gets better with each and every listen. If we were ever concerned that maybe these Swedes had lost their edge over time, ‘Tiara’ is the near-perfect riposte, proving that life is so much better with Seventh Wonder in it than without. Welcome back gentlemen, let’s not leave it so long next time, though, eh?!

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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3 Thoughts

  1. I’ve only had one and two-thirds listens to Tiara, but I agree with your assessment and rating, especially regarding Tommy’s vocals, which left me breathless, and the somewhat under emphasized bass tracks, which were still beyond belief (Blomqvist is my favorite bass player ever). The mythological story line will be debated further over at Seventh Wonder Americas & Beyond on FB. Thanks for your excellent review of this brilliant album.

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