Nocturnal Rites

Grand Illusion

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It's not inconceivable (far from obvious but hardly inconceivable) that Sweden's Nocturnal Rites would be fans of '80s arena rockers Styx. Given their predilection for music rich in both melody and pomp, equal measures of muscle and delicacy, and, now, having released an album entitled Grand Illusion, nearly 30 years after the Americans' watershed effort by the same name, maybe there's something more than mere coincidence at work here? In all seriousness, though, tenuous comparisons and creative broad strokes aside, there are no real reasons that Styx fans should expect to experience a trans-decade connection with Nocturnal Rites' eighth studio album. Not an AOR or progressive rock record, this Grand Illusion of 2006 features competently crafted, if predictably safe, commercial power metal the likes of which the Swedes have churned out repeatedly throughout their career. In fact, resistance to change is perhaps the most disspiriting thing about this band, as they appear to simply content themselves with recycling the same road-tested templates perfected by the power metal elite (Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, Helloween, et al.) and avoiding any truly unconventional gadgetry along the way. Indeed, it seems that every track here progresses in orderly and civilized manner between the usual potpourri of heroic verses, anthemic choruses, assertive guitar riffs, energetic double kick drums, majestic synthesizers, soaring vocals, and fluid multi-note solos. The unfortunate byproduct being that even undeniably catchy and well-crafted standouts such as "Fools Never Die" (meaningless but infectious), "Still Alive" (nice, jagged opening riff), or "Cuts Like a Knife" (finally a surprise, thanks to its nightmarish mood) are doomed to linger in the shadows of other, bona fide classics concocted by power metal's aforementioned big guns. Ultimately, Grand Illusion still stacks up favorably when compared to the bulk of Nocturnal Rites' indistinctive catalog (particularly its very mediocre predecessor, New World Messiah), and even a host of inferior competitors, but they clearly need some kind of breakthrough to snap them out their self-imposed rut, push them to another level, and so on.

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