For all the talk of rebellion and freedom that metal music purports to stand for, the reality of the situation is that just like every other aspect of the world, metal music is buried as deeply in clichés as anything else. We don't like to admit it, and we try out best to point out the infinitesimal differences that allow us, in our minds, to think every band is offering something unique to the scene. But the reality is that clichés exist for a reason. There is always some truth that leads us in that direction, whether we want to admit it or not.
When it comes to female-fronted metal bands, there is a perception that all of them are only tangentially metal, gussied-up by operatic singers put in place as much for their looks as their vocal prowess. Not to speak ill of that type of music, but there are so many bands that fit the description that it became shorthand. Female-fronted metal has, for better or worse, been defined as a style all its own. Within those confines, there are great bands and others who don't meet the same standard, just like in every other subset of metal.
Seven Kingdoms isn't as symphonic or lush as many of their contemporaries, but they share enough of their sound with the cliché that many will write off “The Fire Is Mine” without giving it a fair chance. It doesn't take long into the first real track, “After The Fall”, to realize that Seven Kingdoms is not a band masquerading as metal to appeal to a certain fan base. They are, at their core, a melodic metal band that pumps out the kind of speed-influenced power metal that overran the scene at the turn of the millennium.
Vocalist Sabrina Valentine is undoubtedly the focal point of the band, for obvious reason. In addition to the visual appeal she brings, her voice is what anchors the songs. Her voice deftly mixes the operatic approach that can be off-putting to so many with a more conventional rock tone, bridging the gap effectively, and appealing to fans of both styles. Much like last year's most surprising female-fronted album, Trillium's “Alloy” (the star vehicle for Amanda Somerville, whose voice bears a striking resemblance to Sabrina's), “The Fire Is Mine” is a cohesive collection of tracks that eschew melodic beauty for meaty hooks, offering up songs that are energizing and memorable, rather than window dressing for the vocal performance.
A song like “Forever Brave” is not constrained by the makeup of the band, transcending the boundaries and establishing itself as a top-notch metal song without the need for any qualifiers. Featuring classic riffs, a pair of melodic solos, and a hook Edguy would have been proud to write, it's the kind of song that can change people's minds on the subject of female-fronted metal. The title track follows along these lines, with an infectious hook that recalls everything that's good about metal. When Seven Kingdoms is firing on all cylinders, they are a formidable band.
Not all the songs work as well, notably the off-sounding “Flame Of Olympus”. The composition appears solid, but the recording does it no justice. The thin, single-note guitars are shrill and give the song no heft, while the vocals are washed out and distant. I can hear the start of something good, but it doesn't come together in a satisfying way. The few songs that inch closer to the operatic, like “Symphony Of Stars” and the closing “The King In The North”, are the most disappointing of all. They lack the identity the band has put together on the remaining tracks, feeling more like attempts to placate expectations than the music they truly want to make. They add diversity, yes, but undercut the core of who Seven Kingdoms is trying to be.
When the band sticks with pounding out straight-ahead heavy metal, they stand toe-to-toe with the best female-fronted bands in the world. They aren't divisive like Nightwish, plodding like Epica, or burdened with unnecessary gimmicks to appear more metal for the audience. “The Fire Is Mine” is nothing but a metal album, the kind that should appeal to everyone who claims to love the classics.
The best thing I can say about “The Fire Is Mine” is that, aside from the academic purposes of writing a review, I never once thought about who was singing. The songs are strong enough on their own that petty things like that don't carry as much weight as group-think has made the norm. In the end, Seven Kingdoms has managed to put together a solid album of classic heavy metal that shows their skills as songwriters and performers, and puts them ahead of the curve. “The Fire Is Mine” isn't forward-thinking, nor does it offer anything new to the equation, but it plays honest music in such a manner that we can see how the walls will someday be fully broken down. This is a good step in the right direction.